Why free agency will be a wild ride

With the NBA Finals behind us, it is now on to the offseason. And what an offseason this one promises to be.

We’ve got some of the biggest names in the game entering free agency. We’ve got a Finals MVP who may bolt from his current organization. We’ve got plenty of secondary stars who are looking for a place to call home for the next four or five years. And the NBA Draft gets underway this week. If MLB refers to their offseason activity as the Hot Stove, then this NBA offseason feels more like a flaming incinerator.

Let’s begin by addressing the questions surrounding the two teams who just completed the Finals. The city of Toronto and most of Canada fell head over heels in love with Kawhi Leonard. And did he ever repay them for their support. The great thing about championship banners is that they hang forever in the rafters. Long after all the players who helped earn them are gone.

But could Kawhi depart Toronto before they ever even hang the banner? Most reports are that the free agent start still prefers to spend the prime of his career in Los Angeles. The implication has been that the Clippers organization has the inside track, but LA’s other team would also welcome him with open arms (and open checkbook) to join LeBron. His decision will send ripples throughout the league. If Kawhi does leave Toronto, then where does that organization turn in an attempt at repeating? There are plenty of other quality free agents that the Raptors can turn to, but none that will bring them the instant stability that Leonard did.

As we approach what should be a tumultuous summer for Golden State, it has now become clear that they lost much more than just the NBA Finals. They lost, at least for the upcoming season and maybe forever, their best player in Kevin Durant. His Achilles injury will surely cost him a full season, but as a free agent, he may be leaving the West Coast for good. He’s allegedly spending the summer in his recently purchased New York digs. That only throws gas on the rumors of him joining either the Knicks or Nets.

But Durant’s injured leg isn’t the only extremity that has Warrior fans concerned. Klay Thompson’s ACL injury will force him out for most or all of next season. While most people (myself included) expect Klay to re-sign with Golden State, I wonder if that’s what is truly best for the team. If they lose Durant for good, while having Klay sit out an entire year, there is practically zero chance that this team competes for a title next year. Could that possibly make them a player in free agency? Doubtful, but interesting for sure.

Durant and Kawhi aside, we also know that the LeBron-led Los Angeles Lakers will be in the mix for bigtime free agents. The Lakers however couldn’t wait until free agency began to pursue roster upgrades as they swung a huge trade for Anthony Davis over the weekend.

Word on the street is that Kawhi and Durant would have no interest in joining LeBron in LA. It should be noted however that there are still plenty of other free agents who would look good in the purple and gold. Perhaps Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris would enjoy helping LeBron strengthen his legacy. Maybe Kemba Walker will actually leave Charlotte to pursue a championship in LA. Then there is the not-so-crazy idea of a LeBron/Kyrie Irving reunion. And even if none of those star players decide to go to Los Angeles, the Lakers can still turn to complimentary pieces like Marcus Morris, Nikola Mirotic, Kent Bazemore, JJ Redick or Terry Rozier.

The offseason will not only be about Kawhi or the Lakers though. If Kawhi bolts for the West, that leaves a huge void in the Eastern Conference. Could Milwaukee and the Greek Freak be up for the challenge of claiming Eastern Conference supremacy? They first have to figure out what to do with Kris Middleton and Malcom Brogdon who could both be entering free agency.

Or maybe the Celtics will re-emerge. They first have to figure out what to do about Kyrie and Al Horford. The possibilities are endless. No meaningful games will be played, but this offseason will be every bit as fascinating as the regular season.

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Tom Hoggard is sports director/media consultant at East Carolina Radio. He hosts the Outer Banks Sports Report on 98.1 The Score Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m.

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