The New Orleans Pelicans’ blockbuster trade of Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers was merely a taste of what will go down as the most exciting offseason in NBA history.

The trade was nearly finalized in the spring before the Pelicans pulled out. Rumors swirled how owner Gayle Benson and then General Manager Dell Demps simply realized they didn’t have to jettison an unhappy future Hall of Famer just because the rest of the basketball world said they did.

Well, as it turns out, Davis was getting out of New Orleans one way or another. His partnership with LeBron James in the Hollywood Hills has already decimated the current Western Conference landscape. But his trade was just one of many moves that will ultimately reshape both conferences heading into the 2019-2020 season.

Here’s the lowdown on what’s happening: NBA teams are literally swimming in cap space, thanks to the 2016 collective bargaining agreement that opened the coffers wider than ever before. As it happens, many of the contracts made in the last three years had this offseason in mind, knowing full well this summer would feature many high-quality free agents. They all want a piece of the pie, and there’s plenty of pie to go around.

Let’s start with the NBA champion Toronto Raptors who signed Kawhi Leonard to a one-year deal last summer in hopes of luring the longtime San Antonio Spurs forward to staying in Canada long-term rather than make his move to Los Angeles, as has been rumored for years.

Leonard needed a place to play during his “gap year,” and the Raptors needed extra talent to make a run at the title. Here’s the problem. They won, and now Leonard has to decide if he truly still wants to go play for either the Clippers or Lakers, or if he wants to stay in Toronto and chase more rings. Let’s just say there are few examples to find in pro basketball history of a team’s best player leaving directly after a championship.

Then there are the Golden State Warriors who everyone knew all season were losing Kevin Durant, likely to the New York Knicks. Then Durant suffered a heartbreaking Achilles injury in the NBA Finals. Now what will he do? There’s little question the Warriors would have won if their loaded roster had been healthy. Heck, maybe even Durant alone would have done the trick. Does he parlay that into staying in Golden State (least likely), shoot for another short-term contract (medium likely) or parlay his power of absence into a super max contract with the Knicks (most likely)?

Sadly, Golden State’s woes don’t stop there. Klay Thompson injured his ACL in the Finals, and his future with the Warriors now seems in jeopardy. There was always a notion that Thompson may want to make his mark elsewhere – the Lakers had the best odds – but now his likely yearlong rehab has thrown a wrench into the works. Does he sign a one- to two-year “prove it” deal with the Warriors, or does he take the chance and pursue a free agency deal that might be less than he deserves as he heals.

Some departures are absolutely happening, such as Kyrie Irving leaving the Boston Celtics (and likely signing with the Brooklyn Nets). Despite indications he wants to stay, we know Kemba Walker is probably leaving the Charlotte Hornets. Julius Randle already turned down an extension offer from the Lakers, as did Nikola Vucevic for the

Orlando Magic.

Then there are the guys who aren’t getting as much press, the younger players seeking their first big contract and the veterans looking to cash in one more time. The bulk of those free agents are coming from two Eastern Conference teams that fell below the line of expectations this spring – the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Both teams have young players and veterans deserving of “super max” contracts with several teams already eyeing them. For Milwaukee, that means Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Brooke Lopez and Nikola Mirotic. For Philadelphia, the players eyeing the exit are Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick.

The NBA Draft was Thursday, and free agency period begins on June 30 at 6 p.m. However, there will be a moratorium period until July 6 when contracts can actually be signed.

(Send comments or questions to zack@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)

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