First, I’d like to congratulate the Golden State Warriors for winning its 3rd title in the last 4 years. I said it before the playoffs started, I’m gonna say it again. Whoever wins the Western Conference will win the NBA title. (Read: It’s Down to the Final Four!!!) Which was precisely what happened. The Western Conference Finals was the true NBA Finals, with the Warriors barely surviving the Houston Rockets in an epic 7-game series. (Read: The Empires Strike Back!!!)
And then came the anti-climactic NBA Finals. Which turned out to be a dud, an inglorious 4-0 sweep.
I thought the NBA finale was painfully boring. Despite the 2 games that looked quite close, it seemed to me that the Warriors were stepping on the throttle just hard enough to keep themselves ahead for the most part. To keep things interesting. To be totally honest, the Cavs were simply overwhelmed by the talent-laden Warriors.
And while I had always rooted for the swish and swag of the new-era Warriors, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Lebron for the superhuman effort he exerted to ‘Defend the Land’. Against the Hampton horde, it looked like a heroic gladiator plus a bunch of ill-trained, ill-equipped villagers being trampled by a murderous, marauding army of conquistadors. The Warriors were just too good, too strong, too many to be denied.
That said, it was at some point in Game 4 that I realized that I was no longer rooting for the Warriors. I was surprised that as I watched the game progress, I was actually rooting for Lebron to give it a good fight. And I believe that even as Lebron was criticized for a ‘lackluster’ effort in Game 4, he gained more sympathy votes for having brought that ragtag team to the Finals.
Which leads me to my final point today. How do you solve a problem like the Warriors? (See my blogpost with the same title released last year: How Do You Solve a Problem Like The Warriors?)
The Warriors have developed into a super team, and it will need a similar team of superheroes to challenge it. Anything below that will not make a significant dent on the campaign to ‘bring down the evil empire’.
How will the ‘resistance force’ against the Warrior empire look like? How does one conjure a line-up strong enough to challenge the super-structure called the Warriors?
First, to stand a good chance against the Empire, any team assembled will have to be led by Lebron. With that equally elegant knight called Kevin Durant leading the Hampton Horde, nothing less than a Lebron-led force will make it a more compelling narrative. With Lebron deciding on his course of action this summer, there will be plenty of teams vying for his attention.
But whichever team becomes ‘the Chosen One’ must have a cast of super-talents ready to support Lebron in the challenge. Which teams will have this built-in capability?
Among the early favorites to win the Lebron derby are the LA Lakers. The Lakers have money to spare for 2 super-heroes. Add in a decent young back-up force of Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball (who could actually be a distraction with his loudmouth dad, Lavar). They have a championship pedigree, plus a class front-office led by Magic Johnson. The sponsorship opportunities in LA would be tremendous. And talks are rife for the possibility of adding a third superhero in Kawhi Leonard, the disfavored son of San Antonio. But will a line-up of Lebron, possibly a Paul George, Kuzma and Lonzo be good enough to challenge? Not so. But with Kawhi, that possibility becomes tantalizingly clear.
Next are the Houston Rockets which gave the Warriors a scare. The Rockets have this year’s MVP James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon. This would be a formidable line-up paired with Lebron. Definitely, this will bring them over the top. Except that Houston will need to first be creative in re-signing Paul, Ariza and Capela even before it gets to talk to Lebron. Also, the question begging to be answered is: will Lebron and Harden – not to mention Paul – be able to share one ball on the court?
But these 2 teams will be slightly disadvantaged in the fact that both are in the Western Conference. That will mean that, if ever these teams do meet with the Warriors, it will be in the Western Conference playoffs, not the bigger stage which is the NBA Finals. What would make the campaign against the evil empire more compelling is the build-up that brings the fight to the very top: the NBA Finals.
Over in the east, the Philadelphia 76ers appear to lead the pack. The Sixers have Ben Simmons and Joel Embid who can immediately team up with Lebron to challenge for the Eastern crown. They have this year’s top draft pick Markelle Fultz, who has not yet blossomed this year. This is a young team with plenty of upside. If they are creative with their salary cap, their draft and trade decisions, they could even go for another superstar to sweeten the pie.
But there’s another team that is intriguing and has only recently entered the picture. The Boston Celtics, with its rich talent base composed of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford et al are now in the mix for the Lebron Derby. As it is, the Celtics are a younger version of the Golden State Warriors. With a cerebral coach in Brad Stevens. Putting Lebron in the fray will make them a more-than-worthy challenger. Question is: will Lebron and Kyrie be able to work together again?
The Warriors are clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest in the NBA power rankings as of today. And they are the heavy favorites to repeat next year. Unless a new challenger rises. That challenge starts and ends with Lebron, whose decision this summer will have massive aftershocks throughout the league.
Whichever team becomes Lebron’s ‘Anointed One’, that team will dramatically alter the NBA landscape next season. Let’s wait and watch.
And may the Force be with you!