The 2018-2019 NBA season has finally concluded, with the Toronto Raptors beating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to secure their first title in franchise history. Though the Raptors winning their first title is great, the big story here is what happened during the last two games of the series, and the ripple effect it could have going into the offseason.
Both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson went down with major injuries during the series. Durant tore his Achilles in game 5, and Thompson tore his ACL Thursday night in game 6, and both could be sidelined all of next season (Durant is already expected to miss next season). Both Durant and Thompson are free agents this offseason as well, and are two key pieces that have been linked to multiple teams.
This offseason was supposed to be one of the more exciting offseasons in recent memory, with the potential to have so much shift in power with some signings. There’s the draft, specifically top prospect Zion Williamson, who is probably the highest touted prospect since Anthony Davis. Then there’s Davis himself, who has demanded a trade from the Pelicans, and is being connected to both the Celtics and Lakers with huge potential offers. And then there’s the list of top free agents, including Durant and Thompson, as well as Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, and many more.
Arguably the top three most coveted free agents were playing in the Finals: Durant, Leonard, and Thompson. Durant has been linked mainly to the Knicks, and Leonard and Thompson both have been linked to both teams in L.A., as well as potentially re-signing with their current teams. But with the result of the series, both with Toronto winning and Durant and Thompson suffering serious injuries, has the landscape of free agency changed?
Let’s start with Leonard, who may have successfully ended two dynasties in the Warriors this season and the Miami Heat a few years back when they had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh (three if you include him leaving the Spurs as well). I wrote at the beginning of the year how the trade between the Raptors and Spurs to send Kawhi to Toronto in exchange for DeMar DeRozan was worth it for both teams. Winning the championship was the obvious goal for the Raptors, and Leonard gave them the best chance to do that, even with his looming free agency decision.
Leonard has been linked to both the Lakers and Clippers, but after winning the championship, does that mean he will want to stay in Toronto and win more rings? What Leonard hasn’t done though is play professionally in L.A., where he was born and raised. After winning a few championships, Leonard may have a higher priority in where he plays, rather than giving him the best chance to win. Leonard has came out and said that he hasn’t eliminated a return to Toronto, so he may stay. Honestly, who knows with the dude. He’s the least outspoken player in the league, so it will be tough to predict what he ultimately wants.
Then we have the two Warriors players. Durant seemed imminent to bolt out of the Bay Area for possibly New York (mainly the Knicks, but Kyrie Irving is reportedly trying to lure him to Brooklyn with him), but did come out and say that accepting the player option on his contract could be a “last resort.” There are reports of teams still willing to throw long-term money at Durant in hopes of signing him this offseason, but the Achilles injury has to make teams cautious. No one knows how Durant will return from such a gruesome injury, especially for a player that’s near seven-feet tall. Accepting that player option would be a worst-case scenario for the Warriors; having to pay that much money to a player who won’t even play, taking up that precious cap-space needed to resign Klay or sign other players.
And speaking of Klay, he still remains quite the intriguing option for teams. Yes, he suffered an ACL injury last night, but that doesn’t eliminate him from playing at some point next season. Ideally, it looks like he could return as early as the All-Star break. He, like Kawhi, has been linked to both of the teams in L.A., but will remain a top priority by his former team to resign him. The Warriors can offer him the most money, but might not be able to go through with that if Durant accepts his option.
An ACL injury isn’t quite as serious as an Achilles injury, but still takes time to heal, and even after they return from the injury, they don’t quite return to form right away. Klay being the ultimate three-and-D star, teams are still going to throw money at him.
There are a lot of ripple effects that will happen this offseason. Each big signing a team makes will create an after-effect that impacts every other team in the league. From the draft, to the Anthony Davis trade (which probably will have the largest impact on the league), to impending free agents, every move from here on out will alter the future of the NBA for years to come. And the future of the NBA has already been impacted with the result of the Finals, including the Raptors potentially the Warriors dynasty and the major injuries to two of the leagues biggest stars.