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At least until the next Wojbomb hits our notifications.
It is quite risky to suggest that the NBA is not currently acting like its usual crazy self, and even riskier to suggest tumult is not around the corner. But with a dearth of trades since the summer bonanza closed, a potentially boring trade deadline, a weak draft, and a horrid free agent class, it kind of does seem like the NBA is in a weird, boring holding pattern.
This isn’t to say the basketball is boring. It’s really not. The Bucks are so impressive to watch, and there’s a bevy of young stars rising to join the established marquee names. The Lakers are finally good again! Even some of the bad teams are highly entertaining. The basketball has been quite good this season, and the playoffs look promising.
It’s all of the other stuff, specifically with player movement: it’s not just there.
Kevin Love and Andre Drummond are the biggest trade block names right now, and perhaps Kyle Kuzma is in play. Good players all, maybe better than merely “good.” But not terribly exciting. But then again, rarely do trade deadline moves result in truly great players moving. We just tend to get ourselves excited about teams making big swings for the stretch run, or what certain moves mean for potential future moves.
There’s no silver bullet in the 2020 NBA Draft, it appears. LaMelo Ball is the biggest name and Anthony Edwards might be the best player. There’s no Zion, no Luka. Maybe a couple of these kids will change a franchise. But we won’t know that on draft day or even in the first couple of years, in all likelihood. This isn’t to say the draft won’t be important or exciting. But it’s just not going to be all that hyped up, because it probably shouldn’t be.
And then there’s free agency. I’ve been writing about and analyzing free agency pretty closely for a decade or so. And friends, this is a bad free agency class. Other than Anthony Davis (who almost certainly isn’t leaving L.A.), Drummond is the top unrestricted free agent, without question. He is a 26-year-old former All-Star. The next best unrestricted free agent is either Danilo Gallinari, DeMar DeRozan (if he opts out), Fred VanVleet, or Montrezl Harrell. These are good players. But if they are in your top 10 free agents months before free agency begins, you are heading for a bad free agent class.
What can save a bad free agent class is a busy trade market. Does anyone see a busy trade market developing a year before the epic free agent class of 2021? Perhaps! Some teams will want to open up additional cap space to go after the 2021 free agents. They might move some decent players at low cost to get there. It happened before 2010, famously, the last free agent period that really compared to what we could see in 2021. There could certainly be some jockeying among the teams who consider themselves in the mix for the MVP-caliber players who will be up for a new contract then.
But it’s not guaranteed, and there’s the added wrinkle of so many high-end stars currently recovering from injury. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson might all miss this entire season — Curry is the most likely to play, but the Warriors have essentially conceded the season at this point, so it will be as if the Warriors are a “new contender” coming into next season. Given that they punted this season due to injury, how likely is it that they will make major moves in the offseason? The same applies to the Nets: they made their moves in 2019. The 2020-21 season is when those moves pay off.
Again, it’s not guaranteed that a wild trade season in 2020 will save the next year from being horribly boring on the team-building and player movement front. But it’s the only hope.
We can either (as a basketball-loving community collectively) bemoan the lack of off-court action or use this lull to pay greater respect to the action on the court. We should really do that! Some of the greatest players ever are putting in work on a nightly basis, and it’s a good opportunity to appreciate that instead of hoping for transactional fireworks …
… at least until we get the next Wojbomb in our notifications.
Tom Ziller writes and publishes Good Morning It’s Basketball, an independent NBA newsletter. Subscribe on Substack.