Durant, Lebron and the state of the NBA

By Mike Ursery
SPORTS EDITOR
Another NBA season concluded this past Monday, when the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games in the 2017 NBA Finals.
This Finals series was fun to watch, despite ending in a way that most basketball fans probably thought it would end. Kevin Durant joined the Warriors, making them into a “super team,” where they met Lebron James and the Cavaliers in the Finals  for a third straight year.
Durant was named the Finals MVP, and it was well deserved. Aside from Lebron, he was the best player on the court. He certainly was the best player on his own team, a Warriors roster that is loaded with two MVPs and two other all-stars.
The conversation now has turned to how significant Durant’s first ring will be when history tells the story. When his contract with Oklahoma City had ended, he signed a contract with the Warriors in a surprise move that no one saw coming.
Durant spoke with several teams during the free agency period: Boston, the Clippers, Oklahoma City, Miami, San Antonio and, of course, Golden State.
The argument against Durant is not just that he went to a team that was already loaded, but it’s the team he lost to in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had a 3-1 lead over Golden State before the Warriors came back to win the series in seven games.
Listen very carefully to what I’m about to say: Kevin Durant is the reason the Warriors are NBA champions right now.
As I’ve already stated above, he was the best player on the court for Golden State. He led all players in scoring in the series with 35.2 points per game. He made shots at critical points in games when his team needed them. No one will forget his pull-up 3-pointer over James near the end of Game 3. That shot put the Warriors ahead with under 30 seconds to play.
All season, people wondered if Durant made the right decision by going to the Warriors. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our answer, and the answer is “yes.” I don’t think the Warriors would have beaten Cleveland without him. He has a ring, but more importantly, he has solidified his place in basketball lore. The second-best player on the planet is now a champion.
As for Cleveland, the attention will be on them this offseason. What will they do to get back to the Finals for a fourth straight year, but more importantly, what kind of team will they build to beat Golden State?
Rumors started as soon as the Finals ended about how the Association will look next season, and some of them involve Kevin Love. One rumor is that the Cavs could trade Love to bring in a piece who can play better defense.
When Lebron played for the Miami Heat, there sometimes would be talk that Carmelo Anthony would join him there. Anthony has been with the New York Knicks for most of his career, but the talk he won’t end his career there never stops.
Another rumor is that Cleveland could make a deal involving love to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers. He has a year left on his contract with Indiana, and it’s not certain he would re-sign with the Pacers when he becomes a free agent.
This offseason will be interesting to watch. But what does this say about the state of the NBA? What does it say when, for the third year in a row, we’re heading to a season where we already know the Finals matchup? Ever since the 2015 Finals, people knew that the same two teams would be in the Finals the next season.
Lebron has one more year before he could opt out of Cleveland if he wanted. The Cavs will do whatever they can to keep him happy, as not to see him leave for another team again. Although, that talk has already begun.
Lebron has been under a microscope most of his career. He’s the best basketball player in the world right now, but critics like to talk about him “chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan.” With the Warriors winning, his Finals record fell to 3-5, a far cry from Jordan’s 6-0 record in the Finals.
The Finals record does not matter. James just finished his seventh consecutive appearance in the Finals. When he joined Miami, they went four straight times. Now that he’s back in Cleveland, they have gone to the Finals three times in a row.
Paul Pierce made a comment earlier this month that we’re at the start of the Kevin Durant era and at the end of the Lebron James era. My response to that is “no.” This is still Lebron’s era. His legacy is still well intact, even after losing to Durant in the Finals. That loss can’t be placed on him. He averaged a triple-double in the Finals.
What we are going to see is an NBA with even less parody than we have already seen. We’re most likely going to see Golden State vs. Cleveland: Part 4 in the 2018 NBA Finals. The only thing that isn’t clear at this point is who will be in the Cavs’ starting five in Game 1. I personally know people, basketball fans, who say the NBA is no longer worth watching because of how these two teams are assembled.
It’s not like parody has always been a thing in the NBA, however. It’s not like we weren’t expecting the Heat to be in the Finals from 2010-2014. It’s not like we didn’t know how the NBA season would end through most of the 90s, with Michael Jordan and the Bulls hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. It’s not like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers didn’t dominate most of the 1980s.
Everyone is going to watch next season, even if they say they won’t. People still watched when Lebron “took his talents to South Beach” to team up with other star players. People still watched this season. The story next season will be if Lebron can take down the monster living on the West Coast.

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