For this article, I’ll be breaking down how the outcome of the NBA Finals will impact many key players both from and outside of the series. I’ll be going player-by-player and in a fashion where major storylines are grouped together; this isn’t a ranking of any kind. While reading, keep in mind that most of the information we have right comes from “rumors” or “reports”, not all of it is set in stone.
A ruptured Achilles is the worst injury you can have as a basketball player, but that’s exactly what Durant suffered in the Game 5 win in Toronto. Durant was the best player in the world this past season and his free agency was long anticipated. Now, he’ll miss all of the 2019-20 season.
Plenty of teams will still offer Durant max contracts, but the injury and his long road to recovery will have a far-reaching impact on the market. I think the injury and Finals loss might actually increase the chance of Durant returning to Golden State, assuming he doesn’t have a grudge against the training and coaching staff. There’s a chance he might not want to end his time with the Warriors on a major injury and a Finals loss. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has already said the team plans on offering Durant a max contract. There’s a lot of factors here, almost too many to predict or discuss. I guess we’ll just have to sit back, wait, and wish Durant a quick and complete recovery.
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported on June 13 that Irving is planning on joining the Brooklyn Nets. However, it was well known he had previously been hoping to team up with Durant on the Knicks or Nets. With Durant not available for the next season and possibly rethinking the path of his free agency entirely, where does that leave Irving? Will he try to join another available All-Star, or stay the course and head to Brooklyn?
Playing into the Durant/Irving Brooklyn rumors, Russell would have to be let go of if the Nets wanted to land both stars. Russell was an All-Star in his own right this past season, but he’s not as valued nor as skilled as Durant or Irving. If the Nets were able to land both Durant and Irving, for cap reasons they would have to let Russell, who is a restricted free agent, go. It would be an unceremonious end to Russell’s time in Brooklyn, during which he remade himself as a player, as a person, and took the team to the playoffs.
Thompson tore the ACL in his left knee in Game 6 of the NBA Finals when landing awkwardly following an attempted block by Danny Green. It’s fully expected that Thompson will be the Warriors first priority this offseason and that he’ll be brought back for the long-term on a max contract despite his injury. That being said, the injury and the frustrating Finals loss adds new layers to a free agency already complicated by the availability of so many stars.
Combine erratic Finals play, the inability to reach 100%, and a Finals loss, and you get what must be one of the most frustrating seasons in Cousins career. The former All-NBA center thought he would have plenty of time in Golden State to get healthy after tearing his Achilles last season. He also thought he’d come out of the one-year deal with a championship ring. Now, he’s neither fully healthy nor a champion. It’s incredibly hard to predict where Cousins will go now. Cousins said he’s open to returning to the Warriors next season, but do the Warriors even want him back? And how would they even manage to offer him a deal after going in on Durant and Thompson? Cousins has the most overshadowed yet complicated situation on the Warriors.
The center has grown a lot since being drafted by the Warriors in 2015. He set career highs in minutes, points, assists, and rebounds per game along with highs in field goal and free throw percentage. At just 23 years old, Looney is far from a finished product but he’s about to get a raise on the free agent market. Last year, he signed a one-year $1.57 million deal to stay in Golden State, but he’s worth more than that now. He’s also injured, dealing with a cartilage fracture in his chest. He should heal fine, but does he want to stick around and recover in Golden State or chase the money somewhere else? Also, the Durant and Thompson situation impacts when the team would have an opportunity to even offer Looney a deal in the first place.
All signs pointed to Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Clippers this summer, and then the Raptors won the championship. With speculation about Toronto having a shot to repeat next season already kicking off, Leonard now has a major decision to make. He could stay with his established squad where he’s a beloved hero or do what he’s already done once before and start from scratch somewhere new. The pull to stay and try to repeat will have an impact on his decision.
He may be going on age 35, but Gasol was a crucial member of the Raptors championship run. Despite his age, he’s still a versatile big man who can shoot threes and he’s one of the smartest defenders in the game today. There’s also the fact that he’s one of the most physical post players left in the league. All of these assets will draw in several teams this summer, but Gasol could always stay in Toronto and go for another championship. His decision will likely be based on where Leonard goes.
Green is in a similar situation to Gasol. The two-time champion will be turning 32 soon, but he’s also a good three-and-D player. He made an All-Defensive team just a few years ago and knocked down 45.5% of his three-point attempts during the regular season. There will be multiple teams inquiring about him as well, but the pull to return to Toronto will be competing with those calls. Green has won both of his titles with Leonard. It will be interesting to see if the two are on the same team again next season.
Los Angeles Lakers
If you’re LeBron James, you have to realize the time to add new pieces and make a run is right now. The Warriors, with the Durant and Thompson injuries, haven’t been this vulnerable since their dynasty began. So far, James and Leonard are the only two alfa-dog players who have proven they are capable of beating Golden State late in the playoffs. The Lakers need to land at least one All-Star player to have a shot at a deep playoff run next season. That means a trade for Anthony Davis, signing Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, or some other All-Star is essential. The Lakers also have to pray that Leonard stays in the Eastern Conference.