It’s billed as The Trilogy.
It’s the best rivalry going in the NBA right now, maybe in professional sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, two teams dripping with stars and the biggest names globally in the sport, are facing off in the NBA Finals again. It’s what we should want — the two best teams on the biggest stage.
But is it good for the NBA?
Is it good optics for the league that there’s a sense right now the other 28 teams are just along for the ride? Because we know that, barring something major happening over the summer, we’re going to head into next NBA season predicting another Cavaliers/Warriors Finals.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pushed back against that narrative speaking on “Mike & Mike” Wednesday morning.
“When I hear people say that these are now the two teams that are dynasties. You know, think back, you guys know the history. We have the Lakers and Celtics — the Celtics have won 17 championships, Lakers 16 — that’s almost half of all championships won in the NBA by those two teams. Now [the Cavs and Warriors] are being called dynasties. One, [Cleveland] before last year had never won in the history of the NBA. Golden State hadn’t won in 40 years. These are the two teams now that are playing and everybody’s saying ‘Now they’re dynasties.’ So they have a lot of winning to do before I think they should be declared dynasties in the way that the Celtics and Lakers dominated for so many years, or even San Antonio with their five championships or the Bulls with their six championships.”
In a historic context, he’s right. But with Kevin Durant now in Golden State, hasn’t that created a powerhouse superteam that will dominate the league the next four or five years?
“I will say, and I heard Kevin Durant say something like this the other day, I think it’s a little unfair to him to blame him for the lack of so-called ‘competitive balance’ at the moment in the league. I mean, he could have only impacted one team, had he stayed in Oklahoma City or gone somewhere else, there’s no doubt that team would have been better, but it wouldn’t have changed the fortunes for 27 other teams in the league.”
This season, the NBA has followed form, but that is not the norm in terms of our predictions of superteams. When LeBron first went back to Cleveland, there were people trying to hand them the title the first year, that didn’t work out — and nobody saw those Warriors coming. Same thing when LeBron went to Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, people wanted to hand them the title and they lost the first year to a Mavericks team nobody saw coming (except Mark Cuban, of course). When Steve Nash and Dwight Howard went to the Lakers people wanted to hand that team the Larry O’Brien Trophy, didn’t exactly work out that way. To put it kindly. All of which is to say, there are no sure things.
The problem for the NBA is the perception it’s a two-team league. Through the last couple of CBA’s the league has tried to find ways to flatten out the talent pool, and you can argue that hasn’t worked, but it hasn’t worked for flukey reasons. In the East, it hasn’t worked because LeBron James is one of the game’s all-time greats and is a dominant force. He is a force of nature, and he throws all balance out the window. In the West, the Warriors built their core the right way — they drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green — and developed them. Kevin Durant came on board, but only because a one-time massive spike in the salary cap (due to a new television deal) made it possible. And even with that it only worked because Stephen Curry had ankle problems before signing his last contract so he came at what is now a massive bargain.
It is not good that the NBA will head into next season with everyone expecting round four of these Finals. But it’s not devastating for the league. And things will probably not play out the way we expect anyway.