NBA free-agent signings, trades that would be Warriors nightmares
Klay Thompson signs elsewhere
This is the scariest possible outcome for the Warriors in free agency.
While they've had to deal with the uncertainty surrounding Thompson's pending unrestricted free agency for well over a year now, the team has always remained confident in its ability to retain the star shooting guard. The Warriors are fully expected to offer Thompson the max contract he desires, and Thompson's camp has given every indication that Golden State is where he wants to be.
While this is the scenario that should have Warriors fans waking up in night sweats, it seems highly unlikely to occur.
Kawhi Leonard signs with the Lakers
Speaking of scenarios that aren't going to happen, here's another.
The Lakers reportedly believe they have a decent chance to pry the reigning Finals MVP away from Toronto. That sure seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream for the purple and gold before Thursday, when it was reported the Lakers had found a way to open up space for another max salary.
But still, there are many reasons as to why such a pairing is unlikely, none greater than the fact that the Raptors can offer Leonard more money and a longer contract than the Lakers can. Additionally, after proving he can win a title as the lead guy in Toronto, why would Leonard then head to Los Angeles, where he'd potentially become the third wheel?
Leonard is a Southern California native and reportedly is interested in returning to Los Angeles, but in case you haven't noticed, the Lakers aren't the only option there. The Clippers, who have room to add two max contracts, seem far more competitive for Leonard's services.
Kyrie Irving signs with the Lakers
Before Leonard and the Raptors accomplished the feat, the last team to beat out the Warriors for the NBA championship was the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, led by none other than LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
James has since departed the Cavs for the Lakers. Irving spent the last two very tumultuous seasons in Boston, and reportedly is set on leaving the Celtics in free agency. With the testy way they left things in Cleveland, a re-teaming up couldn't be in store, right? Or could it?
That thought right there should send a shiver down the Warriors' spine. Everyone seems to believe Irving has made his mind up for the Brooklyn Nets, but now that the Lakers have created room for another max contract, perhaps he reconsiders.
The idea of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving on the same team, in the Warriors' division no less?
Kawhi Leonard signs with the Clippers
Is Leonard the best player in the NBA? The answer to that question will likely vary based on personal preference, but after what he showed against the Warriors in the Finals, that status is getting tough to deny.
He dominates on both ends of the court. He's a two-time Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. His teams have averaged more than 57 regular-season victories every season of his career.
He might scare the Warriors more than any other individual in the NBA. And now, they might have to play him four times a season -- before the playoffs even begin.
That will be the reality if Leonard signs with the Clippers, and given their cap space, his addition could have a snowball effect that further improves LA's roster. The Clippers have the ability to get a lot better, very quickly in free agency. That likely all hinges on Leonard's decision.
Kevin Durant joins the Lakers
Sensing a theme, here?
Look, it's not going to happen, for the same reasons Leonard won't be joining the Lakers. The only reason this isn't higher on the list is the Achilles surgery that likely will force Durant to miss all of next season. When he's on the court, he's quite possibly the best player on the planet, and maybe the most skillful scorer in the history of the sport.
The Warriors desperately want to retain Durant's services. But if they're going to lose him, they'd much rather he go East than remain in the division.
It won't happen. But the brief second it's worth considering amounts to a Golden State horror film.
Kevin Durant joins the Clippers
See the last slide.
In perception, the Lakers might pose the greatest threat to the Warriors' long-term championship viability. But in reality, that team might actually be the Clippers, given their roster depth and financial flexibility.
The Warriors required six games to eliminate the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, and that was an LA team without any All-Stars. Durant averaged 35.0 points on 20.0 shot attempts per game in that series -- for Golden State.
The Warriors do not want to be on the opposite side of that equation in a future playoff series.
Kevin Durant joins the Nets with Kyrie Irving
This is multi-conditional, but if Irving is as dead set on Brooklyn as has been reported, it doesn't take a big leap to picture Durant alongside him.
Much like the Clippers, the Nets have the ability to add multiple max salaries in free agency. Irving would be one, and if they get him, the chances probably increase that they add another. Durant and Irving are friends off the court. Could that friendship make its way onto it?
There was no shortage of Durant-to-the-Knicks rumors over the last year, and if that's what Durant opts to do, that would certainly be a blow to Golden State. But in doing so, it wouldn't immediately create a bonafide championship contender (unless the Knicks added another star player). Durant joining Irving on the Nets, however, would.
Rockets find a way to trade Chris Paul
Of the teams that haven't been able to crest the Warriors' mountain top, the Rockets have arguably come the closest, and on multiple occasions.
They pushed the Warriors to seven games in the 2017 Western Conference Finals. They gave Golden State all it could handle in a six-game second-round playoff series last month. But unless they find a way to get out from under Chris Paul's albatross contract, that may be the last time they truly threaten the Warriors for some time.
The 2019 salary cap is $109 million, and the luxury tax threshold is $132 million. Between Paul ($38.5 million), James Harden ($38.2 million), Clint Capela ($14.9 million), Eric Gordon ($14.1 million) and P.J. Tucker ($8.3 million), that's already $114 million committed to just five players next year. In case you weren't paying attention to what happened to the Warriors in the Finals, depth is kind of important, don't you think?
Making matters worse for Houston, Paul's contract only gets worse from here on out. The 34-year-old guard who has never made it to a Finals, who has never proven the ability to stay healthy, is owed a whopping $120 million over the next three seasons.
Until the Rockets find a way to get out from under that contract, they're going to find it extremely difficult to makeover their roster. Good luck finding a taker.
