The 2019-2020 NBA season has been suspended since March 12 and it’s looking less and less likely that the season will resume. On April 3rd, ESPN NBA reporter Brian Windhorst said on Sportscenter that the NBA is already in talks with the Players Union, and they are “angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down.”
This is probably the best decision for the NBA to make considering that the global pandemic does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. I’ve heard a lot of radical solutions to try to resume the season, like isolating all the NBA players into a specific area. From a logistical standpoint, that just doesn’t seem feasible.
However, I understand why the NBA is fighting so hard to keep their season alive because there are just so many negative implications if they cancel the season. Just imagine: this is going to be the first time in NBA history that no champion will be crowned at the end of a season. That’s just one of thousands of different implications. Let’s break down who I believe are the five biggest losers if the NBA season is canceled.
#5 – The 2020 Free Agency Class
The 2020 Free Agency class is actually not a good class. Only a handful of teams were expected to have cap space as it stood even prior to a potential cancellation, with most teams already looking forward to free agency in 2021. That class features guys like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George who can opt-out of their current deals (I’ll get to that later), and Giannis Antetoukounmpo, who is going to be a prized Unrestricted Free Agent (I’ll also get to that later).
But the 2020 class still has a bunch of players that can help out any rotation in the NBA. There are several over-30s who are proven veterans like Danillo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and Goran Dragic. Then there are players in their prime due for their first big payout. These are the likes of Fred VanVleet, Montrezl Harrell and Davis Bertans, and restricted free agent Brandon Ingram.
The problem is that if the season does get canceled, teams’ pockets will likely be extremely tight once the offseason rolls around. According to Ben Golliver of the Washington Post, the NBA could be looking at a revenue loss of upwards of a billion dollars, with each team losing about 40 million dollars if there are no playoffs. In fact, Woj announced on March 27th that the NBA’s top executives were going to have salaries cut by around 20 percent amidst the current crisis.
Because of this, the free agents this offseason will likely see a dip in their market value. For example, someone like Montrezl Harrell could’ve probably found a suitor for a three to four-year deal worth about 18 million dollars a season. I’d be shocked if he got anything more than 15 million dollars for over two seasons. That’s a potential loss of about 42 million dollars.
And that effect trickles down all the way to the fringe free agents battling for any little dollar above the minimum. It will likely even trickle into free agency in future seasons, depending on how the NBA plays next season out.
Of course, there’s still a lot of unknown as to how long this crisis will negatively affect the NBA and its teams from a financial standpoint, but you can almost guarantee that the 2020 free agency class will feel the hit.
#4 – Mike D’Antoni
This one is pretty quick and straightforward: Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s contract ends after this season, and the two-time NBA coach of the year was already rumored to be in a championship or bust scenario for this year. That’s likely why he and Daryl Morey went all-in on small ball after trading Clint Capela at the deadline.
To be fair to D’Antoni, the Rockets actually had another pretty good season at 40-24, and he had done a really good job incorporating Russell Westbrook with James Harden. But the Rockets were just 6th in the West right before the suspension and their season didn’t end particularly well, having lost four of their last five games, with three of those losses coming from the Knicks, Hornets and Magic. Not a great lasting impression for D’Antoni.
If Rockets owner Tillman Fretita takes that as an indication that a championship wasn’t in this team’s future anyway, then Mike D’Antoni may very well be out of a job next season.
The Rockets themselves aren’t losers here because, in theory, they should be fine without D’Antoni. Daryl Morey is still under contract until 2022 should the franchise want to keep him, and he’s still one of the most highly regarded GMs despite the China issue from last October. Harden and Westbrook are also under contract until at least 2022, and that should ensure the Rockets at least 50-wins per season until then. I personally think it’ll be tough for them to win a championship with that duo, regardless of the coach, but considering the lack of playoff success D’Antoni has had with the Rockets since inheriting the team in 2016, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Rockets were to go a different direction next season.
