Welp! Here we are again.
As a child, I was always fascinated by the idea of chance and the infinite possibilities that could potentially exist in our universe. When Al Pacino’s fiery Tony D’Amato famously called football a “game of inches,” even then I felt that he didn’t give enough credit to the inestimable variables that float around, unconsciously setting off chains of events we never see coming.
When someone, someday writes the history of the NBA, the night of May 22, 2007 will have a chapter all to it’s own. That night, 14 non-playoff qualifying teams had a shot at who they believed were two elite franchise changing players in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. This was the first year the NBA would strictly draft players one year removed from graduating high school, but it didn’t matter. Everyone saw enough of Oden’s dominating performances at Ohio State (alongside future NBA all-star Mike Conley Jr.) and Durant’s display of scoring prowess well beyond his years to know that these guys were the real fucking deal.
The Boston Celtics were coming off their 2nd worst season in franchise history finishing at 24-58, the 2nd worse record only behind the Memphis Grizzlies who would part with Pau Gasol by season’s end. The Grizzlies and the Celtics had a 25% and 19.9% chance at landing the top spot respectively, and even better odds to land the 2nd spot. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, but the fate of the future of the NBA was set in motion as soon as the ping pong balls landed exactly where they did. As fate would seal it, the Grizzlies would draw the 4th pick and the Celtics, the 5th. It was the Portland Trailblazers who nabbed the top spot and subsequently drafted Oden and the then-Seattle Supersonics/now-Oklahoma City Thunder who would go on to draft Kevin Durant. The Celtic’s year-long tank-fest to set themselves up for a top pick was all but a waste. Dreams of seeing Durant or even Oden play for Boston were dashed and Celtics GM Danny Ainge knew he wouldn’t survive another season like the last. Ainge knew if he was going to go all in, it had to be now. On the day of the draft, the Celtics traded away their #5 pick, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West to the Sonics for sharpshooter Ray Allen. The following month the Celtics made an even bigger splash when they traded Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, their 2009 first round draft pick as well as returning a conditional draft pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for 10-time all-star and 2004 MVP Kevin Garnett.
The original “Big 3” was set and the Celtics would go on to win the NBA title the following year (remember…ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!) and contend for another 3 years. Along the way, these Celtics would go about breaking LeBron James’ spirit, ousting the Cavs in two of those three years, forcing him to take his talents to South Beach, to join forces with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and create a newer, better superteam during the summer of 2010.
Fast-forward five years later to the summer of 2015, where LeBron makes his return home to Cleveland and forces the Cavs to deal their shiny-new #1 pick, Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves to gouge yet another Minnesota all-star in Kevin Love. Alongside young budding star Kyrie Irving, the Cavs were able to make it back to the Finals and subsequently lose to an upstart Golden State Warriors squad.
An epic seven game Finals a year later where the Cavaliers exacted their revenge against a record-breaking Golden State squad and we finally reach to last summer, where Kevin Durant (remember? the guy who was supposed to end up with the Celtics?) up-and-decided to leave an already great team for an even greater team.
The universe and chance has brought us here, at the height of the “superteam” era that started with a couple of ping pong balls with two of the greatest duke it out for their third match-up.
Kevin Love and Draymond Green essentially cancel each other out as well as Kyrie and JR Smith splitting time guarding Steph. The more interesting point to look for tonight is that LeBron might get the nod to guard Durant. If anyone else does, Golden State will have the significant advantage.
Since last year’s Finals and staring down Steph for that dagger Game 7 three, Kyrie has been an entirely different monster and will most likely be the X factor in this series. If Draymond is too busy guarding James, Steph and Klay need to suddenly morph into all-star defenders, which neither are. Offensively, however, as long as Klay can manage to keep himself from shooting the Warriors out of the game, they’ll find a way to score a shit ton of points.
Advantage: Golden State
Reports indicate that Steve Kerr may be back to coach during the Finals, however Mike Brown has seen to do just fine in his stead. However, we ARE talking about the Mike Brown who has been shit-canned by Cleveland twice and the Lakers for having some of the worst records in the league. I’m convinced Golden State can win without the guidance of a coach. Tyronn Lue has one year of one the fly coaching in the Finals and he’s the only coach in this series who can say that they’ve coached their team back from the brink in the Finals.
When Kevin Durant made his decision last Summer, he knew exactly what he signed up for. To create a team that is all but unstoppable in the quest to beat the greatest player in the world today. This series will be defined by how many God-damn all-stars will be out on the court at once. It will break ratings records as we finally get to see three truly great superstars compete against each other. The problem for Cleveland is that they only have 1.
Advantage: Golden State
For all the talk about the NBA’s lack of parity the course of events that have led us to that lack of parity, maybe we’re missing that LeBron just so happens to be the best basketball player on the planet, that Tyronn Lue is a better coach than we give him credit for, that Kevin Durant has worked tirelessly to make his style fit with Steph’s, or that Kyrie has blossomed into a legitimate superstar.
Maybe some of these things don’t happen by chance, but by choice.
Golden State in 7