By TIM REYNOLDS
The 2023 NBA playoffs are over nine months away, and one thing is already clear.
It will be chaos.
The Minnesota Timberwolves grabbed a megaphone and announced this to the world when they traded multiple players and multiple first-round picks – one of them in 2029, meaning the youngster is currently 12 and probably can’t. not dive yet – at Utah Jazz for Rudy Gobert.
And with that, Minnesota is officially added to a list of legitimate Western Conference title contenders. There are strong arguments that can be made for no less than seven teams right now when debating who will represent the West in the upcoming season’s NBA Finals: defending champion Golden State, as well as Phoenix, Dallas , the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis, Denver and Minnesota are all on this list.
Don’t forget that at least three of those teams won’t make it past the first round next spring. At least three.
But give the Timberwolves credit for what they did, because that’s the way of the NBA world now. Organizations are either all-in or all-out.
A team is about to send another massive package of players and picks to Brooklyn for Kevin Durant, unless the Nets somehow change your mind about wanting to be traded elsewhere. And that team – no matter which one – will instantly have their title hopes soared even higher by adding perhaps the most uncontrollable player in the game today. Durant owes nearly $200 million over the next four years, is about to enter his 15th season (not including a missed injury), turns 34 this fall, and teams are still lining up to bet everything on the put in their uniform.
“Those who were locked in this gym with me know what it is, they know what I’m talking about”, Durant tweeted on Saturday, his first public comment since asking the Nets for a trade. “If you didn’t go with me, ask around.”
Cryptic in some ways, clear in others. Durant wants more rings. In other words, someone better go all-in.
That’s what it takes.
Golden State spent about $340 million last season on a championship-winning roster, about half in salary and the other half in luxury tax. Of course, the Warriors have deep pockets. But such is the price of doing business right now, especially in an NBA that has just emerged from a year in which a record $8.9 billion in basketball-related revenue was generated.
And the Timberwolves are the latest team to embrace that reality.
Gobert owes $170 million over the next four seasons. Karl-Anthony Towns owes $295 million over the next six seasons, after guaranteeing most of this in an extension which was struck a few hours before Gobert’s trade. Anthony Edwards, a star in the making, is on track for a massive rookie extension next summer. Minnesota, a team that hasn’t won a playoff since 2004, is swinging for the fences. New owner Alex Rodriguez, homer of 696 career homers, should be proud.
Somebody’s gonna get Durant. It’s not foolhardy to think that Kyrie Irving might want a trade now too, and if the Nets move Durant, they might as well move Irving instead of losing him for nothing next summer. Imagine Irving reuniting with LeBron James, this time with the Los Angeles Lakers, trying to recreate what they did in 2016 when Cleveland got to celebrate a title. If Irving goes, add the Lakers to that list of legitimate contenders in the West as well.
New Orleans will have some things to say about the playoff pursuit. The same goes for Portland, assuming Damian Lillard is Damian Lillard again, and there’s no reason to think it won’t. And who knows what Utah will be like without Gobert, especially with the speculation now surrounding whether the Jazz will choose to turn their roster remodel into a full teardown and trade Donovan Mitchell as well.
Keep in mind that moves are also happening in the East.
Eastern Conference Champion Boston significantly improved their depth by landing Malcolm Brogdon — another example of big spending, with $67.5 million and three years remaining on his contract — and Danilo Gallinari.
Miami, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern playoffs last season, is known to be in the Durant draw and Pat Riley is always, always, always looking for more stars. It wasn’t a free agent move, but Atlanta thinks it got better by trading Dejounte Murray to play alongside Trae Young. James Harden delivered his biggest assist as a 76er by stepping back and giving Philadelphia the freedom to pick up PJ Tucker; Harden is now expected to sign a new contract in Philadelphia, which cements them as another contender. Milwaukee has spent to keep Bobby Portis, which means most of the title-winning core around Giannis Antetokounmpo remains intact.
Signings can’t even happen for a few days. Training camps won’t start until the end of September. The season does not start until mid-October. And then it’s still six months before the playoffs.
That’s when this summer’s big, bold, best moves could pay off.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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