Donald Trump isn’t the only one who needs to stop whining. Ever since July, when Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors, all but ensuring that next year’s finals will be the re-rematch of the Dubs and LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers, fans, pundits, bloggers, just about anyone with an opinion on sports has moaned about the lack of drama in the coming season.
Please. 30 of the best basketball teams in the world are about to spend six months playing 82 games each. There will be plenty of drama. Let me count just a few of the ways.
There’s Drama Down the Ticket
Just as the Congressional, state and local races matter on Election Day, the upward mobility of certain teams will go far to define this season. Remember, the Warriors didn’t become champions overnight. They rose from a decrepit team annually bound for the Lottery, to a solid playoff team first. Several teams are looking to make that step. For instance, will the New York Knicks be relevant? They can be if Krystaps Porzingis develop his game before Carmelo Anthony’s knees wear down? And if he can, can they augment that impressive duo with championship caliber role players. Or will Melo be the Jay Cutler of the NBA, a star caliber player stuck on mediocre franchises. Or can the Boston Celtics become more than a nice bunch of overachievers and barge into the championship conversation. In the Western Conference, will the massive amounts of young talent on the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz begin to cohere into playoff teams?
Who is on the Way Down?
The San Antonio Spurs have been in the championship conversation since Hillary Clinton was First Lady and Mariah Carey made music that people actually cared about. Yet, in last season’s playoffs, they were a clear third in the Western Conference to the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors got better in the offseason; the Spurs lost Tim Duncan to retirement. Now rumors are wafting from Texas that the Spurs are keeping the reset button handy. A slow start might mean it’s time to hit it and rebuild around superstar Kawhi Leonard. He’s an MVP caliber player but the lessons of the Spurs resilient excellence is that it takes a roster of championship caliber players not just one. Meanwhile, the Clippers have a similar problem, put the Warriors in the Eastern Conference and Los Angeles might have hosted some Finals games. Instead, the Clippers are getting older and the Warriors are getting better. Their time as the only relevant team at Staples Center may be ending. Meanwhile perennially older teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies remain one major injury from the lottery.
This is What a Golden Age Looks Like
Look, the NBA isn’t like the NFL where there’s so much volatility from year to year that the standings seem to vary as much as an office fantasy football league. The three golden eras of the NBA were defined by hegemony among the elite. In the ‘60s, most of the Finals matchups were between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. In the ‘80s those two teams held sway again the Finals. In the ‘90s, it was some team from the West versus the Chicago Bulls. There’s nothing wrong with that. Great teams force their rivals to be great to compete, and that’s what we’re seeing this season. Several teams are taking different routes to compete with Golden State and Cleveland. They probably won’t get there this year, but it should be fun to measure the progress.