The NBA released its schedule for the 2017-18 season on Monday, and the homecomings for stars are worthy of a circle on your calendar.
Thanks to the Golden State Warriors, the 2017 NBA offseason was wild and unpredictable. Teams were executing trades and making signings hoping to bolster their roster so they can compete with the reigning champs. Several stars moved this offseason, some (and only one on this list) by their choice, but most by the decision of their front office.
The aftermath of these big decisions is the most entertaining. These players are facing off against teams that were instrumental in shaping their careers, and the reception is either warming or damning. Typically, the manner in their departure plays a role. If said star were a fan favorite who got moved so the team could rebuild, they’d be showered with applause when they return.
However, if they go the other route, the crowd is far from elated to see them return. We saw this with Kevin Durant most recently, and last year he actually traveled back to Oklahoma City with extra security. Durant’s a megastar who helped resurrect a franchise, so the hate he got might have been a bit overblown. The sudden departure also factored into the boos.
With a case like Durant’s, we might be in for a better show because of the tension between the two sides. NBA players are competitive, but leaving your brothers for a better situation only amplifies the emotional battle. It was on full display when KD went back.
On the other hand, maybe the player feels slighted by the organization. Maybe he got exchanged for nothing, or the general manager keeps taking subtle digs at him. Either way, the adrenaline starts pumping, and there’s the chance he develops the urge to drop 50 and remind the team what they got rid of.
Gordon Hayward to Utah, Mar. 28, 2018
Hayward and Durant have now put their teams through the same thing in consecutive summers (with exceptions, obviously). The Utah Jazz won 51 games last season (the most since 2010), and Hayward’s career campaign mainly fueled it. He made his first All-Star team and averaged 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 47.1 percent from the field. And then he left. The Boston Celtics were able to coerce the 26-year-old to travel across the country with the hope of winning a title, and the increased parity out West also factored into that.
In Boston, the path to the Finals doesn’t have as many road blocks. It’s Cleveland and Washington. (I’d say Toronto, but we know that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry do that weird thing where they don’t show up in the playoffs.) The Celtics have a loaded roster with Hayward, Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and the supporting cast is more than enough to go blow-for-blow with almost anybody.
Utah, however, was left in a state of disbelief. They groomed Hayward — both literally and figuratively — into an All-Star and he just up and left after his best season. It stings. I expect nothing less than a shower of boos once Hayward makes his return, but I also plan on seeing him perform on one of Boston’s last nationally-televised games.
Jimmy Butler to Chicago, Feb. 9, 2018
The Bulls goofed on this one. Minnesota extorted them. Jimmy Buckets will spend the next few seasons with the Timberwolves, and the franchise only parted with Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft pick that turned into Lauri Markkanen. Last year was Butler’s sixth season in the NBA, and he broke out for the second time.
He put up career-highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2), assists (5.5) and tied his career-best in steals (1.9) while carrying the entire organization on his shoulders. And then he got traded for nothing. Butler doesn’t mind it, but Chicago was just a few moves shy of being a middle-tier team in the East. Expectedly enough, the Bulls front office hasn’t always been the smartest, and their quickness to part with Butler was striking.
It was on draft night — not even fully into the offseason. Butler’s on the cusp of being one of the NBA’s premier wings, and we’ve seen him explode for upwards of 40 multiple times. For the most part, he’s a reserved guy, but I’d love to see his dark side come out and the Bulls’ faithful chants “FI-RE GAR-PAX!”
Paul George to Indiana, Dec. 13, 2017
George was the second All-Star caliber forward to get traded for nothing. His situation, however, was a bit different. George was very on-the-fence about his future with the Pacers; he wanted to stay if they built a contender, but also made plans to bolt for Los Angeles during the summer of 2018. I’m not surprised Kevin Pritchard pulled the trigger as quickly as he did.
Regardless, their haul was weak. In exchange for George, Indiana got Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Both have the potential to be solid NBA players, but they haven’t given us the “wow!” moments that George has, and their production pales in comparison. (Also, PG led his team to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals where it took LeBron James and the Miami Heat seven (2013) and six (2014) games to beat them.
George, like Butler, is coming off the best year of his career. He’s also about to enter his prime. Sam Presti grabbing him to pair alongside Russell Westbrook was a move of epic proportions, and we should applaud him for stealing a two-way force who can get his shot from all over.
Chris Paul to Los Angeles, Jan. 15, 2017
Houston finagling a deal for Chris Paul was the biggest move of the summer. It came out of nowhere, and it’s clear that Daryl Morey is looking to build a team that can out shoot anyone who stands in their path. Paul didn’t appear to be fed up with the Clippers, but the franchises inability to go deep into the playoffs showed that they just couldn’t put things together.
Some of it falls on CP3; some more on Blake Griffin. The Clippers also had a ton of bad luck. In a vacuum, where everyone’s healthy, few teams were more talented than they were. Paul was a lot of that talent, but he also made everyone better. Not many point guards could turn DeAndre Jordan into an All-Star.
It’ll be interesting to see the reception he gets upon returning. Because Paul never made a fuss, the fans have no reason to be bitter, and the front office felt it would be better for both parties to move on and have Blake be the centerpiece going forward. One thing is almost guaranteed, though — the Rockets are going to put points on the board at the STAPLES Center, and Paul will be conducting it.
D’Angelo Russell (Also) to Los Angeles, Nov. 3, 2017
Magic Johnson is beyond affectionate for Lonzo Ball and couldn’t wait to get rid of Russell in Timofey Mozgov’s salary dump. Does Zo have star potential? Of course. But so does Russell, and the Lakers did a terrible job handling him. They played him a lot at point guard when that’s not his natural position, but Russell still went out and put up numbers.
If I had to guess, Lakers fans are happy to see him go because he’s a “snitch.” There was that video of Nick Young talking about cheating on Iggy Azalea, and, apparently, there’s nothing wrong with a 31-year-old man cheating on his fiancée. I digress. BACK TO BASKETBALL.
Russell’s capable of lighting up the scoreboard despite the limited playing time, and that’s something the Brooklyn Nets desperately needed. I anticipate Lakers nation booing excessively during Russell’s return, and Magic has done a fair share of instigating, poking at how DLo wasn’t the leader they needed. I also anticipate Russell not backing down and attacking Lonzo on offense with every chance he gets.
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