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Monday, August 08, 2022

Professional basketball just got a whole lot better.

Coveted free agents LeBron James and Paul George both made quick decisions regarding their future this weekend, choosing to join the Los Angeles Lakers and re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, respectively.

And I’m actually happy with each of their landing spots, especially George, which (probably) has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a Thunder fan. The news is also really good for fans who are tired of the Warriors and Cavaliers playing each other in the Finals every year.

Cleveland probably won’t make the playoffs anytime soon, which sets up the stage for a fresh matchup of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, the Celtics and 76ers.

It was nice to see the 2018 free agency season kick off with a surprise: first in  George’s return to Oklahoma City, then All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins joined the Golden State Warriors on a one year, $5.3 million deal.

Cousins earned $18 million with New Orleans last season. He's still recovering from a torn achilles he suffered on the closing seconds of a Jan. 26 win over Houston.

His impact will be felt more so the season after next, when the Warriors will surely be unable to afford a healthy Cousins, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green at the same time. It appears Cousins is insurance in case one of the Warriors core, presumably Thompson or Green, bolts for a larger role on another team.

Many thought that George, who has been open about his long time dreams of playing for his hometown Lakers, would follow that storybook path to southern California with James to create the newest “super team”.

What actually happened is something even better.

Instead of adding just Los Angeles to the list of legitimate threats to compete for the 2019 NBA Finals, we can now include Oklahoma City as well.

This means the early short list of title contenders now reads Golden State, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia and now the Lakers and the Thunder – six different cities with a realistic shot at bringing home a championship next season.

As for the more crowded top of the Western Conference, annual favorite Golden State’s path to a fifth-straight Finals became less certain.

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It’s unclear at this point who will join LeBron in Los Angeles since George, the previous frontrunner for that No. 2 spot next to James, has now committed to a four-year, $137 million deal with the Thunder. It is clear that the Lakers are more than capable of signing another top-flight free agent, thanks to financial flexibility and an A-list of free agents in 2019, including the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard as well as Golden State guard Klay Thompson and Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

Like George, James’ new deal is for four years, meaning the Lakers can afford to build their roster over the next couple of years.

The Thunder looked like the best team in basketball for stretches last season, and with George back, they have a chance to perfect that formula.

The NBA’s parity problem is a step closer to being fixed. The future is as bright as it is competitive. Most importantly, my favorite team has a chance to be absolutely great.

 

Andrew Huang is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJHuang and contact him at ahuang@alligator.org.

 

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