It was early morning on Monday July 4th, hours before any fireworks would light up the sky. As everyone took their first sips of iced coffee, news broke that would put the sports world (and twitter) into hysteria: “Kevin Durant signs with the Golden State Warriors.”
Basketball fans shared a collective scream of WTF?! Are we talking about the same Warriors team that just won a record 73 games and was a Draymond Green suspension away from winning back to back championships? How could they possibly add one of the best players of the generation to their already loaded roster?! A freakish athlete, who stands nearly seven feet tall, but handles and shoots the ball with the dexterity of a guard. A former MVP, and four time scoring champ.
Naturally, over the next couple of days people flocked to both sides of the historic move. Some expressed sympathy for Durant’s decision. Durant had the opportunity to move to a better city, with better teammates, and more money; it was a no brainer. Others, like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, did not show the same compassion. Smith, a notoriously bombastic sports pundit, called it the weakest move he has ever seen from a superstar.
As this new super team reality has set in over the last couple of months, it seems as though there are now only two true championship contenders. The Warriors and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers lead by Lebron James: the same teams that have met in the finals for two consecutive seasons.
Although this matchup certainly feels inevitable, keep in mind that the same two teams have never met in three straight finals in NBA history. Indeed, this year’s finals may not be as set in stone as we believe. As Bill Simmons aptly pointed out in his latest column, the last time everyone said, “Oh, this is going to be boring… We already know the finals” was 1986, when Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers were supposedly destined to meet. But then something weird happened: the Rockets young big men proved to be too much for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, and all of a sudden the Celtics vs. Lakers never came to be. The NBA has a habit of surprising us when we least expect it.
Warriors vs. Cavaliers round three will undoubtedly dominate headlines and conversation, but do not let that distract you from the rest of the NBA. As the 2016-2017 NBA season begins, I urge you to not take it for granted. Trust me, I am annoyed as many of you are about Durant’s decision. But do not forget about all the other storylines that make this league great.
The Timberwolves, lead by Karl-Anthony Towns Anthony Wiggins, and their new coach Tom Thibodeau look poised to join the NBA’s elite. A fully unleashed Russell Westbrook may become the first player to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson; as well as the first player to average 50 turnovers a game (well, maybe a slight exaggeration). Without Kobe hogging the ball, the young Lakers may actually be able to show their talent. And do not forget about Anthony Davis and James Harden who, despite disappointing performances last season, still have all the tools to compete for MVP. Dwyane Wade will be wearing a uniform that does not say Heat on it. After key off-season signings, the Celtics will once again be contenders in the east. Heck, even the Knicks might actually be competitive this season.
And remember if the season does turn out to be a bust, at least we don’t have to watch baseball anymore.