It was very clear when the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors demolished all comers to reach the NBA Finals there was a big gap and talent between the contenders and the pretenders. To put things in context, the Warriors, boasting of four All-Stars in their line-up, recorded the best record in the postseason history (16-1) losing only once to the Cavs before bagging their second title in three years.
With team struggling to catch up, a new arms race has begun as franchises are making do-or-die trades in a bid to form their own super teams and remain relevant.
The first team to pull the trigger was the Philadelphia 76ers when they traded up to get the No. 1 player in the draft, Markelle Fultz. The combo guard joins last year’s No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and 2014 No. 3 pick Joel Embiid, forming the youngest super team with lots of upside. There will be growing pains and a playoff run may be a year or two away since they haven’t played a single game together. Still, after 4 years of being the league’s punching bag, the 76ers have much to look forward to.
In Minnesota, the Timberwolves acquired All-Star Jimmy Butler from Chicago to team up with recent No. 1 picks Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Last season, Butler averaged career highs in major statistical categories including scoring (23.9 points), assists (5.5 assists), and rebounds (6.2 rebounds). Butler is expected to shore up one of the league’s worst defenses and rejoins coach Tom Thibodeau. The Timberwolves haven’t reached the playoffs for the past 14 seasons, making them one of the worst franchises in recent memory. Butler, despite his rumored character flaws, is a competitor and can lead this team of youngsters unleash their full potential.
The biggest trade so far this off-season is 9-time All-Star Chris Paul, still the best pure point guard in the league. He teams up with MVP runner-up James Harden who is one of the league’s elite scorers and who led the league in assists last year. The Rockets owned the league’s third-best record in 2016-2017 and the addition of a player of Paul’s caliber only brings them much closer to the talent of the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.
This tandem is a little weird since coach Mike D’Antoni converted Harden into an elite point guard and adding another ball-handler means they will have to adjust. On the upside, Paul can now assume some of the leadership role and playing burdens off Harden which would make him fresher come playoff time. Paul, at 32, is on the wrong end of his prime and is banking his entire legacy with the Rockets. One injury in the Warriors line-up and you’ll have a team that can go toe-to-toe with the best of them.
All eyes are also on Paul’s teammate Blake Griffin, who is taking meetings with interested teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat, and the Boston Celtics. Watch out for the Boston Celtics who are making a hard push to acquire Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward and the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George. They are keen to form their own super team to finally challenge the dominance of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This new arms race will definitely change the balance of power in the upcoming season.