The summer of 2019 has produced one of the best NBA offseasons in a while. With so many players switching teams, the race for the Larry O’Brien seems more wide open than in recent years.
While the ultimate winner of the offseason will be the team that ends up raising the trophy in June, it’s still fun to decide who has had the best summer before the games are even played.
So while spring 2020 is when the actual champion is decided, let’s check out the winners of the summer of 2019.
5. The Bucks and 76ers
In the eyes of many the East is a two-team race and it has to be great to be one of those two squads.
Milwuakee and Philadelphia both had their seasons ended at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors in May, but with Kawhi gone and Kevin Durant missing this entire season, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid can become the new terror of the Eastern Conference come April.
The re-signings of Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris will either look extremely smart or loudly questionable based on how next year’s playoffs go, but each player should have the opportunity to prove they are worth their deal. The losses of Malcolm Brogdon and Jimmy Butler might turn out to be too much for either team to handle, but the additions of Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews and Al Horford and Josh Richardson, respectively, will likely be enough to make this the next Eastern Conference finals matchup.
4. D’Angelo Russell, Warriors
In most cases, a young All-Star switching teams probably means a lot of undue pressure to succeed at a high clip. And while D’Angelo Russell will certainly have some burden on him to ball out this season, he is in a fine position as the summer wraps up.
The main concern for most when it comes to the Warriors is when Klay Thompson gets healthy. And although D’Lo was grabbed as issurace for Thompson and the departing Kevin Durant, nobody is expecting him to perform like one of those two. If Russell regresses this season, the talk will be about the fit playing next to Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and how often he has the ball in his hands. If he plays really well and helps put the team in solid playoff standing and makes Thompson’s possible late-season return from his torn ACL even more impactful, then he will be one of the heroes who helps save what many expected to be a lost season.
Either way, the West is so stacked that the idea of being an All-Star once more is not going to be a burden on Russell’s shoulders. Simply playing well and helping the team win will be all that he has to be concerned with. He’s playing with house money and the most talent he has in his career. It’s a solid place to be.
3. Paul George, Clippers
Talk about having your cake and getting to eat it too. Paul George signed the massive extension with Oklahoma City, waving off the thought that he was focused on trying to get to Los Angeles to return home. But, one year later, he is in Los Angeles with Kawhi Leonard and a revamped Clippers squad.
Coming off the best year of his career, a lot of pressure will be on PG to finally make a run in the Western Conference playoffs and topple LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, as the No. 2 option, not everything will fall on PG’s surgically repaired shoulders. Instead, he, along with Leonard, will only be judged from April onward.
Those two should be terrors on the defensive end of the ball, and maybe it will help George join his new superstar teammate as a fellow Defensive Player of the Year winner. At the very least, the amount of fastbreak opportunities created by George, Leonard and Patrick Beverley hounding ballhandlers should make offense slightly more fun. Expect those three to be on the perimeter jumping passing lanes whenever possible.
For George, life just got a lot simpler so long as he has no trouble putting the ball in the basket once the real season starts and the race to 16 wins is underway.
2. The Pelicans
When your summer starts by landing Zion Williamson, the most hyped prospect since LeBron James, it’s probably going to be a good summer. Now with Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and young players added in the Anthony Davis deal, New Orleans appears to have a real future laid out for itself.
The signings of J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors make this season much more intriguing than it would have been without some quality veterans. Now it shouldn’t become Jrue Holiday’s responsibility alone to show the young guys how to make things work in the NBA and perform like the team’s best player.
If Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram turn out to be more than they showed with the Lakers, it’s a huge win. And if they come anything close to the All-Star caliber No. 2 picks each was projected to be, than New Orleans might just turn into more of a basketball town than anybody expected.
But at the end of the day, this all goes back to Zion. If he’s running around dunking on every single person like we expect and proving to be a defensive presence that can create game-changing plays with his freak athleticism, than the Pelicans will be fine for years to come. At the very least, he should be able to get some butts in the seats, especially if Zo can pass the ball as well as he was expected to coming out of college.
1. Haters All Over the World
Yes, this summer was all about the Silky Johnsons and Buc Nastys of the NBA community.
If you have ever jumped on the internet to throw shade at any team or player and find yourself getting more joy out of that than celebrating your favorite franchise’s success, than summer 2019 was like an early Christmas. For all the folks who love to complain about LeBron James, you get to be outraged about how Anthony Davis ended up with the Lakers. If you hate the Lakers and their fans, you get to poke fun at Leonard chosing the Clippers over the Purple and Gold and bringing PG along with him.
If you’ve hated the Warriors and how they ruined basketball the last few years, get hyped about Kevin Durant playing on the other coast. And if you’ve hated them ever since that 2015 title, play the long game and keep an eye on the re-signings of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green’s extension. What would be better than the core of that 73-win team signing on for a few years together just to never reach those highs again?
What if you hate the Celtics or 76ers? Well, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford left Boston, and Jimmy Buckets bounced from Philadelphia and fans are ready to call Ben Simmons a coward for draining jumpers in open runs and passing them up in real games.
With the title up for grabs the way that it is, the failures of any team this season will be far more meme-able than in years past. The hate, much like the quality of basketball, is sure to be at an all-time high this season.