The most important month of the NBA season when the NBA is not in season is July. That is when talent leaves one team, joins another. That is when dreams soak franchises with joy and potential to be great- or at the very least-better than they were three months ago. July moves make an average team appear better, a good team seem great. July is about perception. It is about talking your way into a biography that just hasn’t happened yet. There is optimism and there is sarcasm. Because while a lot of teams do a little of everything, some teams do nothing. It makes the idiom- either you are getting better or getting worse- take on a life of its own. Not to mention the bad contracts that were signed, the gambles that were not taken, the teams that were scared to do what they needed to do. Like a bad marriage, they pretended things were going to get better as a figment of their imagination.
It’s sports. So there were July winners. And a bunch of losers. You know who you are.
Magic Johnson: Eighteen months after taking over a rudderless ship, Magic pulled off the greatest free agent signing perhaps in NBA history. LeBron James walking into his arms to lead a team that won 35 games, a team with unproven players, was a spectacular get. James trusted Magic to build a contender by signing a four year deal. It pushed Magic’s legacy as a negotiator, persuader, businessman into the stratosphere. Sure, James wanted to be in L.A. but he wasn’t going to barter the last years of his career with a pathetic front office who couldn’t meet James in the middle. Magic was a perfect storm for James. With James in tow, it changes everything about the Lakers, the NBA and the city of Los Angeles.
Legacy: By signing with the Lakers, LeBron James instantly changed his legacy. For years, the banal regurgitated themselves with a LeBron/MJ debate when there is no debate to be had. MJ = NBA royalty. The End. LeBron has entered a different conversation. Greatest of his generation, top 5 great, and team builder, and perhaps greatest leader outside of Magic Johnson. That is what his legacy is now. He is not just one thing like Jordan but multiple things. The Jordan comparison ends and the Magic comparison begins.
Masai Ujiri: A few years back when Ujiri convinced free agent Kyle Lowry to sign with the Raptors and to take less money despite Pat Riley waving money Lowry’s way, and then DeMar DeRozan signed a max deal with the Raptors without meeting with any other team, Ujiri was on the short list of great young GM’s. But firing Coach of the Year Dwane Casey after the Raptors had more wins than any other Raptor in their history, and his bungling the DeMar DeRozan trade by not keeping it 100 so DeRozan is not trashing his name every five minutes, has dropped the Ujiri rep down a cliff. Now he has an unhappy Kyle Lowry to deal with and a rental Kawhi who may, probably, most likely, check out after one year with a Toronto address. In one year, a team with the best record in the Eastern Conference may be rebuilding and Ujiri is to blame.
Isaiah Thomas: He bragged about the Brinks truck and was so focused on the money he forgot about the detail of having a healthy body. He should have had surgery in the offseason of 2017 and returned to the court in March 2018 so everyone’s last memory was of his playoff performance. He wouldn’t have been traded then. He wouldn’t have lowlight reels of his shot in the tank because his labrum was ripped and it hurt like hell and he couldn’t move. He is a cautionary tale. Although, his leadership was tremendous with the young Lakers, they grew with him as a teammate, he could only get a measley deal from the Denver Nuggets as he is now trying to prove himself.
The 76ers: Nothing they did went according to plan. They didn’t make their team better. They pretended that they had a chance at LeBron James. They took the consolation prize in frequently injured Wilson Chandler. They still don’t have a GM. They lost the shooters who helped their 50 wins season, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. They want a July redo.
Marc Cuban: Cuban’s year hadn’t been great with all the sexual harassment he legitimized by doing nothing. But in July, he put away all his hurt feelings and got him a big man in DeAndre Jordan. The first time around Cuban promised Jordan he would be the center of the offense, only as a bargaining tool and a way to get him away from the Clippers.But c’mon man. No team can run their actions with DJ as the best player. He’s a defender who can score on putbacks. But his presence changes things and he is exactly what the Mavs need with an old Dirk and young players in Dennis Smith Jr. and Lucka Doncic. There is talk of Cuban swinging a trade for Jimmy Butler.
Trevor Ariza: He got paid. He’s not going to the playoffs but a vacation in April actually serves his purposes. He will be a part of the mega 2019 free agent class. After Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson are signed, money will be leftover for the rest and Ariza can take advantage. His particular skill set, team player, defender, three ball specialist, will get him a three year deal. If he balls this year in Phoenix behind the arc, he will be overpaid in 2019.
Dan Gilbert: He lost LeBron twice. Blame Gilbert and his inability to form a relationship with James. Of course, after the letter, James was never going to trust him again. That was reason number one to not trade Kyrie. LeBron leaving wasn’t a secret. Gilbert still would have had an All-Star on the roster. Now he has to hope Minnesota Kevin Love has a rebirth, Collin Sexton matters and someone breaks their leg so the Cavs can get into the lottery and yank Zion Williamson from Duke. Oh well. He still has Donald Trump to love at night during those woeful Cav performances.
Dwight Howard: What did Judge Judy say? Don’t pee on my leg and say it’s raining. Come on Dwight. The Warriors did not want you. They were making a courtesy call. You went to a team (Wizards) that needed you to run pick and roll with John Wall. No one wants Dwight Howard because when he leaves everyone feels liberated to talk about how great it is that he is gone. Dwight’s rep is his rep. He is a Hall of Fame defender but we’re not making it up how much he is despised. Everywhere he goes, the divorce is ugly.
Oklahoma City: Not only did they get Carmelo Anthony out of town but they convinced Paul George to forgo his hometown and stay with Russ. This was a super boss move that probably won’t mean anything as far as playoff first round exits but they kept the stars in tact.
Eastern Conference: Two things happened with LeBron gone. Someone new will be in the Finals this year, probably Boston but I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a surprise team. And no way will Adam Silver be able to push forward his plan of top-16 records in the playoffs. That will keep the East as spectators. Now the East will have their bully brawl to see who replaces LeBron.
Rockets Defense: Losing their best defenders (Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah A Moute) and adding atrocious defender Carmelo and mixing Mike D’Antoni’s defensive apathy, everything comes down to Chris Paul and Clint Capela. When they are off the floor, expect a layup line to the rim and open threes. The Rockets got worse, not better.
DeMar DeRozan All Star 2019: Good luck trying to make the All-Star game with this guard crop as your competitors. Damian Lillard. Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. James Harden. Chris Paul. Donovan Mitchell. Devin Booker. Jrue Holliday. Mike Conley. C.J. McCollum.
Doc Rivers: In a span of two summers, he lost Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers. It says more about Rivers than it says about organizational moves. Rivers is riding the coattails of great players who were a perfect match (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce). Great players who questioned him (Chris Paul), good players who were inconsistent, sensitive and injury prone (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick) and average players with a chip on their shoulder (Austin Rivers), he struggled with. He couldn’t rid individuals of selfish tendencies for the good of the group so how good a coach is he really?
Lavar Ball: Only someone more dramatic than Lavar Ball could shut him up. Where to start? Rondo. Michael Beasley. Lance Stephenson. LeBron. They are all more interesting, louder, dynamic, than Lavar. A couple of the new guys are an accident waiting to happen and way more interesting than Lavar. He had his one year of fame when the Lakers lacked a loud mouth but no one cares what he thinks anymore. Besides, his son might be traded if he keeps jacking up bricks.
NBA: LeBron changing conferences and moving to splashy Los Angeles made the NBA’s July a monster. All the player movement had fans in despair or fans euphoric. The anticipation for opening night has never been greater. Add in the gambling money from MGM and their exclusive NBA contract, once again the NBA wins their offseason.