NBA Free Agency Fallout: Lakers armed to defend title in 2021
November 27, 2020
Just weeks after the Los Angeles Lakers’ victory in the 2020 NBA Finals, the offseason began with the lifting of the trade moratorium for teams on Nov. 18. Following one of the most tumultuous seasons in recent memory, the return of free agency began to bring back feelings of normality among fans, as the arrival of trade season brings about another exciting cycle of free agency transactions around the NBA.
In the Western Conference, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers bolstered an already imposing lineup with the additions of two of the best sixth men in the league in Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder..
The losses of veteran contributors Rajon Rondo (two-year, $15 million with Atlanta) and Dwight Howard (one-year, $2.6 million with Philadelphia) will hurt the bench unit, but the offensive versatility offered by Harrell and Schroder (18.6 and 18.9 points per game (PPG) respectively) means that superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis no longer have to carry the load on offense. These deals put the Lakers in a prime position to defend their title in the 2020-2021 NBA season.
The biggest buzz generated in the days leading up to Nov. 18 came from Houston, where it was rumored that former MVPs Russell Westbrook and James Harden had both requested a trade from the Rockets. Both players had been displeased with the performance of the team, and despite the duo being close friends off the court, both expressed displeasure with sharing ball-handling duties.
The Brooklyn Nets, already sporting a roster led by superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, were deemed a likely destination for Harden. The move would reunite Harden with his old teammate in Durant (2009-2012 with Oklahoma City) and would provide the Nets with one of the most potent offenses in the league.
However, despite rumors of a “verbal agreement” between both teams to make the trade, trade talks quickly faltered, as no ideal trade package could be agreed upon. Any hopes of Harden staying for the long-term would be squandered however, as he would turn down a record breaking 2-year, $103-million extension to become the NBA’s first $50 million per year player.
For Westbrook, on the other hand, his trade value had been squandered after a disappointing performance in the NBA Bubble and a polarizing playstyle that is conflicting with a team looking to compete for a championship. There are still talks brewing involving a possible deal to Washington that would involve former All-Star John Wall, who recently demanded to be traded as well.
Nevertheless, the Rockets entered free agency with the mindset to make a playoff run with both stars. They landed up-and-coming big man Christian Wood at a bargain (three-year, $41 million), while signing another talented center in DeMarcus Cousins (one-year, non-guaranteed), who has been riddled with injuries over the past two seasons.
While most playoffs in the West have opted to reload and regroup in hopes of taking down the Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) have decided to opt for a rebuild, a year after trading away Westbrook and then-MVP candidate Paul George. Despite earning the fifth-seed in the West and taking the Rockets to a Game Seven in the first round of the playoffs, the Thunder decided to start building for the future.
The entire starting lineup, aside from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, was dealt away in free agency. Aside from the aforementioned Schroder, All-Star guard Chris Paul was dealt to the Phoenix Suns, who after years of futility, now have one of the brightest futures in the NBA.
The frontcourt was not without its losses as well. Forward Danilo Gallinari, one of the most lethal forwards on offense in the league, signed with the Atlanta Hawks (three-year, $61.5 million). Finally, longtime center Steven Adams was dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans, who now fill a major need in the frontcourt with the addition of the versatile big man.
In the process of the trades, the Thunder were able to accumulate an impressive draft capital, but also marked an end of the era in one of most successful franchises of the 2010s.
Despite the imposing nature of the Lakers roster, teams such as the Clippers, Nuggets, and Mavericks still stand in the way of defending their title. With up-and-coming teams such as the Pelicans, Suns, and Grizzlies rising in the ranks, the hunt for the playoffs will set up what will be another competitive season of NBA basketball in the Western Conference.