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With training camps in the NBA set to open next month, it’s time to play truth or fiction on some of the hottest takes.
Many were ready to crown the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers with their additions of Anthony Davis, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The New Orleans Pelicans were winners as well after landing Zion Williamson with the first overall pick and getting so much back for AD.
Others, like the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Hornets, lost significant pieces in Kevin Durant and Kemba Walker, sparking some spicy takes as well.
Which claims are legit?
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
With the Wizards coming off a 32-50 season and franchise point guard John Wall likely to miss the entire 2019-20 campaign with an Achilles injury, All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal will continue to dominate trade chatter.
The problem? The Wizards want to build around the 26-year-old, not trade him with two years left on his contract.
General manager Tommy Sheppard said the following, per ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski: “We need to show him that we are about building this the right way, that we aren’t going to have character-deficient guys around him. We are going to surround him with guys he wants to play with. He saw that right away in free agency with us bringing back Thomas Bryant.”
The Wizards have “no plans to engage in trade talks,” even if Beal rejects a three-year, $111 million max contract extension.
While it’s admirable to want to build around Beal, it’s not a realistic option. After trading Otto Porter Jr. for Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, the Wizards let both new players walk in free agency this past summer. They also shipped off starting power forward Markieff Morris to the New Orleans Pelicans for reserve wing Wesley Johnson in a salary-saving move.
Even in a weak East, the Wizards won’t make the playoffs, no matter what kind of numbers Beal puts up.
His trade value will never be higher than it is right now. The Wizards could completely reboot their franchise with trade offers from teams like the Pelicans or Denver Nuggets.
Verdict: Buy trading Beal and starting the rebuild
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Jason Miller/Getty Images
After just missing the playoffs last season with a 39-43 record, can the Hornets really sink to the bottom of the NBA just by losing one player?
This isn’t downplaying Kemba Walker’s impact, of course. The All-NBA point guard led the Hornets with 25.6 points, 5.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game, and a team-high 31.5 percent of all plays ended with Walker when he was in the game.
Charlotte will get some of that offense and playmaking back with the addition of former Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier, who signed a three-year, $56.7 million deal. The Hornets also selected Kentucky forward PJ Washington 12th overall in the draft.
Despite those additions, the Hornets can absolutely still be the NBA’s worst team.
Remember, Charlotte also saw shooting guard Jeremy Lamb sign with the Indiana Pacers, and Walker and Lamb ranked first and second on the Hornets in scoring and win shares (combined 40.9 points and 12.7 WS). Meanwhile, backup point guard Tony Parker retired, and Frank Kaminsky signed with the Phoenix Suns.
Even adding Rozier (14.2 points, 4.6 assists, 38.7 percent shooting per 36 minutes last season) won’t be enough to put Charlotte in the playoff picture again.
While FiveThiryEight’s CARMELO predictions put the Hornets above the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers, both the Knicks (RJ Barrett, added depth and overall talent) and Cavs (Darius Garland, healthy Kevin Love) make strong cases for passing Charlotte in the standings.
Unless Miles Bridges and Malik Monk make huge leaps, it’s hard to envision the Hornets finishing anywhere but the bottom.
Verdict: Buy, although the Cavs and Knicks should challenge
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Matteo Marchi/Getty Images
After reaching the past five NBA Finals and winning three of them, the Warriors dynasty appears to be on life support after losing Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell and Quinn Cook this offseason. Klay Thompson will also miss most of the 2019-20 season recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Finals.
This, combined with an even better Western Conference, may mean the end of Golden State’s reign, though Thompson doesn’t agree, per ESPN’s Cari Champion:
“I think that’s a little premature to say there’s no more dynasty. I mean, we still have Stephen Curry, a two-time MVP. Draymond Green a Defensive Player of the Year. Adding D’Angelo Russell was an incredible get for us. I mean, the kid is going to blossom into a superstar in this league.
“To say the dynasty is over I think is a little ignorant, because I think I’m gonna come back 110 percent, I think I’m gonna come back even better and more athletic. And it would not be smart to count the Dubs out.”
Although they’ll no longer be the title favorites, Thompson is right.
The last time the Warriors didn’t have Durant, all they did was win an NBA-record 73 games, with Curry becoming the first unanimous MVP in league history. Thompson should be back in February or March, and Green just signed a four-year, $100 million extension. Russell gives them a 23-year-old All-Star who can score and make plays or be used as trade bait for a deal later this year.
