Now that the NBA has set a Dec. 22 start date for the 2021 season, that only means that the NBA Draft and the start of free agency are just around the corner.
In fact, the NBA Draft is next week on Nov. 18 and the start of free agency is two days later on Nov. 20. That means the unofficial start of the Association’s 75th season—its diamond jubilee—will come just a month and six days after the Los Angeles Lakers hoisted championship No. 17 in the Orlando bubble after outlasting the gritty Miami Heat in six games.
While it indeed will be a welcome Christmas gift for round-ball fans like me, I have this feeling that NBA players will not welcome the idea of having such a short break between the Finals and the start of the season. So will the short interval result in the scrapping of Summer League—rather Winter League—or preseason games?
As always revenue played a big part in a rushed start for the 2021 NBA season as the teams were projected to lose upward of $1 billion if they opted for a January start. Players—rookies more than veterans—also will no longer have the benefit of Summer League and preseason games and this might result in sloppy play and, God forbid, injuries to out-of-shape players. Other than those concerns, I’m all for watching NBA games while waiting for Santa Claus to bring me my Christmas gifts.
The cancellation of NCAA basketball due to COVID-19 also means that NBA teams will essentially be going to the NBA Draft as blind as a bat. I won’t even try to guess who the Minnesota Timberwolves will be choosing No. 1 overall a week from now, but what’s definitely certain is whoever they chose won’t immediately help them contend for a playoff spot.
LaMelo Ball, Lonzo’s brother, at No. 1 is interesting, but Minnesota already has a ball-dominant guard in the person of Angelo Russell. Picking James Wiseman at the spot also brings up questions of redundancy in the frontcourt as the former Memphis Tiger plays the same position as franchise cornerstone Karl Anthony-Towns. Perhaps, drafting Anthony Edwards (obviously not the actor who played Mark Greene in ER) would be the safest bet as the 6’5” swingman from Georgia is an offensive juggernaut that just might be what the doctored ordered for the T’Wolves.
The start of free agency, meanwhile, is the go-ahead date for teams to try to woo, court, entice, and persuade “unencumbered” players to join their team. Players entering free agency fall into two categories—restricted (somewhat encumbered as their previous/present team can always match an offer extended by another team) and unrestricted (akin to Joe finally saying sayonara to his girlfriend).
There’s also what you call player and team options. The former simply means the player has the option to pick up his option to return to the team, while the latter is the other way around with the team holding the option to bring back the player.
Just some of the notable free agents for the 2021 NBA offseason include the Los Angeles Lakers’ newly minted champion Anthony Davis (player option), San Antonio Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan (player option), Cleveland Cavaliers’ Andre Drummond (player option), Boston Celtics’ Gordon Hayward (player option), New Orleans Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram (restricted) and Derrick Favors (unrestricted), Denver Nuggets’ Danilo Gallinari (unrestricted) and Jerami Grant (player option), Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley (early termination) and Jordan Clarkson (unrestricted), Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka (all unrestricted), Los Angeles Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell (unrestricted), Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic (restricted), Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic (unrestricted), Chicago Bulls’ Otto Porter Jr. (player option), Portland Trailblazers’ Carmelo Anthony (unrestricted), Orlando Magic’s Evan Fournier (player option), and Phoenix Suns’ Aron Baynes (unrestricted).
On the trade side, Phoenix superstar Devin Booker suddenly wanting out from the Valley of the Sun was a surprise for me given how the team exceeded all expectations by going undefeated in the Orlando bubble. Conventional wisdom merits running it back one more time and see if it’s just a byproduct of the bubble or was it something for the long term.
Then there’s the trade linking Chris Paul to the Suns. I know they want to placate Booker and CP3 is coming off a sensational run in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. But Paul is already 35 years old and may only play at an all-star level for a couple of more years. Let’s face it, he’s not in tune with Booker and company’s timeline in Phoenix.
When it comes to the stampede of superstar or fringe superstar players wishing to lash on to the Miami Heat bandwagon, I just hope the Godfather Pat Riley won’t trade any of the team’s young guns in exchange for mercenaries who may or may not even pan out. It means: Don’t trade Baby Goat Tyler Herro or Duncan Robinson for a Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Victor Oladipo, or even the Houston Rockets’ James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Now, I may do a double-take if the Milwaukee Bucks came a calling and offered Giannis Antetokounmpo for anyone except Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but my spidey sense is telling me to simply wait for next offseason when the Greek Freak hits free agency.