Jimmy Butler heads to Los Angeles
Again, the Warriors do not want to see any more star power added within their own conference, much less their own division.
While he may occasionally rub his teammates and/or coaches the wrong way, Butler's value cannot be denied. He's a top-20 player in the league, plays both ends, and isn't afraid to take the last shot. Any contender would love to have him.
The 76ers acquired Butler in a mid-season trade, and reportedly are expected to offer Butler a max contract when free agency opens up. The Clippers and Lakers could do the same, depending on their other pursuits.
Pelicans trade for Clint Capela
New Orleans general manager David Griffin has done a tremendous job turning the franchise around in short order. Sure, he had to trade away Anthony Davis, but he got quite a haul in return. Oh, and then there's Zion Williamson.
Add the No. 1 overall pick to a team of Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, and you have the makings of an extremely exciting young core to build around. What they could use, though, is a rim-protecting center that fits with their timeline.
Enter Clint Capela.
The Rockets, as previously explained, are in salary cap hell. Capela arguably is their best asset, and would likely command the best return of any player on the roster not named James Harden. Houston reportedly will pursue adding another max player in free agency (it will require a magic trick, or two), but in order to do so, they'd likely have to trade Capela away to make it work.
The Pelicans have plenty of room under the salary cap, several draft picks acquired in the Davis trade, and time on their side. If they're looking to speed up their trajectory, a trade for Capela -- who has been known to cause the Warriors problems -- might do the trick.
Kemba Walker or D'Angelo Russell joins the Lakers
The Lakers had to give up Ball to get Davis, so they'll be in search of another point guard to play alongside him and LeBron.
Walker has reportedly decided to move on from Charlotte, after the Hornets declined to offer him a max extension. Russell was sent packing from Los Angeles earlier in his career, and reportedly is intrigued by a potential return.
Depending on how free agency shakes out, the Lakers might already be the prohibitive favorite to win the title next season. If they were to acquire Walker or Russell, they would be without question.
And probably not just next season.
Celtics trade for Karl-Anthony Towns
All that planning, and nothing to show for it.
The Celtics reportedly were setting themselves up to pursue a trade for Anthony Davis for years. Instead, the apple of their eye heads to their arch enemy. Ouch.
Now Kyrie Irving might be leaving. Double ouch.
If Irving and Al Horford leave in free agency, the Celtics might be forced to reassess. They thought they had a championship window, but in this case, it's been slammed shut, or at least postponed.
They still have plenty of assets though, and would potentially have room to add a large salary, whether it's this summer or a year or two down the line.
There's only one Davis. But Towns, who turns 24 in November, might be next in line when it comes to Boston trade targets.
It makes sense on multiple levels. Towns would make a very potent fit alongside Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, assuming the Celtics were able to acquire him without giving either of those two up. Towns has only experienced one playoff victory thus far in his career, and it's not as if superstars haven't gotten disgruntled in Minnesota before.
And considering the Timberwolves appear to be tethered to Andrew Wiggins' bloated contract, it will be tough for them to make any seismic changes to the franchise without offering up Towns.
If Towns were to get traded to the Celtics, it could be a double-whammy of sorts for Golden State. Not only could it hasten the rebuilding of an Eastern Conference title contender, but it could simultaneously eliminate one of the Warriors' own targets down the line.
Al Horford joins the Clippers or Blazers
Much like Kyrie Irving, it sounds like Al Horford has had enough of the Celtics.
If Horford is determined to play elsewhere next season, you can be sure there will be no shortage of interest among championship contenders.
The Clippers have room to add to max contracts. If one went to, say, Kawhi Leonard, and the other to Horford, are the Clippers not title favorites?
The Blazers don't have nearly as much room under the salary cap, and it would be a lot more complicated to get Horford to Portland. But, if they were able to do so, look out. Yes, the Blazers were swept by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but that was without Jusuf Nurkic, who missed the series due to injury.
We know how good Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are. Add in a healthy Nurkic and a still very productive Horford, and you have the makings of a team that can win in all sorts of different ways.
Horford just turned 33 at the beginning of June. If he was younger, this scenario would be even scarier.
Patrick Beverley re-signs with the Clippers
This one seems likely to occur.
Beverley has been a thorn in the Warriors' side throughout multiple playoff series over the last few years. One of the best defensive players in the league, he hounds Steph Curry as well as any guard in the NBA, and has been known to constantly get under the skin of opponents.
He's a good, but not great player. His talent isn't what should scare the Warriors. It's the idea of him bodying up Curry four games a season for the next several years.
The Warriors are already going to be without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson for most, if not all, of next season. They can't afford to have Curry go down as well. Beverley isn't a dirty player, but he sure is physical, and that in itself is scary in Golden State's current situation.
Jimmy Butler joins the Rockets
This nightmare would be short-lived relative to the dream that would persist long after it.
The Rockets have no salary cap room, but reportedly remain intent on adding another superstar, namely Butler. The problem is: Houston can't sign Butler as a free agent. They can only acquire him in a sign-and-trade.
In order to acquire Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Sixers, the Rockets would likely need to give up not one, but two of Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and P.J. Tucker.
So, to recap:
In order to acquire Butler, the Rockets would have to gut what little depth they currently have. Then, they'd be in even more financial hell, with Butler, James Harden and Chris Paul owed nearly $112 million combined next season.
(Again, the 2019-20 salary cap is set at $109 million.)
If you think the Rockets are top-heavy now, it would be exacerbated by this scenario.
Actually, that would probably turn out to be more of a nightmare for Houston than it would be for Golden State.