Hoping for a little churn at the top of the NBA and not the seemingly inevitable Warriors-Cavs rematch

 

Surely in the minority here, but I’m glad Dwyane Wade is with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the simple reason that it makes the 2018 NBA Finals worth watching.

It’s going to be Golden State vs Cleveland again next June. You know that. Every other team in the league knows that, too, though they will try to convince themselves otherwise as the new season kicks off this week.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Does this make the 82-game regular season that stretches before us a crashing bore? Of course not. There will be all kinds of drama. Sensational and courageous playmaking. Comebacks and upsets and teams, like the Miami Heat last year, playing absolutely out of their heads for significant stretches.

In the end, though, it we wind up with Warriors vs. Cavs again, for what would be the fourth year in a row, it will be abundantly clear why fans get so worked up about the free-agency signing period each summer. It’s the only time when competitive conditions across the league are subject to real change.

Come to think of it, even that has become a bit of a wash in recent years, with all kinds of great talent going all kinds of interesting places but the Warriors negating that collective energy by taking Kevin Durant for themselves.

Which new talent grouping interests you most? My choice is Oklahoma City, with Billy Donovan trying to find a formula that works for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Fascinating stuff, but again the Thunder aren’t expected to measure up to the Warriors in the Western Conference, so there they go again.

Trying not to be so cynical here, but a little churn at the top keeps the interest going stronger and longer for me.

Even with all the talk of Tom Brady and New England dominating the NFL, the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by eight teams. Two each by the Patriots and Giants, and the rest spread around among Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and Denver. That grows hope in more fan bases. It makes the regular season count for more than just playoff seeding.

As for baseball, here’s one that surprised me. There hasn’t been a World Series rematch since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and again in 1978. And here we are looking at the Warriors and the Cavs for a possible fourth year in a row?

Thanks goodness it’s a league and an industry driven by stars because the teams alone seem to be fairly ordered.

As for the Boston Celtics winning eight NBA titles in a row from 1959-66 and a total of 11 in 13 years over the same stretch, we won’t go there, hopefully, ever again.

[What Miami will get from Syracuse, the team that lost to Middle Tennessee?]

[Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights]

[Even greatest UM teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

 

 

When fishing for NBA whales, better know the peculiar traits of each species

 

Pat Riley invented the notion of hunting for “whales” in NBA free agency. You know, the biggest of the big in terms of talent, which implies the ability to turn a team into a championship contender overnight plus, of course, the immense amount of money they must be fed.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (No. 32) of the Los Angeles Clippers. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Some of the names being thrown around this year don’t seem to fit the category all that naturally for me. Sure, the current salary structure may indicate maximum contracts are due, but does the player’s actual production deserve that special designation?

Let’s say Miami could get a shot at the following free agents, though in some cases it is ridiculous to ponder, and let’s separate them out by their particular species of whale.

Blue whale (Largest animal on earth at 69 to 90-plus feet in length) – We’re talking Kevin Durant here. He won’t be leaving the Warriors, of course, but what a splash he would make with any new team.

Finback whale (72-82 feet) – It’s a stretch but I’ll put Blake Griffin here because he averages 21 points and close to 10 rebounds per game and has high visibility from appearances in several national TV commercials. Guy gets injured every playoff season, though, and his attitude is suspect.

Right whale (45-60 feet) – Here we find Gordon Hayward, just once an All-Star, and Chris Paul. The first is a sensational shooter but is not always in monster mode. The second, Paul, is a trusted leader and a tough competitor but needs to be teamed with other top stars in order to chase a title.

Sperm whale (35-60 feet) – Deliberately leaving this one blank so that none of you goofballs out there start snickering.

Humpback whale (42-50 feet) – Here we find Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap and Miami’s Dion Waiters, three guys who lack the consistency to scare you every night. Dwyane Wade could fit this, too, if he options out of the $24 million that Chicago owes him, which I would not advise.

Minke whale (28-30 feet) – Shaun Livingston and Patty Mills are postseason tough but can’t rate them much higher on the food chain if they’re not automatic starters.

Beluga whale (13-15 feet) – JJ Reddick, Jrue Holiday and Taj Gibson. There’s a lot to like about all of these guys but they would still be role players on a great team.

