As the dominoes continue to fall in another blockbuster summer of free agency, it still feels like the more things change, the more they stay the same for the current NBA landscape.
With LeBron James heading to Los Angeles and bringing some veterans with him to all cape up in the purple and gold, the Lakers have become an intriguing candidate to make a quick rise in the Western Conference. James was obviously the key figure of this offseason and his presence alongside Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee elevates the second-winningest franchise in history back into the the limelight. It’s still possible some of those names may be converted into Kawhi Leonard, giving this team a scary ceiling of two-way talent.
But while the Lakers are garnering the headlines, with good reason, the questions remains: Is anyone even coming close to approaching the Warriors?
In one of the most unexpected moves of the free agency period, Golden State added All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins to its already loaded lineup. Cousins is returning from an achilles tear and could be looking for a short stint to re-establish his market value, but nobody could have predicted he’d head to the defending champs for just the mid-level exception of $5.3 million for one season.
Cousins is a 27-year-old beast with inside-outside skills and a feathery touch from the perimeter. He averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds per game for New Orleans before getting injured last season. Injecting that type of production into what may already be the best offensive team of all time seems downright unfair.
Maybe it won’t be perfect and personalities could clash for this combustable group, but Golden State may have added the second-best free agent of the summer when most people expected them to just do some fine tuning.
The Rockets thought they had the formula to take down the Warriors last season and almost did just that, but Houston has lost a bit of its core unit that produced 65 wins. Forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute have signed elsewhere, removing a strong component of the team’s defense. Sure, both had moments to forget in the postseason — notably Ariza’s 0 for 12 performance in Game 7 against the Warriors. But each had important roles that covered up some of the defensive liabilities that can crop up with James Harden on the floor for 40 minutes.
Houston now seems to be a potential landing spot for Carmelo Anthony and while the former scoring champ has more in the tank than he showed last season in Oklahoma City, he doesn’t replace what the Rockets have lost.
So we’re in the midst of an offseason that has already seen James, Cousins, Anthony, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Tony Parker, Rondo, Ariza, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez change uniforms. Yet all the movement doesn’t seem to alter the fact that the Warriors are clearly the best team and should have little trouble lifting their third straight championship trophy next summer.
Leonard’s ultimate landing spot — if he does leave San Antonio — has the potential to change that narrative, but more than ever, this is Golden State’s league. They have a chance to put five All-Stars on the court at once with absolutely no weaknesses. James has a better team now than he did in Cleveland and the Celtics could be very interesting with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the fold, but the Cousins coup keeps the Warriors atop the mountain.
Those other teams still climbing have probably slipped a bit further down to where the summit is barely even visible.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.