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Free Agency 2019

Should we trust Masai? Are the Rockets still contenders? Six things we learned from NBA Free Agency

#HardenMasaiRuss

Most of the free agency pieces are in place and the puzzle that is the 2019-2020 season the NBA is starting to look more and more complete.

With that being said, here are a couple of things that stick out to me after one of the craziest offseasons in NBA history.

1. The Lakers are better without Kawhi

The Lakers are better off without Kawhi Leonard. Look I get it Leonard is the best player on the planet and adding him to a duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis would've seemed unstoppable, but having to fill out the rest of the roster would've been a nightmare.

Without Kawhi, the Lakers were able to add DeMarcus Cousins - who's coming into this season with two chips on his shoulder. Shooters like Danny Green, Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels. Veterans like Jared Dudley, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee. They still have Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This is a better more complete roster without the reigning Finals MVP. In hindsight Kawhi might have done them a favour by choosing L.A.'s other team.

2. Don't crown the Clippers yet

Pump your breaks on the Clippers. They made a splash signing in Kawhi Leonard, who's the best player on planet Earth. They also went out and got Paul George who's coming off of a season where he was an MVP finalist and is the second best two-way player in the league behind Leonard.

They kept their core of Pat Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Don't get me wrong the Clippers are a really really good team, but let's not act like they're head and shoulders above the rest of the league. The Lakers built out a complete roster around LeBron and AD, Utah is now also in the conversation after their strong offseason, the Nuggets finished second in the West last year and didn't get any worse. Throw in Portland, Milwaukee, Golden State, Philadelphia and Boston and this won't be a cakewalk for the Clippers.

3. We have no clue who the championship favourites are

This is the first time since 2007 that the league has been so wide open. Yes, 2007! That's a heck of a long time. That year the Spurs won their third NBA championship sweeping LeBron James and the young Cavs to do it. No one saw that Finals coming. Ok, maybe some people had the Spurs as favourites to come out of the West, but no one expected LeBron to carry a bunch of misfits to the Finals in just his age 22 season.

Every year after that we've known or at least had an idea who would get to the Finals. The 2008 Celtics with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen - the 2009 and 2010 Lakers with Kobe Bryant trying to best Shaq after his famous impromptu Kobe diss track.

In 2011 maybe we didn't see the Mavericks coming, but we certainly expected the Heat to be in the Finals and from there on out, whatever team LeBron was on was for the next 8 seasons! And of course, the Warriors were running wild over the NBA the last five seasons.

This year, you can ask 10 different people who will be in the Finals and get 10 different answers. You can make a case for 6-8 different teams as championship favourites and you can expect more as we get closer to the trade deadline in February.

It's been a while since we've had this many teams legitimately in the hunt for the LOB before the start of the season.

My heart goes out to the bandwagoners all over the globe, your choice has never been tougher.

4. It's going to be a long rebuild in OKC

It's going to be a while before the Thunder gets back into the playoffs... like a really long time.

OKC has done a really good job of bouncing back and holding off the rebuilding process in a small market. When they lost James Harden it almost felt like they got better as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook came a game away of making the NBA Finals. When they lost KD, Russ stood firm and committed to the Thunder long term opening the door for Paul George to come on board.

But now all of that seems like a distant memory. The Thunder have lost two league MVPs and if reports are true, they're on their way to losing another. Imagine telling the Thunder fanbase in 2012 - a fanbase that watched a young hungry team claw their way to the Finals - that Westbrook, Durant and Harden would all win league MVPs and they'd also acquire one of the best two-way players in the game within the next seven season and they'd never make it back to the Finals.

Look, I know the Thunder have a billion draft picks in the next couple of years (not the actual number I know just a ballpark figure) but those are just picks, there's no guarantee any of them hit. Windows in the NBA open and close so quickly, OKC's window is closed and might be for a while.

5. Be patient and trust in Masai

Masai and Bobby have to have a plan, right? When news came out over the weekend that the Raptors turned down a mega-deal that would've seen both Paul George and Russell Westbrook land in Toronto to play with Kawhi Leonard many in Raptor land probably questioned it.

If I've learned anything watching Masai and his regime operate in Toronto it's this: Trust in Masai.

While Masai has proven he's not afraid to take risks, he's also proven he's not into quick solutions - he takes his time. When everyone was expecting him to fire Dwane Casey and bring in his "own guy" when he first arrived in Toronto, he didn't. When most expected him to blow the team up when the Raptors kept failing in the playoffs, he didn't. So why should we expect him to do it now? If there's one thing Masai has done this season is this, he's proven he can build a winner - and that a winner can be built in Toronto, Canada.

There's no doubt that losing Kawhi was a huge blow to the Raptors - and losing him for nothing definitely has them taking a step back, but Masai and his front office weren't ready to gut the team and mortgage the future for a roster that may have been problematic. You have to give him credit for what he believes in and so far he's proven that his way works.

6. Are the Rockets still...contenders?

Did all the offseason movement actually help the Rockets? I don't know the answer but it's worth asking the question.

Daryl Morey made no bones about it, the Rockets were built the beat the Golden State Warriors. Well now the Warriors aren't what they once were are the Rockets perfectly positioned to now compete with the rest of the league? No team had the Warriors on the ropes more then the Rockets did when they were as healthy as could be. Yes, I know Andre Iguodala was out for most of that Conference Finals series, but Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were there and if Chris Paul's hamstring doesn't fail him we may have seen the Rockets in the Finals that season.

But let's not play the "what if" game about the past, let's play it with the future. What if James Harden and CP3 can be better load managed throughout the regular season? What if Clint Capela takes another leap in production off his career-year in 2018-19? What if P.J. Tucker is still P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon gets back to the Sixth Man of the Year player he once was? What if their style of play is too much for the Lakers, Clippers or Jazz? What if there's a trade coming that we don't see yet?

The Warriors are no longer in their way, maybe this is the opening the Rockets needed. I'm not saying this is the year of the Rockets, I'm just saying don't count them out just yet.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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