Highlights of the Wild NBA Summer and Preseason

A lot has happened in the NBA world since June 8 when the Golden State Warriors completed a four-game sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers to win back-to-back championships, their third title in the last four years.

LeBron James left Cleveland, again, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, while Paul George spurned joining his hometown Lakers to sign a maximum extension to remain with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

DeMarcus Cousins shocked the NBA world when he signed a one-year/$5.3 million contract to join the Warriors. The ugly Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio finally ended, with the Spurs trading him to the Toronto Raptors for Toronto’s franchise all-time leading scorer DeMar DeRozan.

Jimmy Butler and the T-Wolves

In recent weeks, Jimmy Butler has been the center of trade discussions, as he has refused a contract extension and demanded a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Heading into the season, three of the biggest storylines involve how the Jimmy Butler situation will resolve itself, how the Lakers’ young core matures throughout the season with LeBron, and how the return of Gordon Hayward makes the Celtics more dangerous.

While there have been rumors involving a potential move to Miami for Jimmy Butler, it feels more and more likely that Butler will end up remaining with Minnesota going into the season, since there is still no deal in place.

Miami’s rumored trade package included young two-way wing Josh Richardson and draft picks. Since the negotiations with Miami have fallen apart, Butler returned to Minnesota with vengeance toward players and front office members.

“At one point in a scrimmage, sources said, Butler turned to GM Scott Layden and screamed, ‘You (bleeping) need me. You can’t win without me.’ Butler left teammates and coaches largely speechless. He dominated the gym in every way. Jimmy’s back,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted.

It was also reported that Butler played with the third stringers, which is composed mostly of players fighting for roster spots, and dominated the starting unit of established NBA players.

LeBron James to the Lakers

With James joining the Lakers, their young core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart are expecting success this year.

The past five years for the Lakers may very well have been their worst in franchise history, as they have missed the playoffs each of the past five years and have won no more than 35 games.

The previous two times James changed teams in 2010 and 2014, his teams struggled early on, but rebounded to make the NBA Finals.

In the much more talented Western Conference, there is less of a margin for error for a slow start if the Lakers want to reach their championship aspirations.

Ingram, Ball, Kuzma and Hart will each be required to elevate their game and quickly evolve to playing with James.

Hayward, healthy, back in Boston

Finally healthy after snapping his ankle, Gordon Hayward is ready to help bring the Celtics over the top in the Eastern Conference.

Hayward has spent the past year recovering and working to improve on his game. Rejoining the rest of the Celtics lineup, Hayward and his team may prove to be lethal.

Even without Hayward and injured star guard Kyrie Irving, the Celtics were only one game away from making the NBA Finals last season thanks to young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who capitalized on their expanded role.

With the addition of a healthy Hayward combined with LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland, the Celtics are viewed as clear favorites in the Eastern Conference. The challenge for head coach Brad Stevens is figuring out how to work Hayward into a rotation that is already solidified.

Hayward will most likely start with Al Horford and Tatum in the frontcourt, along with Brown and Irving in the back- court. Hayward’s challenge will be to ac- climate into the current Celtics lineup without taking away opportunities for their elite core.

Heading into the season, I believe that Jimmy Butler will be moved by the trade deadline, since he has no interest in staying in Minnesota long term.

For LeBron and the Lakers, I would not be surprised if they struggle in the first few weeks of the season, but I expect their young core to make the strides that they need to be one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference.

While the Celtics showed growing pains in the preseason, their talent, roster versatility and coaching is better than anyone in the Eastern Conference, and pose the Warriors’ greatest threat of a three-peat.

Contact Matthew Frankle at [email protected].