Golden State’s season comes to a satisfying conclusion, but there’s more NBA to come before next season
The Golden State Warriors are once again defending NBA world champions. This go around ended up providing their toughest challenge as a team when they were down 3-2 to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. But just as any good champion does, the Warriors persevered.
They dominated the third quarters of those final two games to advance to the finals. They survived Houston, and another championship was all but assured as they were set to face a very familiar adversary in Lebron James. His road to the finals was achieved nearly single handedly, carrying a roster significantly worse than the year before. Unfortunately for the Cavs and Lebron, the King had no Kyrie Irving to help steal a game. The Warriors trounced the Cavs in 4 games, a clean sweep.
With three championships in four years, the Warriors are in the midst of a dynasty run. The one year they didn’t win it all, was to the man they defeated in their three victory campaigns. For those keeping score, It’s Warriors 3, Lebron 1. In a sense, the last decade has been an era of NBA lore centered around the biggest star, Lebron James.
A prodigy billed as “The Chosen One” before ever stepping foot on NBA hardwood, there were expectations thrust on him to be as great as Michael Jordan. His first role was as hometown hero in his early years, as a kid from Akron Ohio who stayed faithful to his home team. In his second stint, he became the NBA’s villain for leaving Cleveland and forming a superteam in Miami.
A redemption arc and two titles later, now a bona fide champion, he had another role to play. As the “Savior of Cleveland”, he made good on his promise to his hometown team and brought a title to a city that had starved for a champion of any kind for over 50 years. Since that last championship, and a shift in power thanks to Kevin Durant, the narrative has changed for the NBA and Lebron.
The Warriors are a true superteam, with the most cohesive star talent in the NBA and a solid supporting cast. Throw in elite coaching and management and it’s no surprise that the last two years the Warriors have been heavy favorites to win it all. Regular season and post season, the media looks for contenders. They don’t want the NBA season to be a forgone conclusion before it even begins. The stacked Western Conference would pose a challenge, but as many predicted, it would have to be up to Lebron. Could he do it alone? If he does, will he be considered the greatest of all time? No man has carried a team the way he has. He put the team on his shoulders in the Playoffs and had one of the greatest runs any player has ever put together in the post season. But it wasn’t nearly enough, not against Golden State. The Warrior’s dynasty has been built on vanquishing The King.
This NBA offseason can once again change everything. Potential free agents include Lebron, Paul George and Demarcus Cousins. Kevin Durant could choose to become a free agent. Kawhi Leonard’s future in San Antonio is looking questionable. Klay Thompson could choose to sign for more money elsewhere. But of course, the biggest storyline will be about which team Lebron will end up choosing. For all the talk about no teams being able to stand up to the Warriors, there seems to be quite a few options Lebron has that are realistic at this point in his career. Media has highlighted Houston, L.A, and Philadelphia as favorites. Each has a compelling case. Boston, San Antonio and even Golden State, are media dark horses.
Philadelphia is a young squad with two young budding superstars. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are the biggest draws. Simmons is in the mold of Magic Johnson. He has unlimited potential and a skill set similar to Lebron, but as of right now he can’t shoot a lick. Embiid’s talent is otherworldly, but he has struggled with injuries. They would also have to give up some valuable shooters in order to sign Lebron, and Lebron loves shooters. But at the end of the day, Philadelphia gives Lebron a chance to continue to dominate the Eastern Conference and challenge in the Finals for years to come. Once he ages, the young stars will have blossomed into outright superstars and could return the favor for him as the catalyst for championships in the twilight of his career.
In these finals Houston took the Warriors to the end of tight seven game series and was up double digits at half time in both games six and seven. They have two superstars in tow already in Chris Paul and James Harden, and an array of shooters surrounding them. Lebron would feast in this offense. The problem with the Rockets, is that all three stars function best as primary ball handlers, so there are some questions of the fit.
With the way the NBA is right now, teams really can’t have too many playmakers. The second reason Lebron might not like this choice is that Texas lacks a little in the way of city appeal for Lebron and his family. He has already pointed out how much influence his family’s happiness is going to play this time around.
If it isn’t purely about basketball, the Lakers might be the most attractive option out there. His family already has two mansions in L.A. and would give his sons many options for schooling and basketball. The allure of the franchise has its own weight. They are the most storied franchise in NBA history, and following the footsteps of Magic, Kareem, Shaq and Kobe could be something Lebron embraces.
Magic Johnson is the current President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, and he has the cap space to sign Lebron and a second superstar like Paul George. They have a young roster with flexible assets in case the roster needs to be reshaped around new stars. Out of all the options, if the Lakers are able to get a second star, this is where I see Lebron heading.
For the dark horse candidates, Boston would probably have to move Kyrie, as he forced a trade out of Cleveland because he didn’t want to play in Lebron’s shadow. But the Celtics roster of young studs with Lebron would be fantastic. San Antonio is attractive if they can keep Kawhi Leonard, as Lebron has never had a coach the caliber of Popovich. But once again, I have a hard time seeing Lebron and his family choosing San Antonio over a glamour city.
And for Golden State, it almost seems like a joke, but it is at least going to be talked about over the offseason. The only way it happens is if they can’t work out contract numbers with Klay and knowing they will have to pay Draymond the max the following year, go for Lebron preemptively. This would mean letting go of Klay and Dray. My guess is they would love to keep the core intact if they can. So far, there hasn’t been any indications that they won’t work it out.
Another round of LeBron’s “The Decision” is looming this summer, and as of right now, it’s anyone’s guess to where Lebron will ultimately end up. But once he decides, many other free agent dominoes will fall, and there will be shifts in power because of these moves. But if there is one thing that fans can probably guess, it’s that the biggest 2019 NBA season narrative will be a continuation of the current saga. The media will sell it and the fans will eat it up.
Can Lebron take down the Warriors? He will have more help this time, but will it be enough? If not, the Warriors dynasty will continue, at the expense of the King’s legacy.