Welcome to Basketball Christmas.
After nearly a year of construction, the undisputed day of the NBA fan calendar finally arrived.
The point in which the months of unbroken NBA gossip are finally materialized into the real things that really happen.
There is nothing like it; slowed down the funeral shake that gives place to news volcanoes.
For Canadian hoop fans, turning: after several decades as a wallflower, hoping to get someone's attention, the NBA Toronto Raptors champion is in the middle of the ring. They are trying to reject the candidates on all sides for Kawhi Leonard, the most wanted free agent of all, the two-week MFA who holds Raptors' future in massive cramps and will change the future of the team to join if he leaves.
In a sport in which a player can change the direction of the franchise and lean off the league, the time of the free agent – who this year moved to 18:00 EST on June 30 to achieve a better premiership than the traditional 12:01 July 1 tip-off – is the moment when the present and future league collide in the annual Big Bang.
Like Christmas, it is sometimes too tempting to open a few gifts the night before, so on Saturday night came the "sources" and a whisper of the move, but almost completed – Walker Walker Boston Celtics; Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn Nets and Jimmy Butler everywhere.
It's fun. An important theater even for occasional fans. This is a formula that other leagues might well mimic but never want.
Even the NBA is here accidentally. The league has gone through two layoffs to limit the player's costs and make it easier for teams – all market sizes – to keep their stars while protecting the owners of over-paid older or injured players on contracts that were sometimes eight, nine or ten years or more.
But these victories came with some unwanted consequences.
Individual wage bargain meant that the best players were paid under market value – imagine Leonard's real value in the world where Lakers, Clippers, Raptors, and Knicksi managed to enter the competition war – so the money is to a large extent equal, the NBA Stars set priorities things like the market they want to play, the teammates they want to have, and the coaches they like, rather than something that is reductive to pay, which will be mostly the same wherever they go.
Meanwhile, the maximum contract term of four to five years (five years for existing players, four years for on-the-go players), the NBA established in 2012, means a staggering number of stars approaching the new contract and a new round of uncertainty.
In turn, the teams are so aware that they do not lose the whistle of stars without reason in a free agency, even players who are eliminated from the contract yearly or two years are part of the off-season mix, as Anthony Davis recently proved to forge his way out of New Orleans to has joined LeBron James with Lakers, although Davis does not become a free agent until next summer.
The salary wage bargain – which provides a number of salary guides in the hard-boom team – means that, with smart management and planning, teams are always in a position to add elite talent, provided they are willing to pay luxury taxes or knock drafts or both to make a room in their payroll budget.
It does not hurt revenue growth – it is expected that the next season's salary will be $ 109 million, compared with $ 63.1 million in 2014 – 15 – which means teams can eventually recover from all the worst mistakes.
Add to the fact that elite players are in constant communication so that they can team up and challenge titles, and the NBA seems to have been set forever to never be boring.
But even by the high standards of the off-season intrigue league, the summer of 2019 promises to be unusual riveting. It's already there.
What will the Lakers do to make the most of LeBron's last years and make sure that leaving all-in for Davis is not useless?
Can the Los Angeles scissors get out of Lakers shadow and become their own superstar?
Will Milwaukee Bucks in small markets spend to keep its core of all that Giannis Antetokounmpo is or will the prospect of future salaries and billions of billions of dollars (cumulatively) cause to play safe and lose momentum?
Can Philadelphia 76ers come back as an improved version of a fast-paced team that has brought Raptor to the playground limit or will entropy power mean that the process has already reached its peak?
Everywhere there are stories. Nets are hoping that a loose-to-tally leap over five years in self-imposed hell of the draft will be able to risk Irving, a court expert who seems to be "not playing well with others" t label wherever you go.
The Celtics – who had so many years removed so many future resources in that fateful trade – seems to be moving from Irving but are trying to prove that all the careful maneuvering of President Danny Aingea does not end with them as another good team instead of the dynasty.
Will New York Knicksi be Knicksi and spend his carefully stored pot space – which was supposed to be brought by Irving and Kevin Duran, but they will not get them, it seems, on poor contracts for middle players? Or will it be patient even while the best free agents are waiting to see if Knicks' new strategy of building-from-inside is nothing more than a paper-furnace?
And what will Durant do? The NBA has never seen a player of his caliber in a free agency with such a big star: because of Ail's neck injury in the 5th NBA Finals, he will not be able to play wherever he signs up to 2020-21, he will earn nearly $ 40 million for physiotherapy. Will it ever return to form? Who knows? But the lesson will not be cheap.
Meanwhile, reports Klay Thompson, who submitted his ACL in Game 6, will sign a five-year $ 190m contract that will remain with the Golden State Warriors.
Wheel Casting for All Actions is estimated at $ 474 million in salary areas – more than what was on the table in the summer months 2017 and 2018 combined – available for spilling more than 200 free agents.
And at the forefront, leading the parade, what was it like?
Leonard, who will be Raptor by 17:59 on Sunday and who knows how long after that.
In any case, the free agent of Leonard's stature will represent a domino breaking league, but that's a different order.
If it stays in Toronto, the Raptors will probably keep their band together, add around the margin and enter in 2019-20 as a solid replay favorite. Inside, the raptors remain cautiously optimistic. Even the noise around the Lakers meeting with Leonard is consistent with what Leonard's camp told them to happen before leaving Toronto.
The Raptors will get the last blow on Leonard – probably on 2nd or 3rd July – and he will only have to remind him of what he already knows: he won the title in Toronto, was healthy and – in his words – he was the most fun he ever had in his career.
If that is enough to keep Leonard, it would be a chance for every layer of the Canadian basketball bowl – from the widest to the highest towers in Bay Street – to lift and upgrade a new story about sport.
All the rushes that gathered during the Raptors' two-month competition in the puppet were able to capture, exploit and duplicate.
The NBA would be different, but Canada even more, potentially.
If Leonard left? He could join LeBron and Davis with the Lakers and create what could be the most talented three-way monster that the league has ever seen. Lakersi would now be able to win and win for a while while LeBron is old – Davis and Leonard are only 26 and 28.
A Raptori? Okay, but it's not great anymore. The future will come in a hurry.
Wherever Leonard finished, he will change the league.
Raptors and Canada will be changed to.
We simply do not know how.
This is a matter of Christmas – especially Basketball. The hardest part is waiting.