#3 – The Los Angeles Clippers
The LA Clippers have a gun with two bullets and if the season gets canceled, they’ll be down to a single bullet. That’s because swept under the rug during the Clippers’ acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last offseason was the fact that both were only guaranteed until 2021.
Last offseason, the Clippers traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danillo Gallinari, five first-round picks, and a couple of pick swaps for Paul George, who came into this year on the second of a four-year deal, the last of which is a player option. That trade basically granted them the right to sign Kawhi Leonard, who signed a max deal, but only in terms of cash, as the deal was actually just a three year contract with a player option in the third year.
So while the Clippers may come into the 2020-2021 season as a title favorite again, it may also be their only full year to convince their two stars to stay in La La Land. It’s obviously very possible that both stay in LA, especially considering that Kawhi and PG have notoriously wanted to play in LA for a long time. But remember how I mentioned earlier how crazy the 2021 free agency market will be? Anything can happen there.
Considering that the Clippers gave their right leg for Kawhi and PG, they should be higher on this list. But regardless of what happens with those two, Steve Ballmer has definitely changed the perception of the Clippers franchise for the better. And just a couple of weeks ago, he did an absolutely baller move and bought The Forum, which is the old stadium the Lakers used to play in back in the Showtime era. By 2024, the Clippers will likely have their own arena in Los Angeles. Players will want to play for the Clippers.
However, it’s still tough to ignore that the loss of this season means that Clippers may lose one of just two chances to win with the best team they’ve ever built.
#2 – Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks’ reasoning is pretty much the same as the Clippers, with this season wasted and Giannis only guaranteed until next season.
But the Bucks are higher than the Clippers on this list for two reasons. First, the Bucks were not just having an amazing season, but the Eastern was going to be an absolute cakewalk for them this year. Next season, things are going to change, and no, not because Jayson Tatum will make another leap to match Giannis; It’s because of Kevin Durant. Say what you want about Durant’s Achilles injury — When healthy, he is the only player in the East who is up to par or could be better than Giannis. Add him with a champion in Kyrie and you have two proven playoff winners, which is something that can’t be said about any other team in the East.
The second reason is because unlike the Clippers, if the Bucks lose Giannis, the rubble won’t be as easy to clean up simply because they’re not in a big market. The Bucks actually have a decent cap outlook if Giannis leaves, with only a few big contracts, and none that I’d say are really untradeable by 2021. But the fact of the matter is — the Bucks are in a market that is not the most enticing for free agents. And before Giannis, they had only made it past the first round ONCE since 1990.
If Giannis leaves for Miami, Toronto, or Golden State in 2021, things will get dark QUICK in Milwaukee. So yea, really tough break that they lost what would have likely been a Finals appearance at the very least.
#1 – LeBron James
Yes, not the LA Lakers, just LeBron James. The Lakers themselves have Anthony Davis, and considering the financial conditions of the league, I’m fully expecting him to sign an extension this offseason. That means that the Lakers will have the services of at least one top-five NBA player for the foreseeable future.
For LeBron James, this one is all about his legacy. This season was LeBron’s 17th season, and he already moved into third all-time in minutes played for regular season and playoffs. He still put up 25 points, eight rebounds, and a league-leading 10 assists per game at 35 years old. That’s pretty much superhuman.
But every game counts if you’re chasing records, and every season counts if you’re chasing greatness. LeBron James could finish his career as number one all-time in points scored, but losing 20 games of 25 points per game is already 10% of LeBron’s gap to Kareem.
And of course, LeBron lost a real shot at a fourth championship, and with his third different franchise. Whether he or not he wins one again, we’re going to look back at this season and remember what could’ve been. What could’ve been a fourth title to make the GOAT argument a lot more interesting. Or, what could’ve been the cherry on top of another ring or two.
Either way, this lost season may be to LeBron’s career what that year in baseball was to Jordan’s. The difference is that this one won’t be LeBron’s choice, and it’s a shame that it’ll play a massive effect in an argument the basketball world will be having for years to come.