Narwhal (13-15) feet) – This animal is just plain gnarly, with a long tusk protruding from its mouth and plenty of other traits that only Charles Darwin could love. I’m thinking Kelly Olynyk here, right?

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is Franks as starting QB]

[Will Trubisky match numbers of Tannehill, another lightly-used college QB?]

[From the day he left high school, LeBron was compared to Magic Johnson]

 

Warriors in six games, and this time LeBron won’t be able to stop it

Nobody much cares to hear about it now, but I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the 2016 NBA Finals.

Not precisely, mind you, since my guess was Cleveland in six games over Golden State and not seven, as it turned out to be. Still, with LeBron James climbing out of a 3-1 hole in the series, the whole thing is fairly amazing. The Cavs winning, of course, and me actually being right for a change.

 

Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant prepares to shoot during practice on Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, June 1. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

So with Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals upon us, let’s take another stab at it.

The pick is not so exotic this time. In fact, my call of Golden State in six games falls right in line with many others in the business.

Kevin Durant is the reason. He’s good to go for 30 points or more any night, and the Warriors were pretty great before he joined them last summer.

Russell Westbrook will get the 2017 MVP award later this month but until that happens it is fair to say that Golden State has all the MVP winners since LeBron’s last trophy in 2013  – Durant in 2014 and Steph Curry the last two years. That’s just too much firepower to overcome, though LeBron will bust a gut trying.

Add in the Warriors’ home-court advantage and the feeling gets stronger.

Could LeBron win a Game 7 at Oracle Arena? He did last year. Doing it twice in two years is asking too much of anyone, however, even with a teammate like Kyrie Irving, whose three-pointer in the final minute won the deciding game last June.

As for looking at the regular-season series between the Cavs and Warriors, a 1-1 split, there’s no much to glean from there. Last year Golden State won both regular-season matchups but it didn’t mean a thing in the Finals, when Cleveland’s aggressive defense limited Curry to 22.6 points per game and a severe loss of confidence.

Durant is the answer to that problem in these Finals. He also is deadly from any range and will sting the Cavs often enough to get Curry more open shots.

[LeBron was predicted to be this great the day he left high school]

[A clearer picture of the challenge Brad Kaaya faces in Detroit]

If any of this turns out to be wrong, we’ll try it again next year with the same two teams. The Warriors and Cavs are going to be an NBA Finals thing for a while longer. The only way that changes is if LeBron begins to fade noticeably and if somebody else in the East grows up. Not all that likely in either case.

The best news of all is that all the major players are healthy for this series. If that holds true, there should be enough electricity here to make up for an ultimately meaningless postseason so far.

Durant’s injury shows how fortunate Miami was to keep Big Three up and running for so long

 

Kevin Durant’s knee injury, in combination with the uncertain timetable on his return, has people wondering if Golden State’s supersquad has been stripped of its unstoppable power.

No telling. Durant could be back in time for the playoffs. He could be fine, which means the Warriors could be fabulous, once the real banner-raising season gets here.

Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) poses for a photo on media day at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on September 26, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Makes you realize, however, that championships are not won in the offseason, no matter who gets signed or traded or otherwise stockpiled on any one team at any one time.

We already understand that because the Miami Heat won two NBA titles with the Big Three and not the fistful that LeBron James cheerily promised at the outset.

Could it be, though, that the franchise would have been shut out altogether during that superstar era if even one of the Big Three had been injured or otherwise unavailable at just the wrong time?

Think, in particular, of Chris Bosh. If his deep vein thrombosis issue had become a serious problem earlier in his career, say one year into his stay with the Heat, what might have happened?

Maybe Miami outclasses Oklahoma City in the 2012 NBA Finals anyway, but the seven-game Eastern Conference championship round with Boston required every possible contribution from everybody on the roster.

LeBron kept it alive with 45 points and 15 rebounds to win Game 6 and avoid elimination by the Celtics, but he couldn’t be expected to produce back-to-back games on that epic scale. Bosh, who had already missed nine playoff games with an abdominal strain, came back to provide much-needed relief in Game 7, scoring 19 points with eight rebounds off the bench and making 3-of-4 from three-point range.

