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Opening Day Of NBA's Free Agency Sent The Basketball World Into A Frenzy

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One day is all it took to change the NBA landscape for the next season. The opening day of free agency sent the basketball world into a frenzy yesterday. Some of the game's biggest players have new teams, like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Both signed to play for the Brooklyn Nets. But not every franchise got stronger. Teams like the Knicks failed once again to land a star player.

So to catch up on all the NBA free agency drama, we're going to talk with Haley O'Shaughnessy. She's a basketball writer for The Ringer. Welcome to the program.

HALEY O'SHAUGHNESSY: Thank you so much for having me.

CORNISH: So we've heard a lot about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving landing with the Nets. How big a deal is it? Is it just the two people, or is it where they ended up?

O'SHAUGHNESSY: I mean, it's both. You think about the Nets four years ago, and it's remarkable to see how far they've come. Even at the beginning of last season, you'd be hard-pressed to find a casual NBA fan who could name the Nets' starting five. If you walked into a bar where the game was playing, like, I guarantee at least a third of them couldn't do it - or maybe the other way around, two-thirds. And I mean, now they're the favorites in the East, with the obvious caveat that Kawhi could return to the Raptors.

You know, obviously, all the success of this can't really be judged until Durant comes back. And, you know, he tore his Achilles, so that could be late this upcoming season, or he could miss this year altogether. And then that's really when we can judge how much this is going to shift the landscape in terms of it being a big deal for the franchise to sign them. And then what it means for the rest of the league, it's already a huge deal. I mean, the Knicks missed out on these two free agents, and you think of them in this big market as totally having control over it, and the Nets are secondary. You know, Brooklyn snagged two of the biggest free agents available this summer.

CORNISH: You mentioned Kawhi Leonard. NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is a question mark - right? - in terms of where he's going to go next year. Why? Is there any inkling as to where he's leaning?

O'SHAUGHNESSY: It's kind of hard at this point to distinguish between rumors and reports with Kawhi. Part of that is because he himself is so reserved. He's not one of the players that you'll find on social media. And his free agency process has been pretty private, too. Now, the three teams that are being thrown around as the major ones he's considering are the Clippers, the Lakers and then Toronto, him re-signing with the Raptors. And all three of them are very fascinating.

He could pull what Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving did if he went to the Clippers because they are very much secondary, you know, just in terms of, like, history and esteem to the Lakers. And if he signs with the Lakers, then he'll be joining Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and that's a very, very powerful superteam. And if he returns to the Raptors, then I think that the league will have the most parity it's had in - I mean, I can't even remember when - over a decade.

CORNISH: You mention this idea of parity. Can you talk about how it looks like that is shaping up, why parity was a concern for the league and how it looks like it's playing out as these free agents are getting snapped up?

O'SHAUGHNESSY: For the last couple years, it's been kind of assumed going into the season that the Warriors are going to win it all. And for some people, that really made the league kind of more boring than it could have been. But the superstar players are able to basically move around, you know, as they prefer, which is completely different. And also, if they're teaming up, you know, that lessens the parity in the league.

CORNISH: That's Haley O'Shaughnessy, NBA writer for The Ringer. Thanks for speaking with us.

O'SHAUGHNESSY: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF OWEN PALLETT SONG, "DON'T STOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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