The Cavs-Warriors effect
For the last three seasons the NBA has been dominated by the dueling super teams, comprised of Lebron James’ Cavaliers and the now foursome of superstars in Golden State, with everyone else seemingly playing catch up. For many this style of basketball has left a bad taste in their mouths and it is not hard to see why, the regular season has become meaningless and even once you get to the post-season their really has to be an injury for any team to compete for the title with these two. What that has done is essentially split the league into two factions. Those who are going to take a risk and recruit other superstars to their team in hopes of catching the two teams who have created the gold standard of modern basketball, and those who are content to simply wait things out until Lebron is no longer playing and the Warriors have gone their separate ways. The following are the teams that, in my opinion, are best suited to succeed using each of these methods as well as a team that’s playing the middle ground.
First off are the teams that are making an honest attempt to get better by adding other stars to pair with their own in hopes of challenging for a title. The teams I think are doing the best job of this are in no particular order, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Houston.
The Spurs have been among the elite in the NBA over the last 20 years in large part due to Greg Popovich who is by far the best coach in the NBA today. Despite losing Tim Duncan last offseason he still found a way to get back to the Western Conference Finals and although it was not much of a series it was still impressive to do with as beat up of a roster as they had. They made a splash two offseasons ago by signing Lamarcus Aldridge and made a run at Chris Paul this year. Despite their aging roster I expect them to be right back in the mix with enough veteran coaching from Pop to go along with stellar play from Kawhi Leonard.
Did anyone foresee the Thunder pulling off a trade for Paul George? I sure didn’t, especially considering they gave up next to nothing for a player of George’s caliber. Pair him with a bona fide superstar like Russell Westbrook and they’re going to have a legitimate shot to make some noise in a stacked Western Conference. Now obviously, Westbrook would have to stop killing his team with the dumb shot choices and keep his cool a little better but add in a strong center rotation of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and I would be shocked if this team didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Now the Rockets are the most intriguing team on this list because they are the only ones that look like they have a good shot of landing another superstar to pair with the two they already have. They already have a perennial MVP candidate in James Harden and then they went out and got the best point guard of the last decade, and if that wasn’t enough they are still trying to find a way to get Carmelo Anthony in a Rockets jersey. While I already expect this team to make it to the conference finals next year, if they can get Melo then they have a legitimate shot at pushing the Warriors. I still expect the Warriors to be a better team but I applaud the Rockets front office and Daryl Morey for not being content to just throw out the same product that they put out last year, we already saw how that ended and you would get the same result if you tried again.
Next, we take a look at the teams that realize that they have no shot at contending right this moment, but are doing an excellent job setting themselves up for success in the future.
For those who waited out long enough to “Trust the Process” you may finally get your first return on that investment this upcoming season. I fully expect the sixers to make the playoffs if they can stay healthy, which with how things have gone in recent years is no small task for the team. But fans should not be discouraged by a low seed or even a quick exit from the playoffs because this team’s success is really going to come in the upcoming years. They took the time and built a team the right way, tearing it all down and starting from scratch by drafting the best available talent in every draft regardless of position or worrying about a quick return to relevancy. The result is a solid core of future stars in the league of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, and the best of them all Ben Simmons. This team won’t be winning any championships soon but they have done a great job at making the future look bright for a league that is post Lebron.
Russell Westbrook is the most fun player to watch in the league today but I have to give it to Giannis, he makes a close second. He’s the Greek Freak for a reason, there isn’t anybody in the league that can do the things he does at his size, it is ridiculous to watch and not only makes for entertaining basketball but also gives the Bucks arguably the best building block to start a team. He is not the only talented young player however, rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon is a solid second option and if or when Jabari Parker comes back they will make a formidable trio of young talent. The Bucks have already had a taste of success by making the playoffs as a six seed this past season and pushing the Raptors to a game 6, and with the way they are currently constructed they will continue to make the playoffs and will have the most immediate success out of the wait it out teams.
Hear me out on this one, the Lakers, no matter how bad they have been recently, are still the Lakers. They have been under bad management from the top down and it has caused them to face some major hurdles to return to relevancy, but I believe that will change now that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are in charge. Magic brings credibility and a winning pedigree back to the organization that they have been severely missing since the days of Kobe Bryant. Pelinka is well liked and well respected guy who makes smart decisions and it would not surprise me to see him bring in a top player in the next few years. They have done an excellent job this offseason dumping Timofey Mozgov’s terrible contract and whether you like the move or not drafting Lonzo Ball was probably not a bad choice. They have a solid foundation of young players that if they so choose they can flip and turn them into proven players and that freedom is one reason I chose to put them on this list. The main reason I put them here however, is that Paul George has made no secret of the fact that Los Angeles is his desired destination and I am certain that there are other players who feel the same. LA is still LA and people want to go there. Hollywood, great weather, and getting to play for one of the storied basketball franchises, who wouldn’t want that? I fully expect the Lakers to land a big free agent in the next few seasons that will push them back into the playoff picture and set them up for a brighter future.
You can’t play both sides
Now I said that the league was split into two groups of thinking earlier and that is not necessarily true. There is still at least one team who because of their general manager’s unwillingness to make a move or tank has tricked his entire fan base to be happy about the state of things in both the present and future. I am talking of course about Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics. Ainge for the last two seasons has seemingly been in on every single big trade target and free agent and yet he has nothing to show for it except first round draft picks who lose value every day and Gordon Hayward who, while a nice player is not the franchise changer that the team expects him to be. Ainge always finds an excuse usually along the lines of the price for a player simply being too high which under normal circumstances would be fair enough, but after seeing what it took to get Jimmy Butler or Paul George I refuse to believe that he could not scrape together a better deal. The truth is just that he is too scared of Lebron to make a move to challenge him now. He has the pieces, he has the complimentary players, but he is just too scared to fail. It is much easier for him to plan for the future by stockpiling draft picks, but there is one flaw in that plan. The three teams I listed above have already been planning ahead for life after Lebron so Ainge and the Celtics are at a disadvantage there as well. This is what happens when you can’t commit to anything and in my mind Ainge has wasted all those draft picks he got for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett years ago.
Conversation and debate is always welcomed
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