NBA Free Agency’s First Domino: The Trade that Sets the Tone

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The Washington Wizards have traded their center, Marcin Gortat, to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers. Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers tweeted after the trade went down that this was the “first domino” in reference to NBA free agency. While Kuzma is just a second-year player and has never personally experienced the free agency frenzy of the NBA, he just might be onto something here.

First, let’s take a look at why these teams made the trade. The Wizards seem to have made this trade in an effort to get a much needed young backup guard that can help with their depth issue. In the end, Austin Rivers’ one year, $12.7 million contract is a better bang for the buck than Gortat’s one year, $13.7 million contract. Even though Rivers gets a lot of heat because his dad was the coach, he still played a huge role for the Clippers and put up decent numbers and is only 27 years old. Gortat, on the other hand, is a below average starting center and is on the decline at this point in his career, as he approaches 35 years of age. The Clippers, on the other hand, made this trade supposedly to prepare to fill a vacancy in the center position as it seems like DeAndre Jordan is on his way out. The Clippers are gearing up for a rebuild, and they would rather pay Gortat’s one year, $12.7 million contract than Jordan’s one year, $24.1 million contract. Consequently, their best scenario is having DeAndre Jordan opt into his contract so that they can trade him away and get assets back instead of him just walking.

Now that we understand why the teams made the trade, let’s see exactly why this is the first domino of the NBA free agency drama that will take place as soon as the clock strikes midnight on July 1st. In short, this trade sets the tone of the market. As I stated earlier, this trade has a lot of implications for the Clippers’ plans for DeAndre Jordan. While the destination for Jordan might not be relevant to other free agents, a facilitated trade by a player like Jordan could have a chain reaction with other players.

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Kawhi Leonard also has asked for a trade and can use Jordan’s situation as leverage as he looks to get out of San Antonio. The Spurs don’t want to be known as an organization that doesn’t treat their players well, and if Jordan gets what he wants, that makes the Spurs look bad if they refuse to do what the Clippers did. Where Kawhi Leonard goes, of course, has a massive impact on Paul George and LeBron James. If the Lakers are able to trade for Kawhi, George and James would be silly not to turn down that opportunity if it’s presented. In fact, Adrian Wojranowski at ESPN reported late Wednesday night that the Lakers landing Kawhi Leonard would “clinch” LeBron going to Los Angeles.

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It’s especially interesting that a Laker (Kuzma) was the one who tweeted this out. In addition, Magic Johnson has been putting all of his chips in and has stated that he’s “been to nine finals” to explain how obtaining elite players is not going to be a challenge for him. A lot of people around the NBA think Magic has got something up his sleeve, as he even went on record stating that he would step down if the Lakers didn’t get an elite player over the next two summers. If they’re able to land Leonard, the dominoes will continue to fall. Just keep an eye out for an LA Clippers trade sending DeAndre Jordan to Dallas that just might give Leonard some leverage to get himself traded to the Lakers.

Ultimately, once LeBron James makes his decision, most of the other moves will have little impact in the grand scheme of things. The first domino has fallen and is about to knock down all the others. So, buckle up. The NBA free agency frenzy is about to begin.

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