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The transactions in the NBA this offseason have made the league the center of attention (like the solar eclipse on August 21st) of the sports world since free agency began.
Trades and signings but mostly trades have pushed certain duos to the forefront even though predicting the 2018 champion won’t surprise anyone. But the new names on the back of certain jerseys have.
Jimmy Butler to Minnesota. Paul George to Oklahoma City. Chris Paul to Houston. Gordon Hayward to Boston. And most recently, Kyrie Irving to the same place with Isaiah Thomas taking his place in Cleveland.
“We always try to find players we think are special–a little bit different than the average NBA player.” Celtics general manager and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said. “We think Gordon and Kyrie certainly fit that category.”
Now the viewing public will witness the pairings of Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns; George and Russell Westbrook; Paul and James Harden; Irving and Hayward; and Thomas and LeBron James. God forbid injuries prevent any of these duos from getting on the court together like Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady during their time in Orlando.
But there is a high probability LeBron and Thomas’ debut could be delayed since Thomas has a bad hip and is expected to miss the start of the season.
Depending on who you are a fan of or who your team is, one or more of these dynamic duos will be exciting to watch or tune into like an OutKast, Little Brother or Tribe Called Quest album.
Since I referred to some great MC’s, I have to start with the greatest in the game at the moment–LeBron. Identified as one of the most unselfish players to hit the hardwood, James will have another opportunity to prove he can play with anyone, even a 5-9 scorer like Thomas, who is known for creating majority of his offense.
Now when finally healthy, Thomas will get some easier shots due to LeBron’s play-making abilities but have to adjust to not having the ball when it’s closing time. He flourished in the fourth quarter last season, and even though James probably won’t trust him on defense, he can trust the left-hander in the clutch.
Not only does Harden have a teammate in Paul who he can defer to down the stretch but a trusted ball handler, who should make sure he doesn’t run out of gas again. But when two ball-dominant players join forces concerns arise because both guys are used to running the show.
Last season, Mike D’Antoni moved Harden to the point and the left-hander had the Rockets looking like the remix of the mid-2000 Phoenix Suns. Meanwhile, Paul continued to direct traffic for the Clippers which could be painful to watch at times since the ball didn’t move much.
When the situation presents itself, who will be orchestrating the offense and who will be spotting up? (I’m sure offensive genius D’Antoni will figure it out at the expense of the team’s defense.)
“I think it was a great move,” said Kevin Durant on the Bill Simmons Podcast. “You put two guys together that are crafty with the ball like that, they are going to get everybody shots and each other shots. It was a ballsy move to pull off by [Daryl] Morey. I don’t think anybody would have thought to do that especially when you got James to play point guard.”
A similar situation is on the horizon in Oklahoma City next season with the can’t-be-trusted-in-the-clutch George joining all-of-my-shots-are-good-shots Westbrook. I like how both guys go about putting the ball in the hole but I have to identify their flaws just as I would for players who I don’t find entertaining.
“This trade was a shock too because Indiana just gave him away and I didn’t think Oklahoma City would ever think of giving up anything to trade for him. That was a ballsy move.”
Even though Westbrook, the reigning MVP, made some unbelievable clutch shots last season, he’s done more bad (causing you to ask yourself: What was that?) in the closing moments than good, and when it’s all on the line, why should we expect him to trust George when he struggled to trust Durant to win the game?
Last season’s experience of not playing with another superstar or all-star may have given Westbrook a new appreciation for that caliber of a player but the biggest question is: How will George react when the alter ego of Chuckbrook reveals himself too many times?
The isolation mentality that Irving also plays with could negatively impact the cohesion with Hayward, who will have to perform with added pressure due to the color of his skin. Irving also has pressure to prove he can lead a franchise without The King at his side since the Cavs barely won when James didn’t play.
The looming question here is whether Uncle Drew, who has the meanest handles in the league, will strive for so much individual success that his ambition prevents team success?
Butler joining Towns in Minnesota didn’t produce as many shock waves as the aforementioned moves but it did revive realistic playoff potential for the Timberwolves.
“Jimmy can shoot it but he needs the ball and a rhythm too,” Durant said. “Somebody has to give up something in their game for it to work. Towns needs to be the guy that they give the ball to because he is so good but Jimmy needs to be the facilitator. If I was coaching the team on 2K that is how I would play it.”
The new duo of Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic in Denver can’t be ignored along with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, who have a full offseason under their belt together after joining forces during the All-Star break last season.
“That passing duo of Jokic and Millsap is nice,” Durant said. “I like Millsap.”
All of the experienced duos (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum; John Wall and Bradley Beal; Pau Gasol and Mike Conley; Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan; Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge) will be back and likely better than before.
But does any duo have the firepower to dethrone what has been constructed in Oakland? Probably not because four (Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) beats a duo majority of the time.