Las Vegas • For the NBA, the end of July and the month of August are the only dormant six weeks of the year, a stretch of time the league takes off to gather its collective breath for training camp and another regular season.
That means we can all step back and analyze the free agency that just passed.
In the race to combat the dominance of the Golden State Warriors, the Western Conference loaded up. A conference that's traditionally been dominant is now arguably better than ever before. And an Eastern Conference that's traditionally been weak is now arguably at its weakest.
And the movement has been significant. Eastern Conference All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Paul Millsap and Paul George have crossed over to the West. Western Conference All-Star Gordon Hayward crossed over to the East. Point guard deluxe Chris Paul joined forces with James Harden in Houston. The Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers are competing to trade for Carmelo Anthony. And the Los Angeles Lakers are sitting back, clearing cap space and hoping to make a run at LeBron James for the summer of 2018.
So, who are the winners of free agency? Who are the losers? And can anyone beat the Golden State Warriors? We break it all down:
The Northwest Division • It's now the toughest division and the best division in basketball. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers are all playoff-worthy teams. And the star power features Jimmy Butler, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul Millsap, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum. You can take those nine and make an All-Star team that could beat the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
The Utah Jazz • The Jazz are still a playoff team without Gordon Hayward, but their ceiling is probably somewhere around fifth in the West and probably around 50 wins. Had they hung on to Hayward, they could've been the second best team in the Western Conference and won somewhere around 60 games. They are still a good team. But they were on the cusp of being a great team, and that's where Hayward's defection to Boston hurts most.
Paul George • He gets out of a hopeless situation with the Indiana Pacers, who had become a treadmill team. He goes to an OKC roster needing a guy of his talents in order to win big, and he could be in Los Angeles with one of the best young rosters in the NBA by next season. Once he decided to become a free agent, he played his cards perfectly. He told the Pacers of his intent, which forced them into a trade, and he landed in a desirable place.
Veteran point guards • The top-end guys — Kyle Lowry, George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague — were all eventually fine. But people like Derrick Rose and Deron Williams are still on the market, which squeezed the point guard position more than anything. Rose and Williams will be picked up by someone sooner or later. But neither has had this much uncertainty this late in the summer during their careers.
LeBron James • The Eastern Conference got weaker. Not only did it get weaker, but the two players who gave James the most resistance — George and Butler — left the conference. Sure, Hayward moved to Boston and the Celtics are pretty good. But they aren't good enough to beat the Cavaliers, especially after Boston had to lose Avery Bradley in the process. He was the only guy in the East who had a prayer of guarding Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers should be able to make the NBA Finals once again.
Cleveland Cavaliers • This goes both ways. Yes, the Cavs should be good enough to win the East — this year. But they were hamstrung by the salary cap and couldn't make a move via free agency or trade that made them significantly better. They couldn't get George. It doesn't look like they will get Carmelo Anthony. And they let one of the best general managers in the business — David Griffin — walk. The possibility of losing LeBron in 2018 is very real. So the Cavs had better make the most of this year.
The Minnesota Timberwolves • They now have one of the best starting fives in the league, and three guys who have All-Star talent. This is the best thing to happen to Minnesota since Kirby Puckett. After adding Butler, Teague and Taj Gibson, the T-wolves have the ability to win big and make a deep playoff run. They need more bench depth and more shooting. But the talent and the athleticism is there in spades. Expect the Wolves — after years of mediocrity — to win and win big.