NBA: Selling the Casual Sports fan to Watch More Next Season
Looking back at this past decade
The NBA free agency period opened earlier this week and it feels like the entrance for a new era to start. The decade is about to end, so let’s look back at what has happened. We saw Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest (Metta World Peace), Trevor Ariza, and head coach Phil Jackson lead the Los Angeles Lakers to their most recent title in 2010. The following year, the Dallas Mavericks dethrone the two-time defending champion Lakers in a second-round sweep. It culminated in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry guiding them to beating the Miami Heat’s big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in six games.
The Heat, though they were humbled that season, were undeterred, winning back to back titles in 2012 and 2013. Ray Allen saved the day in the latter year in Game 6 with his game-tying three which helped them get to overtime and win along with the subsequent Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs.
In 2014, Kawhi Leonard was able to bounce back from missing a crucial free throw the previous season in the 2013 Finals and won the first of his two Finals MVP’s as the Spurs put an end to the Big Three era in Miami as LeBron James made his commitment known by wanting to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and bring the title-starved city at the time a championship. In 2015, it would have to be put on hold as the Golden State Warriors had Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to re-shape the way the game was played with their accurate three-point shooting, winning the franchise’s first title in forty years.
The following year, it was time for the team in the 216 area code of Cleveland, Ohio to capture glory. LeBron James was able to receive the help from Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that he did not have a season ago. The team showed grit and resolve. Making history by winning three straight elimination games. Thus upending the Warriors who won a league record 73 regular season games over an 82-game season.
Golden State was not going to blink after their Game 7 defeat on June 19th, 2016 as Kevin Durant joined from the Oklahoma City Thunder over the offseason, leading the Warriors to back to back championships along with capturing Finals MVP honors. The five year run of at least winning the Western Conference caught up with them. Along with injuries to some of their players. Kawhi Leonard helped give the nation of Canada their first NBA title for the Toronto Raptors. The decade started with a team winning two straight championships. Almost getting a third. It also ended with another team narrowly missing out on three in a row.
I think the casual sports fan should be intrigued by the upcoming NBA season. The league is embarking on another journey. Finding the next dynasty or possible one-year wonder team as the twenties decade commences. Golden State lost some of their invincibility as the injury bug was not kind to Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins for stretches in the 2019 playoffs. Playing more than one-hundred games a season including the regular season and postseason took its toll for a half-decade. The Warriors still ought to be a good team, but with Kevin Durant moving on to Brooklyn, it is not a slam dunk for them to be playing games in June. The Lakers got a great superstar with Anthony James to join LeBron James, but even though many believe they are favorites to win the title, I am not sure two superstars will get them over the line.
The NBA Western Conference has always been deep. The Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder among others should be in the running to challenge. The New Orleans Pelicans have Zion Williamson to build around, and they have a proven general manager in a David Griffin, so the future years could be bright in Louisiana. The Dallas Mavericks have a young lineup with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis as the Dirk Nowitzki period ended this past spring.
Listening to Stephen A. Smith, it actually could be a blessing that Golden State does not go as deep in the playoffs. It would give them more time to rest and prepare for the following season. Michael Jordan tried his hand at baseball in the nineties between two sets of three-peat championships and was able to get back at a dominant level. Things could still work out for the Warriors. Although we will have to wait and see how long it will take for D’Angelo Russell to adjust in San Francisco.
In the East, The Toronto Raptors are the champions, but they may or may not have to prepare for life without Kawhi Leonard. The Brooklyn Nets have Kyrie Irving, a player who knows how to make a big shot in crunch time on the big stage, but will his experience in New York be better than his time with the Boston Celtics? Jimmy Butler is now in Miami as the Dwyane Wade era is in the rearview mirror, but the Heat do not feel like championship contenders yet.
The Philadelphia 76ers nearly found themselves in overtime last season against the eventual champion Raptors, but they have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons getting more experience. The Milwaukee Bucks no longer have Malcolm Brogdon as he moved on to the Indiana Pacers. They also let go of George Hill. Giannis Antetokounmpo still has Khris Middleton on his team, but I still wonder if an opportunity slipped in the East Finals when they lost in double overtime of Game 3.
Even with the free agency period having the feel of an old western movie series, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Unlike last year, it doesn’t feel like a formality that twenty-nine teams are just playing games only to be knocked out by one team that everyone expected to win all along. That being said, it did not come to pass that the heavy favorite, in this case, the Warriors, captured the title. It must be said that the Achilles injury to Durant makes lots of people like myself wonder if the Finals outcome would have been different.
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Works cited: NBA app