Part of an NBA front office's job is to plan for free agency well in advance. But the circumstances surrounding this season and the next wave of available stars have made things a bit absurd.
In talking to league executives, scouts and agents, it has become clear plenty of teams are focusing heavily on the 2019-20 season even with the 2018-19 season just starting. OK, this isn't revolutionary. The Los Angeles Lakers were thinking about LeBron James a year ago today. But this is typically a third-rail topic, whispered out of the side of mouths and hinted with innuendo. At least until the leaves are off the trees. But even then, it's often teams who are in tank mode or at least figure on being in tank mode. Now even playoff-level teams are peeking ahead.
There are a few reasons why:
Many believe the Golden State Warriors are going to win the title again and will still break up in some way next season. This is essentially a referendum on Kevin Durant's upcoming free agency, not so much Klay Thompson's, though some executives also wonder what will happen with Draymond Green. He is eligible for an extension next summer and has made it clear he expects to be taken care of after playing, from his perspective, on the discounted deal he signed before the 2016 cap spike. If he has a great season and makes the All-NBA team or wins Defensive Player of the Year again, he'd qualify for a super-max extension, which would really put the Warriors in a tough spot. If Durant leaves, there'd be significant pressure on the Warriors to retain Green.
We could go on with these Warriors permutations. Trust me, their competitors have done so because comparing their current rosters is disheartening. But bottom line, the 2020 title is seen as way more up for grabs than 2019. Plans are being made accordingly.
Many believe multiple top free agents will relocate next summer. This would include Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler (for now) and DeMarcus Cousins. But there are two more names on executives' lips: Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving.
Davis isn't a free agent until 2020, but some teams already are mulling trade packages if Davis passes on an extension the New Orleans Pelicans can offer him next summer. This is the option that raises goose bumps among a handful of teams that think they might have a chance at landing Davis. The fact that Davis and the Pelicans are off to a fantastic start and that Davis has continued to be outwardly committed to New Orleans has not slowed this one bit.
Now you might be saying why is Irving included? He declared that he's re-signing with the Boston Celtics and that's that. Irving seems genuinely happy in Boston and is thrilled with the current makeup and direction of the team. And he's ready to accept a five-year, $190 million deal. In fact, it seems Irving is in lockstep with some front offices in fast-forwarding to 2019-20. He told reporters in New York this week that he had already given the Knicks "strong consideration" but had moved on and made up his mind. Next year's free agency is already moving merrily along with the free agents themselves, it seems.
As any college coach will tell you, a verbal commitment is just that. Also, the Celtics probably will be willing to make the five-year offer to Irving, but that's not in stone at this point with Irving's history of injuries and many months to go. Plenty of executives have the magnet with Irving's name on it slapped in the "UFA" (unrestricted free agent) column on their whiteboards.
There's a ton of cap space out there. As many as 10 teams can reasonably open enough to create space for a max player, and another handful can be big shoppers. After last year's relative bear market, there are lots of options here.
Big markets are on the hunt with both New York teams and both Los Angeles teams in position to chase max players, and Philadelphia is right there too. Really, almost no team is truly out of the mix because there's so much available space that there will be chances to offload salaries in return for draft picks. The names headed for the market are big enough to not rule out any cap-clearing deal.
Sorry for bringing up free agency in October, but it's all these guys seem to want to talk about.
DeMar DeRozan bristled when he heard one of the reasons the Toronto Raptors traded him last summer was that he was too much of an iso player, which is out of style. The Raptors traded him because they saw a chance to get a top-five talent, everything else was just window dressing. Nonetheless, it was said.
A few years ago it was fair to say DeRozan went iso too much, but his game has evolved and become more well-rounded. He averaged a career-high 5.2 assists per game last season in Toronto. In three games with the San Antonio Spurs, he has 27 assists. He had a career-high 14 in the overtime win against the Lakers on Monday.
"That was always the next part of my game that I wanted to elevate," DeRozan said. "I knew I could score. I wanted to be that player who could score at a high level, but also put trust in teammates at a high level. It's a part of my game I'm more comfortable with."
In defense of Chris Paul, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said Paul's suspension wasn't "equitable" when compared with those handed to the Lakers' Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram. One of D'Antoni's points was how much money it was going to cost Paul, which is $491,781. Rondo is out $186,207 and Ingram $158,817. This was a creative defense but a lame one. Paul is making $35.6 million this season, but that has no bearing on the severity of the penalty.
Anyway, two years ago when player's union president Paul helped negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement, he got a victory when he changed the formula to reduce fines for suspensions. Under the old rules, players got fined 1/110th of their salary for each game they were suspended. The current number is 1/145th. That change ended up saving Paul $156,000 in this case.
Steve Ballmer's pet project to change the way fans can watch LA Clippers games is indeed interesting. I watched some of the Clippers-Rockets game this week with the "Clippers CourtVision" features, which uses player-tracking technology to add new features to the broadcast.
There's a "player mode" that shows what each player's shooting percentages are from the spot where they're standing, constantly updating as the player moves. When the player is in a spot where he's efficient, the numbers come up green. They go yellow for average position or red when it's a low-percentage spot. Other miscellaneous stats also are displayed.
It uses a camera angle from the opposite baseline so you can see the whole width of the floor. This was particularly interesting in late-game situations when you could see the floor in the way the point guard does and have an idea of where his best passing options are second-by-second. There are other modes available, but I didn't see them.
Right now, this feed is about a minute or so behind the live game feed. While you can hear the commentators, watching from the unusual angle can get tiresome. However, the delay makes it a nice second screen experience where you can rewatch a play shortly after you saw it in real time with much more data. It's available only for people in the L.A. market who have Prime Ticket, which broadcasts for now.