With this year’s long list of free agent signings and trades, the balance of power in the National Basketball Association has shifted dramatically. Lebron James decided to return home by re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs then added 19 point-per-game, 12 rebound-per-game superstar Kevin Love in a three-team trade which sent the Cavs most recent number one pick, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Chicago Bulls signed versatile big man Pau Gasol to add to their already highly talented team. Though not a free agent signing, it is also important to note that Derrick Rose has healed well and made a successful return to competitive basketball in the International Basketball Federation World Cup this summer. His value to the Bulls cannot be understated. Without Rose, the Bulls are an average playoff team. With him, they are a title contender.
On the flip side, the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers lost out this offseason. Just as Houston seemed poised to sign Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat were able to resign him a maximum contract offer of $118 million over five years. Then for whatever strange reason, the Rockets decided not to match the Dallas Mavericks offer to Chandler Parsons, and thus handed their best shooter to their cross-state rival. Even landing Trevor Ariza from Washington in a three-team trade probably won’t help the Rockets as much as a premium shooter like Parsons would’ve. Indiana failed to resign Lance Stephenson, who signed with Charlotte. Furthermore, a gruesome injury to Paul George in the FIBA World Cup means the Pacers will also be without their best player for most, if not all, of the upcoming season.
The shift in personnel has affected most teams, but not the San Antonio Spurs. They remain the best team in the league. Most years, they easily coast into the later stages of the Western Conference playoffs, but the hype is always about another team. Last year, experts spoke of San Antonio’s quiet regular season run to the best record in the west. On the flip side, a Miami Heat team that did very little to improve, besides Norris Cole, and took advantage of a once again weak Eastern Conference, continued to receive the majority of the hype. Then, when it came time for the NBA Finals rematch, the Spurs unleashed a brilliantly efficient offensive and defensive onslaught that left the Big Three and company despondent. In the end, the Spurs won the series 4-1, with each win by a margin of 15 or more points. Furthermore, it wasn’t one of the Spurs three future hall-of-famers that won the Finals Most Valuable Player Award. That honor went to the humble and soft-spoken Kawhi Leonard, another player who makes a strong case for the label of “superstar.”
Yet, in spite of the Spurs’ success, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are the teams to watch out for this upcoming season. Not that this inequity is surprising. The Thunder has the reigning MVP and arguably the best scorer in the league, Kevin Durant, and the explosive Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are known as “Lob City” for the array of alley-oop dunks they make during their games. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have their own commercials. In addition, the Clippers were given widespread media coverage this past spring for the comments of former owner Donald Sterling. Both teams are young and exciting. The Spurs are more experienced. Their leaders, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, are all relatively quiet, modest people. Sometimes they perform so seamlessly, it becomes almost boring to watch. But, being cultural icons doesn’t matter to them. They simply want to win. This is what they’ve done, and will do, every single year, championship or not. Of course, the questions about the age and health of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will linger until the day they retire. But as long as they and Tony Parker are healthy and want to continue playing, the Spurs will be the best team around, and the least advertised, at least among quality teams.