Here we are again, a fourth straight Finals that features both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Now, some fans view this as a rivalry on the level of the Lakers vs. the Celtics, and others say it’s one of the worst things the league could possibly be going through right now, because we fans want to see a different Finals matchup every year. Whichever side may be right however, there are a few other teams in the league set to make a serious Finals run in the coming years, with just a few tweaks in the offseason.
5. Phoenix Suns Sign Isaiah Thomas And Jeff Green, Draft Deandre Ayton No. 1
The Phoenix Suns are in a special position this year. First, they have the No. 1 overall pick in a loaded draft class, which has the potential to produce a lot of stars in the NBA. Next, they have $20 million in cap space to spend this offseason, and their roster already has the league minimum 12 active players. This leaves Phoenix with a little bit of money to sign some key free agents this offseason, and the top two for them should be Isaiah Thomas and Jeff Green.
With Thomas, the Suns get some much-needed help at the point guard position. Elfrid Payton hasn’t been the player they were hoping that he would be when they traded for him, but Thomas has shown that he can play at an All-Star level when he is healthy. What’s better is that the Suns could get him for cheap. With injury concerns, Thomas level of play this year, and the fact that he’s average salary is only $6 million; the Suns could offer him a two year, $14 million contract with some added bonuses like a player option or no-trade clause, plus incentives for achieving a high level of play.
Green is a player who hasn’t really been considered an All-Star, but has shown that he can provide valuable minutes and produce at a consistent level if given the right role. Couple that with how he stepped up to the plate in a crucial Game 7 for Cleveland against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Green becomes an attractive offseason signing. Cleveland probably won’t be too keen on giving him a lot of money, something around the $3 or $4 million mark, so if you offer Green $5.5 million for a year to see how he plays it could give you some much-needed help outside of your backcourt, and drafting Ayton could create a second option in the frontcourt, and bring some strength to the Suns’ post game, forming a formidable young duo in the form of Ayton and Booker.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves Trade Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson For The Mavs' No. 5 Pick, Resign Jamal Crawford, Sign Derrick Favors
The Timberwolves look to be one of the most promising young teams in the NBA. However, they are not without controversy. SF Andrew Wiggins has complained about his role to the media before, lamenting that he seems to be the #3 option. We have seen teams be held back for a long time because of situations like this. Therefore, it’s probably within the teams best interest to trade him and starting PF to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for their first-round pick, No. 5 overall. With the trade, the Mavs would have their backcourt of the future in Dennis Smith Jr. and Andrew Wiggins, and Gibson could provide massive amounts of energy backing up Dirk Nowitzki's limited minutes.
With these trades, the Timberwolves would have around $20 million before the salary cap to work with in the offseason. With that, you resign Jamal Crawford for around $5-$6 million, and you fill in the hole at the post with Derrick Favors. Favors is a young, promising player in Utah, who the Wolves could grab for around $11 million. With the remaining space, as well as the $17 million you can use and get the luxury tax, you can sign one of the talented guards in the offseason, such as Isaiah Thomas or Avery Bradley.
3. San Antonio Spurs Trade Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol for Suns' No. 1 pick (Draft Ayton), Sign Avery Bradley, Clint Capela
San Antonio is a team that is in a weird position. On one hand, they have future Hall of Famers like Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Kawhi Leonard; on the other, three of those four are on the brink of retirement and the backups they have aren’t exactly top notch. However, the Spurs are not in so desperate of a position that they have to tank and start from scratch. Instead, just trade to a team that’s already done that! Leonard and Gasol are two high-end competitors who would fit nicely into the Suns' roster. Although the Suns GM says that they will most likely not trade the pick, a package deal of Leonard and Gasol would be hard to refuse, especially with Kawhi in there.
What this trade would do from a salary cap point is a few things. First, the Spurs would end up with about $40 million in cap space. It would also require them to pick up four players to meet the league minimum. With that space and money, you draft Ayton -- who has been compared to Spurs' legend David Robinson in the past -- and then move on to make some big free agent signings.
