Last night, as champagne flowed in the visitor’s locker room in Oracle Arena, as an entire country basked in celebration, general managers across the NBA should have been reaching for the phone to call David Griffin in an attempt to acquire Anthony Davis.
The NBA season is over, and the path to a new one begins soon. The biggest mystery in this offseason is where Davis will end up, and after last night every team with a sniff of the playoffs should be looking to get in on the action.
The obvious reason centers around Kawhi Leonard, the disgruntled Spurs forward who wanted out of San Antonio, who was redirected to the unlikeliest destination in Toronto, who buckled down and led these Raptors to their first championship ever. The Raptors’ President of Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri, seized a chance to bring Kawhi to the organization without a promise of commitment, betting that the reward would be worth the risk. Leonard’s — and Ujiri’s — victory should show other teams that risking assets for a run at a championship is worth it in the right landscape.
And other events from the past week — including last night — have proven that this next season is absolutely the right landscape.
The Warriors have been mainstays in the Western Conference Finals for half a decade, to the point where it was nearly a guarantee that they were going to end the season as champions. This created a landscape in the Western Conference where the pressure to build a championship contender came with an added challenge — not only do you need to assemble a team that can handle the rigors of an 82 game season in a loaded conference, but you need to have a team that can take down the Warriors in a seven game series. No team in the past five years has been able to do that, and the one team that got close has a cloudy future going forward.
Similarly, when LeBron was dominating the Eastern Conference, teams in that conference had trouble competing. These Raptors — minus a notable player — were swept by LeBron’s Cavs again and again, causing Ujiri to take the risk that paid off last night. That, of course, could only have happened with LeBron leaving to conference to join the Lakers. This past season, the East was wide open, and we saw the Bucks, Sixers, and Raptors make midseason moves to take advantage of the situation. Where there was once a roadblock, there was hope — that any team who had talent and made the right moves could be standing on the podium in June, or at the very least represent the East in the Finals.
And now, with Klay’s ACL tear and Durant’s achilles rupture, the West faces the same uncertainty. You can’t pencil the Warriors into the Western Conference Finals next year. And while there are several moving parts left to go — Kawhi and Kyrie’s free agent choices chief among them — anything you see about Vegas odds to win next year’s title is as flimsy as a clothesline in a hurricane.
With that landscape in mind, teams should be chomping at the bit to get David Griffin on the phone. Even with the assurances from Rich Paul that Anthony Davis will only sign long term with one or two teams, last night proves that when a pre-ordained champion is not guaranteed, anything can happen. Even if Kawhi goes somewhere else after winning a championship, that title doesn’t go away. Wouldn’t the Blazers, or the Nuggets, or some other team with a handful of talent want to send some assets to make a splash and possibly win a title?
This goes double for Danny Ainge. He has gathered assets for this express purpose. Klutch Sports has done a good job to try and deter him from sending assets for Davis, but is this not why those assets have been compiled? For a chance to build a championship team? If Ainge takes a risk here, even if Kyrie leaves, he still has ways to assemble a team that could win the East. Maybe in a world where Ainge needed to worry about competing with LeBron, this trade wouldn’t be talked about. But if the goal is a championship, and Davis can get you a chance at that, why worry about what an agent says about your chances to keep him? Anthony Davis has been linked to Boston since the first rumblings of the media wanting to pry Davis away from the Pelicans. The time to strike is now.
Golden State is hobbled. The Rockets are one year older and have to sort through more dysfunction. The Raptors may lose Kawhi. Who knows what is happening in Philadelphia with their free agent decisions? Nothing is a sure thing in the NBA next year. And with that in mind, someone needs to take a shot and see if it pays off.
The reporters have said that the sweepstakes for Anthony Davis is a two team race. But with the proof of a “rental” working out, and with the NBA Championship next year literally up for grabs, maybe those two teams should watch for a new entrant coming around the bend.