It’s no surprise that in Los Angeles, the land of cinema and Hollywood, the NBA’s stars shone bright this weekend.
After days of press conferences that players used to speak out on political issues and give hints about the looming free agent class this summer, we finally arrived to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night’s events: the Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Contest, Three-Point Contest, Dunk Contest, and All-Star Game.
While the overwhelming narrative from the weekend was the brand-new “team captain” All-Star game format, there are lots of storylines and questions coming out from this weekend that will play out interestingly over the rest of the season or this summer.
1. Young players are ready to make their mark on the playoffs.
Heading into the weekend, rookie Donovan Mitchell had generated significant buzz by leading the Utah Jazz to an 11-game winning streak and vaulting them back into the playoff race. Mitchell showed off his playmaking ability Friday and Saturday, leading a crop of young players who displayed how much of a factor they will play in the postseason and future.
Friday night in the Rising Stars Challenge, we saw players like Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray come out and catch fire, scoring 35 and 21 points respectively. Brown and Murray will both be starting and will play key roles for teams in the playoff hunt, yet only Brown is over 21 years old.
Brown’s athleticism and defense will be crucial for the Boston Celtics once they go up against the top tier teams in the East, while Murray will need continue to his efficient shooting for the Denver Nuggets to stay in the Western Conference playoffs.
In addition to the game Friday night, we saw young players in the main event Sunday who have already established themselves among the game’s elite. Four of the 10 All-Star starters — Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving) are 25 or younger, and similarly young Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal, and Karl-Anthony Towns were all reserves.
Barring career-ending injuries or other issues, basketball fans should see these players at a high level for another 10 years or so. As the pillars of the NBA ride off in their banana boat into the sunset this weekend, fans are assured there’s much to look forward to.
2. The Los Angeles Lakers could soon be contenders
LeBron James and fellow All-Star Paul George are expected to be free agents this summer, and many speculate they could sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. After the Lakers cleared enough cap room space at the trade deadline for two maximum salary roster spots, it was clear Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka were basically opening the door for James and George to come play in L.A.
Many signs point to the two superstars heading to Los Angeles: George is from L.A. and has made his interest in playing for his hometown team clear. James owns two homes in Brentwood worth $43 million and his media enterprise is based out of Los Angeles. If he wants to age from basketball great to superstar/media mogul, what place better to do it than L.A.?
With all of this in mind, and the All-Star game being hosted in Los Angeles, the two players’ free agency was a constant topic. George has been consistently putting out confusing comments about his decision, and has only stoked debate about where he’ll end up.
James, when asked about Los Angeles as an All-Star host, quite graciously complimented the city, and said he and his family enjoyed the weekend, prompting mass speculation.
However, in the aftermath of All-Star weekend, executives across the league anonymously stated that they would be surprised if LeBron left, citing the Cleveland Cavaliers’ deadline trades as evidence that the Cavs are attempting to build a future around him.
3. The 2018 free agent class could shake up the NBA landscape
Beyond James and George, free agency was on the minds of everyone at All-Star Weekend.
Klay Thompson, a free agent in the summer of 2019, said he wants to stay with the Golden State Warriors for the rest of his career. However, unless Thompson is willing to take an undeservedly small contract, that’s not financially possible.
The pending free agency of New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, who earned an All-Star spot before rupturing his Achilles tendon, was on people’s minds as well.
Last season, in the middle of the All-Star game itself, Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the Pelicans; the Kings anticipated that the center would sign with a contender when he had the chance. New Orleans looked like a rest-of-his-career location for Cousins, who suddenly had the opportunity to play for a good, young team.
But even with Cousins healthy, his pairing with fellow All-Star forward Anthony Davis only brought the Pelicans to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff spots.
With Cousins being 27 years old, and given the uncertain history of players — especially big men — struggling to recover from Achilles injuries, Cousins might want to cash in on teams willing to offer a max contract salary. The Pelicans may not be able to offer that, given that they are already committed to long-term deals for Davis and point guard Jrue Holiday.