DAN BICKLEY

Free agent superstars will usher in new era of NBA

May 30, 2019, 7:50 PM
(Getty Images)...
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

American sports are in a state of upheaval.

The NFL has become a pinball game, all about the points. Major League Baseball is flirting with extinction, driving away fans who are watching with bubbling agitation, begging for something to happen. And as the NBA Finals commence, basketball fans are already bracing for the wildest offseason in history.

After the next champion is crowned, the NBA will be up for grabs.

Do the math. The best team (Golden State) is likely losing one of the top players in the game (Kevin Durant). The best player (LeBron James) is about to relinquish his throne, and didn’t even make the playoffs. With at least four legitimate free agent superstars on the market, there will be unprecedented shifts in power.

That list includes Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler. In New Orleans, Anthony Davis hasn’t backed off his trade demands. The Rockets’ entire roster is reportedly on the trading block. Zion Williamson is about to enter the league.

Only the players know what’s about to go down, and that’s the way they like it. But the questions are obvious:

Will James lure top wingmen to join him on the reeling Lakers? Will the Clippers make a bigger splash and finally take over Los Angeles? Will the Suns end up with D’Angelo Russell, benefactors of an impending Durant-Irving alliance in Brooklyn? Will the Knicks get shut out again?

Anything and everything seems to be on the table. There are new power brokers in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni is suddenly on a hot seat, Alvin Gentry received a massive reprieve in New Orleans and Robert Sarver may have actually changed his stripes.

It’s dizzying stuff, and just like everything in the NBA, it all flows from the top.

The NBA is renowned for its alpha male hierarchy. The league is stocked with the best athletes the planet can generate. But somehow, the greatest have always been light years ahead of their nearest peer, setting the bar impossibly high. That was true with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and James.

But the latter is running out of time, and we are coming to the end of a fascinating postseason in the NBA, where James has been noticeably absent. The biggest winners have been Leonard, Giannis, Draymond Green and Damian Lillard. James is no longer the unquestioned king, and there is no longer a gap between the league’s best players.

That’s good for the NBA. For all the great things James has done on the basketball court, he has fostered an age of empowerment that has badly damaged the league, leading to the creation of super teams, villainous agents and petulant players who whine their way out of town.

For years, people wondered how the NBA could survive the retirement of Jordan. We will not miss James. This postseason is proof.

It’s a shame that the current NBA Finals are fighting for headlines, ceding coverage to the offseason ahead. The Warriors represent one of the greatest dynasties in history, and their run without Durant has only confirmed their selfless beauty. The Raptors boast one of the most diverse fan bases in the NBA, mirroring the global ascent of the sport.

But the offseason is more than just a competition. It’s a soap opera. No sport can rival the drama cooked up in professional basketball, and it’s about time to buckle up. The spectacle is coming, along with a brand new NBA.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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