WASHINGTON — The NBA offseason is unlike any other, which is why the league was turned upside down more than a week before free agency even began this year.
Take this summation, for example, which arrived on Twitter shortly before free agency officially kicked off at midnight on Saturday.
That’s a remarkable amount of turnover for a league in one offseason, much less the introductory stages of an offseason. Of course, there’s a common theme emerging here: The East is getting spread paper thin.
With the trades of Jimmy Butler and Paul George from the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, respectively, the Eastern Conference has seen two of its top players move west. The Pacers (7th) and Bulls (8th) held two of the eight playoff spots in the East last season, and while neither team was a threat to win a title, both teams had the talent necessary to put up a fight against the conference’s better teams.
Suddenly, both of those teams are in rebuild mode and can be forgotten about for the 2017-18 season.
That’s two of the conference’s top eight teams dropping from relevance with one move apiece. (The Pacers also lost Jeff Teague to the Minnesota Timberwolves while the Bulls cut Rajon Rondo, further decimating their rosters.)
The Brooklyn Nets swapped Brook Lopez out for D’Angelo Russell, which should help them get slightly better immediately, but they also finished a league-worst 20-62 last season. The Atlanta Hawks previously dumped Dwight Howard for a few spare parts, and they have to figure out how to re-sign Paul Millsap, and the Toronto Raptors are looking at the possibility of losing point guard Kyle Lowry and/or big man Serge Ibaka.
That leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Boston Celtics, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Wizards as the conference’s only plus-.500 teams to not suffer significant disruption.
Wizards fans should probably feel pretty good about that reality, though things could swing in the opposite direction if the Celtics are able to lure Gordon Hayward east. Still, the path is much clearer to at least the conference semifinals now than it was a month ago.
Of course, the conference semifinals is a place the Wizards have been before, and they have dreams of moving past that stage. But it now looks like the Wizards have a path to coast to the playoffs.
Aside from LeBron James, John Wall might now very well be the best player in the Eastern Conference, though Isaiah Thomas fans and Kyrie Irving fans will probably have some thoughts on that matter. Bradley Beal could be a top-10 player in the conference now, especially if he continues the development he showed a season ago.
And while they have myriad concerns still floating atop everything — what are draft picks, anyway? — the question of who guards George and Butler has been answered for them. Mind you, questions such as who guards LeBron James and who guards Giannis Antetokounmpo and who guards DeMar DeRozan still haunt Washington.
But two of the league’s top 20 scorers from 2016-17 have fled the conference. That’s potentially huge for the Wizards, and with a half-dozen or so games against those two teams on the calendar, it certainly looks as though a few wins have been added to the schedule.
A spot in the NBA Finals still seems like a longshot, to understate things, but it’s starting to look like the Wizards might finally cross that 50-win threshold. That’s something.