If you’ve been hiding under a rock, maybe you didn’t know that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors made the 2018 NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row. Golden State swept Cleveland, but there’s more to this series than just the Warriors being the dominant team. Factors years in the making contributed to this finals run that allowed for the GSW to take LeBron James and the Cavs by the lapels and shake them up, starting with the Warriors’ rise to dominance and ending with LeBron James’ need to have control over what happens on his team.
Over the last few years Golden State has become the best team in the NBA. It did not happen overnight (though I’m sure some fans came around overnight). They didn’t start off as the super team they are now. In fact, I remember when people were unsure Curry would be all that good, even though he was hitting 3’s pretty regularly and playing well.
“Oh he’s too small” “His ankles” “Is he really that good?”
As it turned out, Curry ended up being a consistent contributor to Golden State, especially as they’ve made their playoff runs. And Curry isn’t the only piece of the GSW equation that makes the team successful. Thompson, Green, Livingston, and Iguodala all come to mind when thinking about the rise of the Warriors and where they are now. They had big contributors like Barnes and Lee who left the team. When looking at the 2018 champions, those guys may not immediately jump to mind. Oh and let’s not forget the man who brings all these men together to be a successful team: 2016 coach of the year, Steve Kerr. I’m not saying the team would not be successful without Kerr, but he keeps egos in check and the team entrenched in the NBA conversation about best teams (well…all of them do that because they’re so good).
You may have noticed no mention of Kevin Durant. Of course, I did not forget about him. Durant came to the Warriors from the Thunder in 2016 and has not looked back. While I respect Durant’s talent, attitude, off-court presentation, and ambition, I am one of those folks who doesn’t fully see why he needed to join the GSW. It probably comes from naivety, but I think the GSW could have been taken down by a team lead by Durant with a few other highly skilled players. I understand there’s more to him moving from OKC to GSW, but I like to think that if he stayed, OKC would have continued to be a competitive team. The playoffs surely would have been a bit more interesting start-to-finish if talent were distributed across the league.
On to the talent distribution, LeBron is most likely going to leave Cleveland, and his options will be almost limitless. Although, he’s obviously not about to go to the Warriors. Theoretically, there are roughly 30 other teams he can look at going to, assuming the appropriate conditions. With the right pairing, LBJ can go back to giving the GSW a run for their money.
Before jumping into the speculations, let’s also address the issue that caused so much harm in the 2018 Finals for LeBron and the Cavaliers. First of all, there’s the issue of how we actually refer to the team as LeBron and company because he straight up carried that team. The rest of the team was an afterthought. Second of all, he carried that team because he low-key made the team to be about him. He tells Tyronn Lue (head coach) what to do, and sometimes it comes back to get him. Demanding trades, not committing unless he got the players he wanted, and not wanting to player with players who were too young may have contributed to his downfall this season.
Despite all of this, LBJ is the type of player who can have such a large say in the composition of a team. He just needs to lead more, while having players with high basketball IQs working with him. It’s pretty much a given that it will be the LeBron show when playing with him. If you want to win championships, then you need to be okay with being a role player and supporting when needed. A single person cannot win for their team. The team has to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Maybe this is why LeBron is challenged with his teams and coaches, but it still comes back to how talented of a player he is right now.
We have a fourish months until teams are back at it again with regular season play. Teams have four months to decide to pursue LeBron James pre or post-draft. LeBron is easily the best player in the league right now, so going to the right team is important not just for that team but also for him to be fully utilized without having to carry (drag) a team to the Finals. Most other players looking to leave their teams are not in the same boat as LBJ because most other players don’t single-handily rack up 40+ points in playoff games. Yes, other players matter to teams, with Golden State being the perfect example of how important having a few key players on the court can significantly impact the game. But again, as good as Curry or Durant are, they still are not as influential on the court at LeBron. Wherever he moves will be the biggest NBA news of the summer. Get your wallets out, fellas. You’re going to need to court this man appropriately. He likes red wine btw.
Golden State will easily transition into next season and dominate because of course they will. Steve Kerr’s coaching acumen paired with young talent will ensure another year with a direct path to the NBA Finals. Unless it doesn’t. Keep in mind, the Houston Rockets took the Warriors to a seventh game in their Western Conference finals series. This could mean nothing , but it could mean something. The nothing could be that Chris Paul or James Harden leave and play somewhere else (I don’t really see this happening). The something could be that another top player joins Paul and Harden in their quest to win the Western Conference (i.e. beat the Golden State Warriors). And the Rockets aren’t the only team standing in the way of another ring for Golden State. With the right equation of players and coaches, other teams can also dethrone the reigning champions. That is the fun of basketball.
How do these two things relate? I’m so glad you asked. If LeBron can lead and collaborate with a good team, they have the potential to put the Warriors away quite easily. We all know they’re going to try to hit 3’s, play aggressive defense, and probably not really go into the paint. This knowledge, four years of experience playing this team in the Finals, and a team that functions as a team would help LeBron in beating Golden State and getting another ring (until he finally passes MJ…okay, probably not, MJ is the GOAT). The first step is LeBron going to a different team where he’ll have passing options that actually know what’s going on in basketball. As teams stand right now, I could see him going to Houston, Philadelphia, Boston, or San Antonio. He could stay in Cleveland, but Lue would have to make some major changes to the roster, which brings us to yet another issue when it comes to LeBron’s next move. LeBron James is a force of a person. Not every coach wants a player who tells them what to do instead of vice versa. While these teams may be open to taking LeBron (hella profits and brand awareness, duh), they may not necessarily be open to the baggage that comes with LeBron. You don’t just get the best player without the traits that make them the best player.