Miami moved on and, after stopping the Thunder in five games, the championship celebration was on.

Sure, it’s all speculation what happens if one player is in and another is out for a significant stretch. You can play the same games with LeBron and Dwyane Wade at any point in the Big Three run. Wade’s injury status and how he might overcome it was a continuing theme back then.

Let’s keep it specific to Bosh in this case, however. Real specific.

The second of Miami’s back-to-back titles was all but lost in 2013 when San Antonio took a three-point lead to the final seconds of a potential Game 6 clincher in the NBA Finals.

Ray Allen pushed the game into overtime with a glorious three-pointer from the corner, the greatest shot in Heat history, but you probably remember who grabbed an offensive rebound and quickly passed the ball to where it absolutely needed to be in order to save the season. Chris Bosh.

[Who are the must-have autographs for PB County’s 4 spring-training teams?]

[Lane Kiffin says FAU’s new QB is moving past his old troubles]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 overall draft position is haunted]

Timing is essential when it comes to replaying and discussing these coulda, shoulda, woulda been scenarios. I’ll go back to my original premise, though.

Putting talent together in the offseason does not win championships. Keeping great players healthy and working together against what always will be difficult odds is the challenge, and it’s the same one that Golden State faces now.

Have a heart, Warriors, and leave Kevin Durant to somebody else

Remember how much fun it was to watch the Golden State Warriors motor through a 73-9 regular season, flashy and efficient all at once?

Steph Curry was a genuine spectacle with his ballhandling and uncanny long-range accuracy, and on some nights Klay Thompson actually had the hotter hand. Then there was Draymond Green with his WWE moves, plus all those perfectly-suited role players.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 30: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors speaks with Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder after their 96-88 win in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA – Stephen Curry (left) of the Golden State Warriors speaks with Kevin Durant  of the Oklahoma City Thunder after their 96-88 win in Game Seven of the Western Conference Finals at ORACLE Arena on May 30, 2016. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Yeah, that was one great team, all ready to stack a second NBA title onto what surely would become a regular pile of them.

Then LeBron and the Cavs bumped Golden State off the pedestal. Then the Warriors, all neon and magic, started flickering a bit, like there suddenly was a short circuit or something.

Just like that, Golden State is feeling needy again, and a little greedy, too. Would the story be as cute if they suddenly snapped up Kevin Durant in free agency? It’s a far more likely scenario than KD coming to Miami. Makes so much more sense for him. Puts him so much closer to his first NBA title, and after nine years in the league that matters more and more.

Cute? No, that would be cruel, with Durant’s addition making a monster of the Warriors. A bully band on the order of Miami’s Big Three era. You remember how well that played outside of South Florida, right? The Heat were hated, and the Warriors will get there, too, if they snap up all the best available talent.

Oh, Golden State had its eyes on Hassan Whiteside, too, until he announced early Friday morning he’s sticking with the Heat. They need somebody to make LeBron and Kyrie Irving think twice about plowing down the lane and all the way to the rim and Hassan couldn’t have gone wrong there, with or without Durant as a teammate. It’s that kind of operation, one that has gotten used to winning and will not go back without a fight.

Seems to me that the best and most realistic option for Miami fans is for Durant to re-sign with Oklahoma City for another season. Let Pat Riley’s free-agency plans percolate until 2017. Let the Heat bulk up the roster for an all-out negotiating blitz, either with Chris Bosh back on board or his contract moved out of the way.

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good fight, even with a legend like Shula]

[Dick Sanford provided the soundtrack for baseball in PB County and beyond]

[Rate the Adam Gase offseason buzz against other Dolphins debuts]

Billy Donovan would be an ally in that circumstance. He did fine as a rookie NBA head coach and seemed to gain the confidence of Durant and Russell Westbrook. It should be enough to keep them all together in Oklahoma City, unless Golden State simply gets its way.

The Warriors aren’t a bad bunch. In fact, they put on a super show. What we don’t need is to see them bolted together as some kind of superteam. Keep them a little needy, like everyone else.

Keep them from turning downright nasty.