2019 NBA Wishlist: Kevin Durant's Future, Lakers Free Agency and More
Next summer is shaking up to be a massive one for the NBA. It seems as if Kevin Durant is truly a flight risk to leave Golden State, and if he were to leave, the league could be left with a slew of contenders who have a real chance at winning the Finals. Some weird stuff is going to go down in 2019, especially with a bunch of teams owning cap space and only so few stars to go around. The Association could use a reshuffling, particularly with this era of Warriors exceptionalism putting a little bit of a chill over most teams’ playoff hopes. There are going to be several routes to interesting seasons in 2019, but here’s my wishlist for one path forward.
1. Kevin Durant announces he’s staying with the Warriors for one last season. The last stand of the Warriors. That’s what I want to see. I know the team is a little rickety right now and the future already unclear. But I still believe Golden State is going to be the runaway title favorite once the playoffs start. Something about the idea of the Dubs heading into a season with Durant and Draymond Green in the last year of their deals is fun to me. I also want to see the Warriors go out with a challenge. They don’t have to have a sputtering finish like the Big Three Heat, but the KD Warriors have never played what felt like a truly historic team on the other side of the court. Even the 2018 West Finals were tainted by Chris Paul’s injury (and don’t forget about Andre Iguodala.)
That’s what I’m hoping to see if Durant stays in the Bay for one last go around. I want the league to shuffle around them in such a way that another squad finally reaches the Warriors level. And then I want those two teams to go at it. The most exciting moments for me as an NBA fan are watching greatness be tested. It’s seeing the vulnerability of the game’s best players. It’s watching high-level basketball, pressure, and narrative combine to create high-leverage moments. The Warriors haven’t seen many of those, and I’m not expecting that to happen this postseason. So let KD have one more run in Golden State—provided another team catches up. Which brings me to my next point…
2. The Lakers add two stars. Paul George really ruined the summer of 2018 for me. If he had simply signed with the Lakers like he threatened to do for two years, L.A. would have looked like a really promising challenger to the Golden State throne—and still have the same assets it has now to trade for Anthony Davis. I don’t want a repeat of 2018 for the Lakers. I want to see them sign a star into cap space, trade for Davis, and set up an ultimate showdown with Golden State. LeBron James will age one day. I don’t doubt his greatness, but I’m not taking for granted how many more classic playoff experiences he can deliver. So I want L.A.’s come-up to happen quick, and I want to see a superstar-laden version of the Lakers go head-to-head with Durant’s Warriors.
An A.D.-Bron frontcourt would be absurd. But who is the third star here? Honestly, L.A. could do worse than Khris Middleton. He may not be top-10 elite, but he won’t be played off the floor in a playoff series. Adding multiple two-way stars would finally put a LeBron team in the same class as KD’s Warriors, and we would finally have a fair fight to judge these teams on. LeBron vs. KD would be amplified. Pressure would shift back onto James now that his supporting cast is up to snuff. The Warriors would have a new motivation—stake their claim as an all-time team while toppling a most-worthy opponent. This storyline is more interesting to me than Durant trying to lead the Knicks to glory or something else that would probably make a lovely SI cover. Let’s see the end-of-the-line Warriors be challenged by an uber-talented upstart.
3. Let’s also stop caring about tampering. And by us, I mean the NBA. I can’t tell if Adam Silver is actually upset with tampering. But small-market GMs who are clutching their pearls about LeBron and Anthony Davis need to give it up. Tampering is hilarious. I want more of it. You know what would have been awesome? If Magic Johnson was tweeting overtures to Jimmy Butler when he was trying to force his way out of Minnesota. You’re telling me the NBA wouldn’t have been better with Thibs having to answer questions about Magic tweets?
There’s also a weird dynamic here. The NBA sent a memo in regards to tampering mentioning the respect of employment contracts. How do you think DeMar DeRozan feels about that? Trades are obviously (a gigantic) part of the NBA; there are also major sports that survive without them. My point is that GMs aren’t exactly respecting employment contracts when they ship out a player for a star, or amnesty a bad deal they gave out themselves. So it’s stupid to care about players recruiting other players or owners lusting for other players publicly. It was stupid that Jimmy Butler could never confirm his trade request on the record because that’s considered a fineable offense. The NBA has already become the player-movement league. The league needs to embrace the drama even more, and stop pretending like “tampering” is the reason stars don’t want to play in small markets.
4. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid begin to question the partnership. I’m sold on the uncomfortable fit between Simmons and Embiid in Philadelphia. The Sixers’ problems began when they couldn’t sign a star into cap space last summer. (As much as Paul George ruined things for the Lakers, he ruined them for Philly too.) I don’t know if Jimmy Butler dramatically changes the Sixers’ ceiling, and losing guys like Dario Saric and Robert Covington is going to hurt come playoff time—especially for a team with depth issues. Philly is obviously very, very good, and can be for a long time.
But in an alternate universe, I want to see this team rebuilt completely around Embiid. I think for him and Simmons to be at their best, they both need rosters tailored around their specific styles, and I just happen to prefer JoJo’s game on a personal level. Embiid and Simmons are great talents, but they also clearly hold each other back at times. Simmons has to slow down when Embiid is in the game. Embiid basically can’t post up on the same side of the court as Simmons. This obviously hasn’t stopped the Sixers from racking up wins, but it makes me concerned for them against quality opponents in the playoffs. (Their overtime offense against the Celtics on Christmas is still fresh in my mind.) I don’t know how much the inclusion of Butler changes the calculus. Having three great talents on one team is certainly never a bad thing. But I also want to see what Embiid and Simmons could do on contenders made in their own image.
5. Put Dwyane Wade in the All-Star Game. And Vince Carter. And Dirk Nowitzki. While we’re making rule changes, the NBA needs a way to recognize all-time greats who are on their way out. Wade is in a unique position as someone who has announced he’s in his final season. So my half-baked rule proposal is this: If a 10-time All-Star has declared they are retiring, Adam Silver can automatically appoint them to the All-Star Game in a special, extra roster spot. (I know Vince has only eight All-Star appearances but we’re throwing him in.)
Selfishly, I want to see D-Wade throw another alley-oop to Bron before his career is said and done. On a bigger picture, who does this hurt? The appearance doesn’t have to count as an official All-Star selection, so it won’t affect any historical ledger. It’s purely for fans to get to enjoy a generational great one last time, and for that player himself to be honored for what he’s done for the league. There are complications. If a player pulls an M.J. and comes back, some talking head will be mad, but in that case they’ve already forfeited their special selection. I see no downsides to this new rule, though. It won’t happen every year. But it’s a great way to create something special for both fans and legends of the game.