As most of us saw coming, the last ten days or so have completely reshaped the NBA for years to come.
We all expected madness and I think we can agree it ended up crazier than anyone could have imagined. This offseason, in ten days, has already easily produced more storylines and excitement than any offseason in NBA history. An unprecedented FIVE members from this year’s All-NBA teams have switched clubs in the last ten days. A sixth, Russell Westbrook might be on the move by the time you read this.
With a handful of the best players from this generation switching teams, the questions arise about who will have the best immediate impact for their team. Despite Kevin Durant’s move to Brooklyn, he can’t be considered here because he is expected to miss the whole upcoming season with his achilles injury. On several teams stacked with superstar talent, who is most likely to raise their team and potentially win this year’s title? Which star in a new jersey will have the biggest impact on his new team this year?
Kawhi Leonard is the best basketball player in the world right now. He achieved one of the best individual postseasons in NBA history despite fighting injuries the whole playoffs. With LeBron taking a step back and missing the playoffs and Durant’s injury expected to keep him out a whole year, it’s Kawhi’s world. At still just 28 years old, Kawhi is at the peak of a Hall of Fame career. He will undoubtedly go down as one of the best two-way players ever.
By teaming up with Paul George on the Clippers, Kawhi has a great chance to win a Finals MVP with his third different team this year. According to Vegas, the Clippers are the favorites to win the title this year. In fact, it seemed inevitable that no matter where Kawhi ended up this month (between the Lakers, Clippers or Raptors), that team was automatically going to be the championship favorites. That’s how impactful this dude is right now.
The Clippers, even before Kawhi and PG arrived, were a very good young team coming into this offseason. They won 48 games last year and took the Warriors, with KD, to six games. They were able to add two top-ten players in the game without giving up too much immediate talent, unlike their rivals across town.
Yes, Kawhi and PG are both injury prone players and the Clippers are absolutely screwed if either misses significant time or next year’s playoffs. However, when you look at the rest of the title favorites, including the Bucks, Lakers and Sixers, this is true of all those teams. None of those teams are very deep and they’re top heavy teams whose title chances rest on one or two superstars. The Clippers adding Kawhi makes them the title favorites because he will have the biggest impact of any player on a new team.
A couple of weeks ago, the Lakers absolutely broke the bank to acquire Davis. It was maybe the biggest price a team has ever paid for a player. If Davis can team up with LeBron and bring a title to the Lakers this year, it will have been worth it. Another young star at just 26 years old, AD is a nearly perfect big man. He is a defensive monster, consistently leading the league in blocks while averaging at least 25.9 points over the last three seasons. His team-up with LeBron is a dream pairing.
Davis is good enough to win the MVP next year if he puts up monster numbers while taking a lot of the load off James. The Lakers are still a very flawed team. However, Davis and LeBron are good enough to win a championship next year if they can stay healthy. Without the acquisition of Davis, the Lakers next year probably would have been in a similar situation as this year, potentially missing the playoffs again. With Davis, they are championship contenders. Davis has been on subpar teams his whole career so far and has only made the playoffs twice. However, both times, he put up incredible numbers and did his part. His teams were just always overmatched.
Davis can cement his place among the all-time great big men if he can be a defining part of a Lakers title next year. The Davis news was a nuclear bomb to set off a crazy free agent period and if he can put up MVP level numbers this year, it will become clear that he had the biggest impact of any player this offseason.
At this point, I think Kyrie might be underrated. He is among the most talented players in the league, but his off-court antics understandably put him in a bad light with a lot of people. But the truth is, this is the first time in his NBA career that Kyrie has gotten to pick where he’s at. He won a title in Cleveland and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history, but foolishly forced his way out because he wanted to have his own team.
He ended up on the Celtics, a team that he didn’t get to choose, and we all know how that went. This time, he gets the chance to lead a young Nets team that made the playoffs last year. There is a good chance Kyrie will continue to pout and be a distraction. There’s actually no evidence to think that part of him will magically change. But, if Kyrie can put up good numbers and keep Brooklyn relevant in the East in what seems like a throwaway year, the Nets might be the title favorites a year from now when they get KD back.
Kyrie has a chance to take a young Nets team and make some noise in the East while establishing himself as a good leader and teammate. Will that happen? History says it’s not likely. However, if the Nets win a championship in the next three years with Kyrie and KD, Kyrie will have to have had an outstanding season this year becoming a leader and developing Brooklyn’s young talent. It’s not a popular pick now, but if Kyrie can be on his best behavior this year, the Nets might surprise some people next spring.
The beauty about this debate is that it’s once again a wide-open debate where there’s more than two sides and anyone can argue several different ways. First, I need to acknowledge a couple players that I did not analyze above that can be argued as the most impactful player.
Kemba to the Celtics almost made the list, but that team seems to still be a couple of pieces away and I don’t trust the Celtics young players yet. I often argue Jayson Tatum as one of the most overrated players in the league. Kemba is amazing and will probably put up great numbers this year but I don’t see him being looked at as the most impactful acquisition a year from now.
Paul George can certainly be argued as the most important acquisition. However, Kawhi is the better player and will likely receive more credit if the Clippers win it all. He can’t be the biggest acquisition in the league when he wasn’t even the most important acquisition on his own team.
Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers was a very underrated move and could take Indiana towards the top of the East this year. Wherever Iguodala ends up will certainly be impactful, especially if it’s on one of the LA teams like it’s been rumored.
As mentioned above, Russell Westbrook may be on the move and could have a huge impact wherever he ends up.
Lastly, the Sixers acquisition of Al Horford likely puts them as the favorites in the East going into the year and he has a chance to be seen as the most important move if they win it all this year.
Right now, I believe Kawhi is the most important acquisition of the offseason. It’s not often that the best player in the world changes teams in the middle of his prime. He is the first Finals MVP to switch teams right after winning it (Jordan did it twice, but then he retired both times, thus not going to a new team).
What do YOU think? Who was the most important player who switched teams and why?
NBA expert and IU grad. '96 Bulls > Warriors. #FireGarPax