Curry now becomes the team’s oldest player at age 31. Thompson and Green are both 29, and Russell won’t celebrate birthday No. 24 until Feb. 23.
This Warriors team may not have the ceiling it did with Durant, but no one should be declaring the dynasty over yet.
Verdict: Sell. There’s too much talent left
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Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images
The Lakers decided to roll the dice on trying to acquire Kawhi Leonard in free agency, passing up on other big names in an effort to land the reigning Finals MVP. If successful, it would have made them overwhelming title favorites.
Alas, failing to sign Leonard meant using the remaining cap space on role players such as Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and Quinn Cook. DeMarcus Cousins was also brought in on a one-year, $3.5 million deal, but he recently tore his ACL and will spend most, if not all, of the season recovering.
With the Clippers adding Leonard and Paul George, combined with the loaded rosters of the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz, do the Lakers need a third star to come out of the West?
It can be assumed that LeBron James and Anthony Davis will have their minutes managed carefully this season, likely sitting multiple games for load management. James is entering season No. 17, and Davis played just 56 games last year. The Lakers aren’t good enough to win many games with one or both sitting, putting them in danger of missing out on home-court advantage.
Of course, this would be different with a third star.
The problem becomes how to get one. The Lakers wiped the cupboard nearly clean of trade assets when dealing for Davis and now can’t trade a first-round pick until 2026 at the earliest.
There was hope that Cousins could be that third star, a possibility that looks nearly impossible now.
With a healthy James and Davis, the Lakers don’t need a third star to make the playoffs, but with Cousins out, they’ll have to bring in more talent to have a serious chance at a title.
Verdict: Sell needing a third star for making the playoffs; buy for winning a title
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Chris Pizzello/Associated Press
Zion Williamson enters the NBA with more hype than any rookie since LeBron James in 2003, combining athleticism and size (6’7″, 285 lbs) not seen in a pick since Blake Griffin.
He has the skill set to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per night coming out of the gate, and the New Orleans Pelicans have a good mix of veterans and young talent to be competitive in a tough Western Conference.
All this adds up to Williamson winning Rookie of the Year, but it’ll be far from a runaway victory.
Over the past 14 years, only two players to win top rookie honors (Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015-16, Griffin in 2010-11) played power forward or center. Most winners are typically high-usage guards or wings, a trend that may favor Ja Morant, RJ Barrett or Darius Garland.
With Mike Conley out of Memphis, the Grizzlies should be relying heavily on Morant to run their offense. He averaged an eye-popping 24.5 points, 10.0 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals while leading Murray State to a 28-5 record last season and could once again post big numbers on a rebuilding Grizzlies team.
Barrett could be New York’s go-to scorer immediately, given the lack of star power around him. Garland could also take on a big role in Cleveland if Kevin Love is either traded or sidelined with another lengthy injury.
In New Orleans, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and JJ Redick will all need their shots, as will Josh Hart, Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes. Williamson could end up the third- or fourth-leading scorer with the Pelicans if he’s not aggressive enough, leading to a better overall team product but hurting his chances at Rookie of the Year.
While Williamson should still be considered the favorite, this will be a thrilling race.
Verdict: Sell for runaway win. Morant, Barrett and Garland will challenge
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Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press
With respect to the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, the Clippers are the undisputed winners of the 2019 offseason. Adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to a 48-win team will do that.
Putting two superstars in their prime together, especially ones as good defensively as Leonard and George, makes them an instant playoff team. Add in reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, three-and-D point guard Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Maurice Harkless, Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac, and the Clippers certainly look like the favorites.
Despite this wealth of talent, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection only lists the Clippers at the same 48 projected wins as last year, seventh-best in the league. It also lists their title chances at 5 percent, behind the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.
There’s also concern for George’s return from shoulder surgery, as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported the six-time All-Star could miss the first six weeks of the regular season.
Still, assuming George gets close to 60 games with his new teammates before the playoffs begin, that should be enough. He led the NBA in RPM wins last season with 19.86, with Leonard adding an additional 8.32 despite missing 22 games for the Toronto Raptors.
Given the vast potential this team has on both ends of the ball, the Clippers should be the slight favorites heading into the 2019-20 season.
Verdict: Buy, but this is the most open the NBA has been in years
Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. All stats via Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.