NBA’s only parity problems are perception, LeBron James

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When LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with Miami in 2010, many bemoaned the end of competitive balance, complaining LeBron had guaranteed himself a title that year. When LeBron return to Cleveland in 2014, similar angst emerged: LeBron again worked the system to guarantee himself a championship.

Of course, neither the 2010-11 Heat nor 2014-15 Cavaliers won a title.

But the same hysteria took hold when Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors last summer, and maybe this time, the hand-wringers will be right. Golden State enters the 2017 NBA Finals as heavy favorites over the Cavaliers in a widely expected matchup.

Has parity suddenly ended, or did the handwringers just finally happen to get one right?

This is the first time in the last dozen years, as far back as Sports Odds History records go, where the preseason conference favorites actually met in the Finals:

Season Expected Actual
2016-17 Cavaliers-Warriors Cavaliers-Warriors
2015-16 Cavaliers-Spurs Cavaliers-Warriors
2014-15 Cavaliers-Spurs Cavaliers-Warriors
2013-14 Heat-Thunder Heat-Spurs
2012-13 Heat-Lakers Heat-Spurs
2011-12 Heat-Lakers Heat-Thunder
2010-11 Heat-Lakers Heat-Mavericks
2009-10 Cavaliers-Lakers Celtics-Lakers
2008-09 Celtics-Lakers Magic-Lakers
2007-08 Celtics-Spurs* Celtics-Lakers
2006-07 Heat-Mavericks* Cavaliers-Spurs
2005-06 Heat-Spurs* Heat-Mavericks

*Conference favorites weren’t available, but I used the top team in the title odds from each conference.

None of the biggest preseason title favorites in this era – 2010-11 Heat, 2005-06 Spurs and 2013-14 Heat – have won titles. (The 2016-17 Warriors, favored over the field, could change that).

You can’t call that a fair die will land on 2, watch it land 4-3-6-4-2 then claim to be all-knowing after the last roll. Or at least you shouldn’t be taken seriously if you do.

But, to a degree, that’s what’s happening here.

The perception of a predictable outcome is sweeping over the actual predictability. This season was never guaranteed to end with a Warriors-Cavs Finals. Both teams had to earn their way here. They were favored against the field for good reason, but they still had to avoid injury, chemistry issues and upstart challengers. Play out this season 100 times, and it doesn’t always end with a Warriors-Cavs Finals.

But it feels that way, because it’s an unprecedented third straight Finals matchup between the same teams.

Yet, is feeling clouding reality? These other three- or four-year periods featured just three different teams in the Finals:

  • 2012-14 (Heat, Spurs, Thunder)
  • 2008-10 (Lakers, Celtics, Magic)
  • 1996-98 (Bulls, Jazz, SuperSonics)
  • 1988-90 (Pistons, Lakers, Trail Blazers)
  • 1984-87 (Celtics, Lakers, Rockets)
  • 1982-84 (Lakers, 76ers, Celtics)

Is that really so different than the two teams we’ve gotten in the last three years?

Again, it feels way different, and I get that.

I’m just not sure how the NBA can reconcile the issue.

LeBron’s teams have been favored to win the East the last eight years. Once he got good enough to actually carry them that far annually, nobody has touched them. As long as he remains elite, his teams will be favored in most regards.

The West has been far less predictable, though Golden State looks poised for a lengthy run. As much as fans want parity, they also want teams to have the inside track for retaining their own players. Now that they have so many good players – Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson – the Warriors can keep their core together (as long as they’re willing to spend).

But it’s hard to stay on top. LeBron is 32, destined to decline eventually. Golden State’s payroll and egos could become too outsized to manage.

Just because the Warriors and Cavaliers feel inevitable doesn’t make it so. They have both been favored to win their conference and actually won their conferences precisely one year – this year. Don’t let recency bias trick you into believing it has always been and will always be this way.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”