By Jason Keidel
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It’s hard to think of a more chaotic NBA offseason than this one, which is now making the Hot Stove League look less like a bonfire than a Bunsen burner.
Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Gordon Haywood are just three dishes on the buffet that has all of us running back for second servings. No matter your allegiance, it’s impossible not to click and double-click, to keep at least some tabloid interest in the latest movements.
This year in particular has been utter mayhem, with major stars flying throughout the NBA galaxy. It’s been cleverly coined — by Houston GM Daryl Morey, perhaps? — as an arms race.
Few would know better than he would. Perhaps there’s been no bigger splash in the NBA’s offseason ocean than the one perpetrated by the Rockets, who traded for All-Star point guard Chris Paul for the hardwood equivalent of a bag of peanuts. (Unless you’re in love with Patrick Beverley or Lou Williams.)
And now the media and masses are fawning over the Rockets, who not only have a mutating roster, but seem to have also morphed into title contenders, way more so than last season.
The Rockets may have made the loudest noise, but the panic moves have echoed down the league, from coast to coast, all in an effort to win this hardwood cold war against the Golden State Warriors, the NBA champs and chalk to waltz back to the NBA Finals next season.
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The Warriors pulled off two impossibilities. They somehow made a 73-win team better — exponentially better — and they also absorbed a star, one of the three best players on the planet, and he slid seamlessly into the team ethic.
Yes, acquiring Kevin Durant was the NBA equivalent of losing a prizefight then pulling the padding from your gloves for the rematch.
But what the rest of the league seems to miss is that, other than signing Durant, surely a biblical move and shift in NBA power, the Warriors were rather conventionally built. Klay Thompson was drafted by Golden State. As was Draymond Green. As was the soul of the club and two-time NBA MVP, Steph Curry. Folks now think because of the addition of Durant that the Warriors were somehow pieced together like a Transformer. But they built from the bottom up, the way nearly all great teams are. If the Yankees taught us anything, other than it’s good to be rich, it’s that you can’t buy championships.
But despite all the evidence to support the notion that you don’t find Larry O’Brien trophies inside your bank vault, teams are doubling down on the Banana Boat mythology that you can buy a band of pricey brothers and just rack up rings.
Paul is a wonderful basketball player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Paul George and Jimmy Butler are also sublime basketball talents who no doubt make the Thunder and Timberwolves, respectively, better than they were a month ago. Though not quite on their level, Hayward is a newly minted All-Star who adds scoring to Boston, a team that needs someone to shoot the ball outside of point guard Isaiah Thomas.
But ever since Celtics president Danny Ainge pulled the trigger on the trades that spawned the Big Three in Boston — with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joining Paul Pierce as Celtic Superfriends — the NBA thinks that the right wave of the wand can hatch a champion.
These moves are made under a sad supposition that they are just a player away from reaching the Warriors’ orbit. They’re not. The Warriors are in their own stratosphere, well above and beyond the rest of the sport. There is no team other than Cleveland that can even play with Golden State. And for all of LeBron James’ genius, the Cavs suffered a gentleman’s sweep (five games) in the NBA Finals.
It should be an exciting 2017-18 for the NBA, while the rest of the sport huffs and puffs and pounds on Golden State’s door and try to enter the Warriors’ world. But they don’t realize that all these dream teams only exist in a dream world.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel