Nothing lasts forever. That's the lesson of the 2019 NBA offseason.
Actually, based on the shake-ups, teardowns, undertakings and overhauls we saw this summer, it seems more accurate to say nothing lasts for more than a year or two. Example: Of the 25 players named to All-Star teams in 2017, only eight play for the same organization.
With the roster turnover rate accelerating thanks to shorter contracts and general player empowerment, the shape of the league will be entirely different in a half-decade. That means most of the moves we saw this summer won't affect the NBA of 2024.
Some might, though. So we're going to squint into the future, fingers crossed, and hope we can guess at which ones figure to have significance that far down the line.
Do we need to go full galaxy brain to pursue this exercise? Are we trafficking in long shots and freewheeling speculation? Absolutely.
But that's how it goes when you're forecasting five years into the future of a league that can't maintain the status quo for five minutes.
OKC's Hard Reset
One way to be sure your offseason moves will impact the distant future is to acquire assets from which you can't technically derive value for several years.
Enter the sweeping, transformative summer of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who flipped Paul George, Jerami Grant and Russell Westbrook(yes, we're lumping these together as part of one grand offseason plan) for a total of eight future first-rounders, four pick swaps, Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
Four of those incoming first-rounders are in 2024 or later, and it seems likely the Thunder could add at least one more by moving Paul to another destination.
The Thunder may utilize some of their selections to swing other deals, so there's no guarantee they'll use all those picks in the draft. But few teams are better positioned to pluck talent from the amateur ranks or acquire it via trade (with first-rounders as sweeteners) than they are.
Oklahoma City's future is necessarily uncertain, but it's not hard to imagine a scenario five years from now in which one or two of its hypothetical draft selections profile as stars. By then those players could be entering their early primes, and the Thunder would have the capital to either draft more young help or seek trade partners who could offer veteran supporting pieces in exchange for a couple of those 2026 selections.
Though a trove of future draft assets doesn't assure anything, the Thunder's deals help avoid an alternate 2024 future in which they're just one year free of Westbrook's onerous contract and only then starting to rebuild.
First-round picks are currency for reconstructions, and OKC is filthy rich.
Lakers' Lasting Relevance
To get Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers sacrificed their future. That's how it looked, anyway, when they surrendered their best young players, three first-round picks and swap rights on a fourth to add the superstar big man.
Maybe we're looking at this the wrong way, though. Maybe, in a way that somewhat contradicts the logic we just applied to Oklahoma City, the Lakers actually traded for their future.
Given the sea changes we've observed this offseason, only a sucker would assume Davis will be in his current locale for another five years. These days, nobody seems to stay put that long. But suppose AD likes life in Los Angeles enough to re-up with the Lakers on a max deal in 2020 free agency. At that point, he'd probably be moving into an alpha role ahead of a declining LeBron James.
The Lakers would belong to Davis then, with James either accepting secondary status, retiring or moving on after his contract runs out in 2021 (or 2022 if he picks up his player option for the 2021-22 season).
During a press conference to introduce Davis to the media on July 13, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka hinted at that type of succession plan, via Bill Oram of The Athletic. "We feel very excited and very happy and pleased that we have a roster we feel like puts us in a position to win now and also keep our flexibility for the future as we look to building a team around Anthony Davis."
With limited resources to add max-level support around Davis until 2021, the Lakers could find it difficult to keep their future leader content. But if they play things right over the next handful of seasons, there's a possible five-year outlook in which the transition of power from James to Davis is relatively smooth, and AD continues the high-level winning we all expect to result from that pairing in the near term.