And Happy Birthday, America! Well, ok, not for a couple of days yet, but it’s Fourth of July week, and that means that in my office it feels like the last week of school before the summer break. We’re here, but we’re not really “here”. With the Fourth falling on a Thursday, my office is also closed on Friday, meaning I have a nice four-day weekend ahead of me.
The Fourth of July holiday is generally one for people to have fun with friends and family, maybe cook some meat on a grill, perhaps drink an adult beverage or a few. Oh yeah, and a time to find out where the biggest NBA free agent is going to sign.
NBA Free Agency officially kicked off (tipped off?) Sunday evening and most of the big names have settled in already to their new teams. But the biggest free agent question mark this offseason, Kawhi Leonard, has yet to announce where he’s going. It seems like a lot of big free agency decisions tend to happen around the Fourth, so I would expect to find out what Kawhi is going to do in the next couple of days.
Like most, I would be pretty surprised if he doesn’t sign with the Los Angeles Lakers at this point. He accomplished an incredible feat in leading the Toronto Raptors to a title last season. He’s proven everything he needs to prove. Now, he can go home to Los Angeles and play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis for a few seasons. It makes all the sense in the world.
I’m rooting for him to stay in Toronto, though. There’s a petty part of me, as a small market team fan, that would find it pretty great if the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers all were shut out of the free agency sweepstakes. Of course, this would be no victory for small markets. Brooklyn and Philadelphia are currently the big winners. Kawhi staying in Toronto wouldn’t signal any kind of shift in the paradigm.
For a long time, the NBA Players Association had little real power. David Stern ran the league with an iron fist and the owers held most of the power. LeBron James will be remembered for all of his incredible achievements on the court, but perhaps one of his more overlooked legacies in the league will be his part in turning this in the era of player agency. Between Adam Silver, a more player-friendly commissioner, taking over and the NBA players getting more active and involved in the players union, the league has shifted. As viewership, attendance, engagement, and profits have all skyrocketed in the last couple of decades, the NBA has transformed into a league driven by its stars.
This year’s free agency period has driven that point home. All season long there were questions about what Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and others would do. Fans have been frothing at the mouth waiting for the latest “Woj Bomb” to drop on Twitter. It’s been a fun week and the entire landscape of the NBA has been turned on its head. After four years of feeling like the Golden State Warriors were an inevitability1, we now have a scenario where there’s not a clear favorite to win the title next season.
Wherever Kawhi lands will probably be the favorite, sure, but Houston, Philly, Portland, Utah, Milwaukee, Toronto (if Kawhi stays), Los Angeles Lakers2, and Denver all have to feel like getting to the Finals next season is a very real possibility. There’s something very fun, fresh, and exciting about this.
Unfortunately for us as Cavs fans, this has all been like sitting at home looking at everyone else’s fun summer vacation on Facebook and Instagram. Free agency is a fun party, but it’s one the Cleveland Cavaliers are not invited to. Never have been, really. Even having LeBron James was never enough. It wasn’t enough to keep Carlos Boozer. It wasn’t enough to attract any free agents better than Larry Hughes (who the Cavs still had to overpay to get to come). LeBron in 2014 was the biggest free agent the Cavs ever signed, of course. Other than that, I honestly don’t even know who was the last big free agent the Cavaliers signed (not counting extending players already on the roster like Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving).
Now, obviously, the Cavs weren’t going to be free agency players this year regardless. They don’t have cap space and they aren’t at the point in their rebuild where it makes sense to try to sign guys yet. So I’m not even talking about this offseason, per se. It’s really just pointing out that it’s still a bit of a bummer that no matter what else Cleveland ever does, they are never going to be a place that players want to play. Cleveland’s not alone in this. The Nuggets have been trying forever to get big free agents to sit down with them. Indiana is such a well-run team, yet they are an after-thought in free agency. Meanwhile, the Lakers with all of their chaos and turmoil are about to land Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard this offseason to go with LeBron James, who signed their last year. It’s hard to compete with that.
The important thing for Cleveland, though, is to not worry about these things that they cannot control. Koby Altman’s job now is to keep acquiring good young players. And John Beilein’s job is to develop those young players into solid role players and stars. The Cavaliers may not be a free agent destination, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be an engaging, exciting, fun team to watch. It doesn’t mean they can’t turn into something we’re proud to watch. It doesn’t mean they can’t swing some smart trades at the right time and turn this team back into contenders. All of that can happen eventually.
Either way, it’s July. Free agency is winding down, but Summer League is picking up. It’s an exciting time for Cavs fans, especially those of us eager to get a first look at Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, and Kevin Porter Jr. So enjoy your time off over the holiday, and take in a Summer League game or two if you want to see some young players ready to try to make their mark on the league. It’s what this time of year is all about.