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NBA enters new era of unpredictability thanks to wild free agency period

Tim Reynolds, Associated Press

Sunday 7 July 2019 09:47, UK

Lakers team-mates Anthony Davis and LeBron James pictured together at Summer League in Las Vegas
Image: Lakers team-mates Anthony Davis and LeBron James pictured together at Summer League in Las Vegas

The biggest piece of valid criticism about the NBA in recent years has been that it is predictable. After free agency, that is no longer the case, writes Tim Reynolds.

There is no favourite. This is what the NBA wanted. And needed.

Free agency and trade tracker

Free agency and trade tracker

Which players have moved where in NBA free agency?

Golden State got to the last five NBA Finals. LeBron James had made it there eight years in a row, four with Miami and then four more with Cleveland. Brooklyn used to be the 'other' team in New York, and the Clippers used to be the 'other' team in Los Angeles.

No more.

Team-by-team signings

Team-by-team signings

Who signed where in NBA free agency?

Welcome to a new NBA. If you think the Clippers can win it all next season, or the Lakers, or Utah, or Philadelphia, or Milwaukee, or Houston, or Denver, or even Golden State and maybe a few others, you're right.

Technically, there is a favourite - the bookies in Las Vegas, after hearing the news on Saturday that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are heading to the Clippers, listed them as the best bet to win the 2020 NBA championship.

Kawhi Leonard is guarded by Paul George
Image: Kawhi Leonard is guarded by Paul George

Yes, the Clippers. A team that has won exactly four playoff series since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. A team that had 12 consecutive losing seasons a generation ago.

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There wasn't much NBA intrigue at this time last year. The Warriors were adding DeMarcus Cousins to a team that won the last two championships and were seemingly locks to win a third consecutive title.

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Everyone knows it didn't work out that way.

Toronto took care of that. It was just more proof that what seems obvious at this time of year doesn't always come to fruition.

Adam Silver presents Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 2018-19 Most Valuable Player award 9:33
Giannis Antetokounmpo was named 2018-19 Most Valuable Player at the NBA Awards

This year, though, the newfound balance of power - dare we say 'parity' - seems like a done deal. The East still has a 60-win team in Milwaukee with the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, so the Bucks may be the favourites right now on that side of the league.

Philadelphia lost JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler, adding Josh Richardson and Al Horford to a team that looks to be dominant defensively. No one will count out Boston, because of Brad Stevens and now Kemba Walker.

Jimmy Butler celebrates a vital Game 2 basket against the Raptors 3:47
What will free agent acquisition Jimmy Butler bring to the Miami Heat?

Miami got better even after losing Dwyane Wade with the addition of Butler, and the Heat might throw their hat in the ring if Russell Westbrook is indeed available following the George trade to the Clippers. Brooklyn get Kyrie Irving this season and now know they will be adding Kevin Durant next season, once he returns from his Achilles rehab. Atlanta's young core may be the most promising in the NBA.

And let's not forget the East also has the reigning NBA champions Raptors, albeit without Leonard and Danny Green.

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But the Western Conference... wow!

The Clippers kept Patrick Beverley, have an amazingly talented bench led by Lou Williams, a coach everybody wants to play for in Doc Rivers and now get two of the very best players in the game with Leonard and George.

The Lakers still have James, added Anthony Davis, kept JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, signed DeMarcus Cousins and Green - and might be in the market for another shooter.

Damian Lillard controls possession for Portland in Game 6 1:59
Damina Lillard outduelled Nikola Jokic as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 of their Western Conference semi-final series

Portland went to the Western Conference Finals last season and have an elite backcourt in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Utah had a brilliant summer, giving Donovan Mitchell more good players like Mike Conley to surround himself with. Houston still has James Harden and Chris Paul. Dallas figures to be better if Kristaps Porzingis is healthy to run alongside Luka Doncic.

The Lakers are almost certainly coming for someone's playoff spot out West. Same goes for the Heat in the East.

Zion Williamson during his Pelicans debut at Summer League in Las Vegas 2:16
Zion Williamson's Summer League debut for the New Orleans Pelicans against the New York Knicks was cut short as an earthquake shook the arena in Las Vegas

And before long, New Orleans with Zion Williamson and David Griffin at the controls, Atlanta with that core led by Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, potentially Memphis with the Ja Morant era set to begin, it'll be their turn at the playoff table.

It has been a top-heavy league for a long time. Only five different franchises have represented the West in the NBA Finals over the last 20 years. In the East, it's five over the last 15 years.

Right now, the odds-makers in Vegas are predicting next June it'll be Clippers vs Bucks.

A couple of days ago the Lakers were the betting favourites.

A new day is here in the NBA.

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