When the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors matched up in the NBA Finals for third consecutive year last month, there was some criticism of the repetitiveness in the league. No team came close to dethroning the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, and the Warriors simply looked too talented to be beaten by anyone.
28 teams consistently failing to reach the NBA's greatest stage begged the question: how desperate would the rest of the league become? This offseason provided plenty of opportunity for teams to make bold moves, but it was unclear whether some major free agents or trade chips would finally end up with a new home.
As it turns out, more big-name players changed teams this offseason than any in some time.
It started even before draft night, with the Lakers swapping Brook Lopez for D'Angelo Russell and the Hawks shipping Dwight Howard to the Hornets.
None of the teams involved in these deals will be contending against Cleveland or Golden State next season, but the Lakers' deal clearly sets the franchise up for bigger moves in the future. By clearing Timofey Mozgov's contract and acquiring an expiring deal in Brook Lopez, Magic Johnson will have plenty of money to work with next summer to attempt to build a super team.
The Hawks signaled a rebuild with the trade of Dwight Howard, and they'll also have no shortage of available money going forward. In the Eastern Conference, that is important - one major addition can make all the difference.
One team that hopes to make a run down the line, if not sooner, made one of the offseason's boldest moves on draft night. The Minnesota Timberwolves finally pried Jimmy Butler away from Chicago, bringing in the star to form a dangerous trio with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. A week later, as free agency began, the Timberwolves rounded out their squad by signing point guard Jeff Teague.
The Timberwolves were far from the only team to Western Conference team to make a bold improvement. Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey declared immediately after the Finals that he had something up his sleeve to combat the Warriors, and he proved himself right. Three days before free agency, the Rockets came out of nowhere to acquire Chris Paul from the Clippers. Paul had been expected to opt-out of his contract, but the Rockets and Clippers worked out a deal to get him to opt-in and be shipped to Houston.
The James Harden and Chris Paul duo will be one of the most exciting in the league, but is it the NBA's best outside of the Warriors' Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry? The Thunder made that a legitimate question two days after the Rockets' deal when they traded for Pacers' star Paul George.
Oklahoma City won 47 games this past season despite having just about no help around Russell Westbrook, but Sam Presti has brought the franchise back near the top by pairing the reigning MVP with one of the league's most complete players in George.
Even the San Antonio Spurs, perennially at or near the top of the Western Conference, made a splash with the signing of Rudy Gay to bolster their offense. The Nuggets made a rare major free agent signing by adding Paul Millsap on a 3-year, $90M contract to form one of the league's better big man duos alongside Nikola Jokic.
The Clippers, despite losing Chris Paul, were active in free agency, re-signing Blake Griffin, adding Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic, and bringing in both Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley in the Chris Paul trade. Though Doc Rivers' group may not be where it was last year, he showed that he's not ready to wave the white flag.
The repeated success of the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference gave way to one of the offseason's biggest moves, with Gordon Hayward deciding to sign with the Boston Celtics. The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals this year, but Danny Ainge knew his team needed one more big piece to make a legitimate run at Cleveland. He, along with Hayward's college coach Brad Stevens, pried the all-star away from Utah in a move that may not have happened if not for the talent migration to the Western Conference.
There is no time for complacency in the NBA. Front offices know this. When the same two teams repeatedly reach the league's highest level, big moves will happen. The repeated success of the Lakers and Celtics led to a league-altering offseason in 2010, headlined by the formation of the 'Big 3' in Miami, and nearly the same has happened in 2017 with multiple teams stacking up in anticipation of a window to win.
The two conferences might be lopsided as a result of some of these moves, but the league got considerably more interesting with this offseason's changes. The big question heading into next season now becomes whether any team has enough to threaten the Golden State Warriors.