NBA Finals Aftermath
For the second time in three seasons, the Golden State Warriors sit atop the NBA as World Champions. They finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers in five quick games and their dominance in the playoffs leaves the rest of the league playing catch up. And while most hate it, that is where we stand today. Here are five takeaways from the 2017 NBA Finals.
Super team, unfair, cocky, hated, chokers and cowardly have all been labels to describe the Golden State Warriors over the last year. The one word that isn’t used enough that accurately describes their success is unselfish. The selflessness of the Warriors is what allowed their talent to blend together perfectly. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all sacrificed their pride and ego to bring Kevin Durant aboard. Curry, in particular, was one of the biggest names in the league and still welcomed KD with open arms. How many superstars would do the same? Their selflessness on the court is what truly makes them a nightmare to play. Their ball movement, man movement, and shot distribution are the envy of the NBA. And here’s an obvious newsflash: their style of play is what’s right with the league. Far too often fans and media alike ridicule players for their lack of success and criticize players who won’t sacrifice for the greater good. Now we have the perfect example of team success and sacrifice and people are angry. And the naysayers better get comfortable with taking trips to the Bay Area every June. The Warriors aren’t done and they won’t be done for a while. As long as they remain healthy and intact, the league belongs to Golden State.
Five years ago, Kevin Durant walked off the court in defeat as LeBron James claimed his first NBA Championship in Miami. Now the tables have completely turned as Durant is the one drenched in champagne while LeBron takes the long walk of defeat. Durant was nothing short of brilliant in the 2017 NBA Finals. He became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to score 30 or more points in five consecutive Finals games. The highlight of this series for KD is a clutch pull-up three-pointer right in the face of LeBron in Game 3. But even during his brilliant moments, the mocking and name calling continued off the court. The KD hate has been in full swing since he agreed to join the very same team that beat him in the playoffs last season. And the hate will only continue to swell with the immediate success Durant has enjoyed in the Bay Area. But just as the hate eventually subsided with LeBron’s Miami decision, the same will likely happen for KD once people get over their hurt feelings. That’s just the nature of things in sports fandom. People move on and forget after the object of their hate beats some respect into them. You may not like how it went down, but Durant’s greatness cannot be denied. And you can call him a snake and a coward until you feel better about the current NBA landscape. But don't forget to call him champ.
Curry’s Sacrifice and Growth
No one gave up more to make room for Kevin Durant. After his 2015 and 2016 campaigns, Steph Curry was one the most popular and recognizable names in sports. People were even setting him up to be the heir to LeBron’s throne as the new face of the NBA. Then the 2016 Finals happened and KD came to town. The two-time MVP never complained or bumped heads with his new teammate. He never pounded his chest and proclaimed the Warriors as his team alone. And his reward for his sacrifice is another NBA Championship. And this time, there’s no doubt about his play. You see for some reason, critics look at the 2015 NBA Finals as a bad series for Steph Curry despite him averaging 26/5/6. Last year he played below average for sure. But this year, Curry showed a diversity to his game that no one knew he had. Last year, Curry had one punch in his arsenal; his three-point shooting. This year, he mixed it up by getting to the basket, getting rebounds, distributing the basketball and being active in passing lanes. He did a little bit of everything on his way to averting 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 2.2 steals for the Finals. For Curry, it was never about his own success. But instead, he prioritized the success of the team. He’s secure enough in his own abilities to not care when people say it’s KD’s team now. “It’s amazing to see a superstar who sacrifices, who doesn't care about nothing but the group”, said Durant about Curry.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA Champions just 12 months ago. 2016 seems like so long ago after the conclusion of the 2017 NBA Finals. Now they’re the one’s tasked with improving and taking revenge on the Warriors yet again. But how do they get better while maintaining the core they already have. Members of the media and Cavs fans alike have already begun floating ideas around. The biggest name to come out of the speculation is Paul George, who the Cavs would have to trade to acquire. Some people are under the impression that Cleveland could send Kevin Love to Indiana and get George in return. But consider that the Pacers will be rebuilding and they already have a young big in Myles Turner. Why would they accept Love and pieces for George? If push came to shove they could probably do better than that. The second name that pops up a lot is Carmelo Anthony, who the New York Knicks are looking to give away. The Cavs could’ve had Melo if they were willing to trade Love at the deadline in February. And while this seems the most likely to happen, does Melo make the difference against Golden State? The last and most far-fetched speculative option is the formation of the banana boat team. That means bringing in Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo to team up with their good friend LeBron. But even if that team came together, how long will their window remain open? After all, they’re all in their 30s. No matter how you slice it, there’s no easy answer for the Cavs. But they have no choice but to find one or else they risk becoming cannon fodder or the Warriors or maybe even losing LeBron again.
Even after becoming the first player in history to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals, LeBron James still had to walk off the court in defeat. He proved yet again to be the best player in the world, but it’s meaningless against the best team in the world. Ironically, LeBron is the reason the Golden State Warriors now stand in his path. First, he unwittingly laid out the blueprint for Kevin Durant’s move to join Golden State. LeBron’s ultimate legacy in the NBA (in my opinion) is putting power into the player's hands with his move to Miami. While everyone wrote the obituary for his legacy in 2010, all has been forgiven. Durant was paying close attention and mimicked the blueprint for his own gain. Second, by completing the 3-1 comeback in last year’s Finals, LeBron created the perfect storm for KD and the Warriors to join forces. However, it’s never wise to count LeBron out for too long. As always, he has his fate in his own hands and has the leverage to strong-arm Cavs management to his whims. If they refuse (or if he feels like it), he can just leave. Eventually, father time will begin to creep into the rearview and LeBron’s only motivation at this point is championships. And that’s what will make the next few summers so interesting to watch.