Several things to watch as a busy NBA offseason begins
CLEVELAND — The NBA offseason has arrived, which means nothing will happen for the next four months other than a draft, three summer leagues, free agency, the creation of a new schedule, coaching hires, trades, roster reworkings and possibly movement toward letting high school graduates jump directly into the league again.
It all adds up to very little downtime.
There is no shortage of questions about what will happen this summer — leading off, of course, with yet another decision to be made by LeBron James about his future and where he’ll play next season as he resumes his quest for more championships.
Here are some non-James topics heading into the offseason:
The mystery of the 2017-18 NBA season is the mystery of the offseason as well. Leonard played in only nine games for the Spurs this season while dealing with a leg injury, the specifics of which are a closely guarded secret even by San Antonio’s notoriously tight-lipped standards. He could get a supermax deal, he could get traded, he might still be hurt. But the Spurs — and the league — need answers, because he can change a lot of directions in a hurry.
The vacancies in Detroit and Toronto should be filled soon. The Pistons might be best-served to hire Dwane Casey, who led the Raptors to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference this season. This is a crucial hire for the Raptors, since whoever will be calling the shots next season will have a team that should be good enough to contend for the East title.
Arizona center Deandre Ayton will likely go No. 1 to Phoenix, which makes sense on a lot of levels. The intrigue really starts there. Does Vlade Divac use the No. 2 overall pick and bring Luka Doncic, the young Slovenian who has been talked about as a can’t-miss NBA star for some time, to Sacramento? What does Atlanta do at No. 3? Inevitably, someone will move up on draft night and that probably means an established player (or players) will be on the move.
The Supreme Court ruling already has bets on games being placed in Delaware, and more states will be following suit soon. Expect the NBA to continue pushing for 1 percent of the action, which the league says is needed in part to cover what will be its new costs as far as protecting the integrity of the game and the players. It’s also unclear if injury reports will have to be more specialized in a betting world. Wouldn’t bettors have liked knowing LeBron James had a badly injured — he says broken — hand in Games 2, 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals?
The NBA knows fans, players and coaches aren’t thrilled with the level of officiating in the league right now. This will absolutely be a big topic — maybe the primary topic — when the board of governors meet in Las Vegas next month. Also, there will be a challenge-flag-type item tinkered with during summer league games; it won’t be a red cloth like in the NFL, but the concept will be the same as the league studies whether something like that should be added.
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka should have about $62 million in cap space to go shopping with when free agency opens July 1 — including for James, meaning the Lakers could get transformed and become a playoff team again in a hurry. Expect them to use the No. 25 pick in the draft on a 3-point shooter, since no team can surround James with enough of those.
CHRIS PAUL AND PAUL GEORGE
Again, like so many other topics, the futures of Chris Paul and Paul George will probably have some impact on whatever James decides to do this summer — or vice versa. Paul wants a max contract, and if his hamstring didn’t pop late in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals he and the Houston Rockets may very well have been in the NBA Finals. George seemed to be hinting that he could stay in Oklahoma City, but is a Los Angeles native. It seems likely that either, or both, would try to align with James — but how?
Yes, the Pelicans. West semifinalists this season, New Orleans needs to decide what it wants to do with DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. The Pelicans have already given coach Alvin Gentry an extension , and keeping either Cousins or Rondo — or both — to play alongside Anthony Davis might make New Orleans a sleeper pick in the West next season. Question is, will Cousins be full-go coming off his Achilles injury.
Dwyane Wade has been talking about retirement, and there’s been no indication yet if he’s anywhere near a decision. Miami is in a tough situation on the cash front — Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson, Goran Dragic and James Johnson will make nearly $78 million themselves next season — and the Heat wants to find a way to keep Wayne Ellington. What will Wade do? And if he stays, how much can the Heat pay him? Or do they make big trades and add some star power?
Two questions for the Knicks to figure out: Will they allow David Fizdale the time he needs to build the team he wants? And what will they do with Kristaps Porzingis this season? Give Fizdale time, and he’ll win in New York. But rushing Porzingis back off ACL surgery could be a most unnecessary risk for a team that isn’t going to contend next season anyway.