First, Avery Bradley. Bradley isn’t a flashy player, and he’s not exactly a superstar; but his numbers look a whole lot better than Dejounte Murray’s. He’s got more experience too. And with the mentoring of Tony Parker and Coach Pop, Bradley could become a dangerous force in the league. The next player you sign comes in to help down low, Clint Capela.
Capela has had a fantastic season with the Rockets. With 13 points, 10 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks per game, Capela has shown he can be a force on the low block. As of now, Capela is a restricted free agent to the Houston Rockets, and all signs point to him resigning with them. However, after resigning Parker, signing Bradley, and drafting Ayton, the Spurs would be left with anywhere from $10-15 million in cap space. Offering Capela $8-9 would put a Houston team that’s looking to resign Chris Paul and sign LeBron James in a tough position. Either they go way over the salary cap and sign Paul, James, and Capela; keep Capela and Paul and stay at the cap; or get James and Paul, stay a little over the cap, and say goodbye to Capela. And a post rotation of Ayton, Aldridge, and Capela could do a lot to jump start the Spurs on their way to another dynasty.
2. Los Angeles Lakers Sign DeMarcus Cousins And Paul George
Even though the Lakers may not have enough cap space to sign both LeBron and Paul George, they would have enough to sign DeMarcus Cousins and George. With about $60 million in cap space, the Lakers could go after these two superstars that would create one of the more well-rounded teams in the NBA.
Famously, Cousins is having some problems with his current team, the New Orleans Pelicans. According to many reports, Cousins is upset because he feels that the Pelicans are trying to underpay him for next season. Now, we don’t know what the actual number is, but considering his average salary is around $18 million, we can assume that the number is around $18 million, give or take two million. How do the Lakers, a team that hasn’t done anything for the last few years, convince Cousins to come to LA instead of staying in a promising NOLA situation? Simple, offer him around $23 million. Force the Pelicans to either pay the man or give him to you.
With George, he still has one year left on his current contract. By all reports, he’s still excited and ready to be in OKC, and he’s set to make $20 million next year. In short, LA’s going to be another tough sell. However, if you offer him much more than OKC, maybe around $27 million, and give him a clear path to the Finals with a player like Cousins by his side; then you make a more compelling case and put OKC in the same position you put NOLA, either pay or let him leave.
1. Houston Rockets Acquire LeBron James
Now, to be fair, any team acquiring LeBron would turn them into a title contender; he’s shown this throughout this postseason. However, there are two reasons that it would work best for the Rockets. First, the Rockets have the most to offer. The two other big teams in the talk for a possible LeBron James move are the Lakers and the 76ers. Now, remember that LeBron isn’t technically a free agent, and that the Cavs probably aren’t that interested in trading him. However, if LeBron does decline his player option and leave this offseason, now we’re looking at who is built to take down the Warriors.
The first team many point to is LA. Lonzo doesn’t look horrible. Isaiah Thomas has shown he’s a superstar when healthy. And they could even get Paul George and/or Kawhi Leonard! Now, while a big three of James, George, and Leonard would be nearly unstoppable, the Lakers don’t really have the pieces to acquire either of them, as any team getting Leonard or George would have to trade for them. And while George could also decline his player option this year and choose where to go, LA doesn’t really have the cap space needed to sign LeBron, PG13, as well as keep a team of good players around them. Philly runs into the same problem, not enough talent to make a trade and not enough money to sign both LeBron and other good supporting players. Their team is also young and inexperienced, which could hinder their immediate future.
However, Houston has the resources to sign James. They have the talent that would get him to the Finals too. The Rockets almost beat Golden State without James and Paul. With Paul, the general consensus is that the Rockets would have won game 6 or 7. With Paul and James, the series only would’ve gone 5 games. With James and Paul as teammates James Harden wouldn’t have had to play as much iso ball as he did, which means the pace of play would’ve tired the Warriors out more, and with James and Paul it would’ve put a much heavier defensive load on a team that isn’t renowned for their defense. The result would be a tougher series, and a great chance at seeing a different team in the Finals.