The free agency period in the NBA opened a few short weeks ago, and I would argue it was more eventful than any actual games last season.
Between free agent signings and trades, I would argue that eight of the league’s top 15 players will be wearing different uniforms this season.
And the real kicker to that is that I don’t really feel like there are any obnoxiously stacked teams.
Obviously there have been “stacked” teams since the days of the Minneapolis Lakers’ dynasty in the 1950s, but those teams - for the first 60 or so years of NBA play - were usually built up through the draft and maybe one marquee trade or signing here and there, along with top-tier coaches making good players great. It felt like it was more a product of management and the front office when a great team existed, as opposed to high-profile athletes wanting to play with their friends or superstars “ring chasing,” which has been the case for much of this millennium.
Think of the Boston Celtics of the 1980s. They drafted Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish (the latter through a draft-day trade), then they built a solid supporting cast around the three future hall-of-famers and went on to win three titles. A sort of similar thing happened with the Chicago Bulls in the 90s and the San Antonio Spurs of the late 90s and 2000s. The quality of the head coaches of the latter two teams (Phil Jackson in Chicago, Gregg Popovich for the Spurs) can’t be overstated either.
The era of the “superteam,” in my opinion, began with the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s. After Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers won three straight titles, the team signed free agents Karl Malone and Gary Payton - easily two of the best to ever play their respective positions - on discounted contracts because those two wanted what seemed to be the path of least resistance to win a title. They were ultimately unsuccessful.
Follow that up with the Celtics adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Lebron James and company making the ultimate superteam in Miami and then Kevin Durant joining the already record-setting Golden State Warriors. Those three teams won a combined six titles in the past 12 seasons, and competed in a combined 11 NBA Finals in that time. It became clear the league had an issue on its hands.
Some would argue those flashy superteams made the league more entertaining. I would argue it made the league less competitive.
At least to me, it seems as though those competitive days will be making their triumphant return this fall.
Now, maybe I’m being a bit naive, since many of this season’s top free agents still made deals to play with their friends (see: Brooklyn Nets, L.A. Clippers). However, the days of the overpowering superteam seem behind us for the moment. No one team seems demonstrably better than the rest of the league, as the Warriors have for the past five years and the Heat had for four years before that.
In fact, looking at the league rosters, I would say there are probably eight or nine teams that have a legitimate shot at winning a ring in the next season or two.
Oh, and in a surprise to absolutely no one, the Timberwolves are not one of those eight or nine teams. I guess some things never change.