Since the NBA has decided to postpone handing out its biggest awards until the offseason—in an elaborate awards show that we’ll all forget about until the day of—the All-NBA teams are our only source of instant gratification. On Thursday, the three teams were announced, and unlike the MVP award, which is just about a title and a trophy, the All-NBA teams actually have financial weight to them. For some players, like LeBron, making a team was simply about keeping the streak alive. But for others, seeing their name on the list it is going to make a multimillion-dollar difference. Here are the three teams:
NBA All-NBA:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 23, 2019
First team: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Paul George.
Second team: Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving.
Third team: Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Rudy Gobert, Kemba Walker.
And here are four takeaways:
Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard Secure the Bag
Here’s where I have to point out that millions of dollars in NBA contract incentives being tied to media members’ votes is a strange thing. Imagine if an arbitrary judge, not your boss but just someone who watched what you did, decided how your work stacked up against others’ and in the process how much money you could make. Sports are weird.
Both Lillard (second team) and Walker (third team) are now eligible for supermax contract extensions after their selections. I wrote about Lillard’s forthcoming extension, which appears to be well on its way, earlier this week. He deserves it, but the new contract will force Portland to get even more savvy and creative to improve the team around him. Walker is a different story. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and throughout the spring many thought that after making the playoffs only twice during his eight seasons in Charlotte—and getting eliminated in the first round both times—he might opt to take less money to join a team like the Knicks, Nets, or Lakers. With this selection, though, the chances of that happening may have diminished greatly.
As ESPN’s Bobby Marks points out, the difference between what Walker could earn from a full supermax extension with the Hornets and a max contract elsewhere is $80 million over the course of the deal. That’s a ridiculous amount of money, and it’s hard to see Walker turning that much cash down—though it is important to note that even if the supermax is an option, it doesn’t mean that the Hornets (who will be in the luxury tax if they choose to shell out that much money) will offer it. If it is offered and if he does take it, Walker would become a unique kind of supermax player. All the guys who’ve previously signed supermax extensions—Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall—have been on highly successful teams, or at least teams that made runs in the playoffs after they signed the deals. Walker could be the first to take the supermax on a team that didn’t make the playoffs that season, a team whose hopes of returning to the postseason for the foreseeable future appear bleak.
On the flip side, Bradley Beal did not make an All-NBA team (he could have made $30 million more if he’d gotten three more votes) which means he’s not eligible for the supermax. That’s good news for the Wizards, who are already paying that kind of money to an injured Wall, but tough news for Beal, who had an All-Star season despite the turmoil in Washington.
LeBron James Made It
Supermax tension aside, the biggest question ahead of this announcement was whether LeBron, who is a 14-time All-NBA selection but played only 55 games this season, would make a team. It seemed silly to consider that one of the five best players in the world could miss out, but LeBron’s season was quite the roller coaster, which made it hard to fully appreciate.
The groin injury he suffered on Christmas sidelined him for 17 games, and when he came back, he didn’t look the same. He played lackluster defense, sometimes appeared listless, and couldn’t lead the Lakers on a successful stretch run—not a good look when he was supposed to be the catalyst that revived this team. Add in the drama of the Anthony Davis saga and it was easy to make a case that he shouldn’t be included.
But the reality is that in those 55 games, James was his dominant self, at least statistically. He averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game while shooting above 50 percent from the field. Though shortened and somewhat diminished, it was still a LeBron James–level season that, at the very least, deserved what it got: third-team All-NBA recognition. It was his first non-first-team selection since 2007, which helps put some of LeBron’s greatness in perspective. I’d say we’re never going to see a streak like that again, but …
Giannis Is Ready To Be the Next Face of the League
For the second year in a row, Giannis has made first-team All-NBA. He’s 24 years old. Guess how old LeBron was when he made his second straight first-team appearance. Yep, 24. This selection adds another layer to the Giannis-LeBron parallels we’re seeing play out in front of us. Giannis is two games away from the NBA Finals, and his team could be the first Eastern Conference squad to make it there without LeBron since 2010. The level of dominance Giannis exerts on the court can only be described as LeBron-like—but with a whole lot more wingspan—and he’s very much checking all the boxes on the Next Face of the League checklist. (Release the shoe, Nike.)
This selection also sets up another milestone for Giannis: Next summer, he’ll be eligible to sign the largest extension in NBA history. That deal would go into effect in 2021, and would be for $247.3 million. Welcome to Giannis’s world; we’re all about to be living in it.
A quick aside to highlight the most confounding All-NBA votes this year. Folks, Dwyane Wade got a second-team vote, and while I am all the way here for honoring Wade in his final season, the jerseys and tribute videos were enough. Andre Drummond also received a second-team vote, which, I guess I can understand if you think rebounds are the most valuable stati—actually no, I still can’t justify that. I also think that we will look back on Klay Thompson’s career and wonder how he didn’t make more All-NBA teams. Thompson was the second guard out of the voting behind Beal.
Klay Thompson learns he didn’t make All-NBA (“Oh I didn’t?”) and is clearly a little ticked (it affects his next contract): “When you go to five straight Finals, it takes more than a couple All-NBA guys...Do I think there are that many guards better than me? No.” pic.twitter.com/bW5DiBavo1— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 23, 2019
Still, the most confusing vote on the board, in my opinion, is this one: Marvin Bagley III receiving a third-team vote. Yes, that’s Marvin Bagley, the rookie who missed 14 of the first 42 games of the season and averaged only 25 minutes a game. Come on. (And while we’re here: There’s no need to give Luka Doncic a second-team vote, either. Let the rookies grow in peace.)
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated the last season LeBron James missed the Finals.