Better Late Than Never

I’ve noticed my basketball writings have a cyclical nature to them. It’s been 335 days since I’ve discussed basketball; my article “The Numerology Behind LeBron’s Number Change”1 was purely a numerological analysis of him switching from No. 23 to No. 6. The three basketball-related2 articles3 I published4 before the numerological breakdown that year were more analyses of situations surrounding professional basketball and the NBA than the actual game itself. You’ll have to go back to my “Where in the World is Carmelo Anthony?”5 article from 985 days ago to read a statistical basketball breakdown or general examination from me. As noted in my October 24th, 2020 article “I Didn’t Care About the NBA Playoffs,”6 my interest in the association hasn’t been there as much as it was pre-COVID.

It was 1,487 days ago that I published “I Was Wrong,”7 an article detailing the successes and failures of the 2017-18 Milwaukee Bucks that was a pseudo-sequel to my earlier article “Luck of the Irish.”8 Since then, the Bucks have been a top three seed in the Eastern Conference every season, and while the Celtics took a step back in the 2020-21 season, they have also been a top four seed in the Eastern Conference during this time. These two teams were young, developing teams back when I wrote those articles, and now they’ve both been to the NBA Finals. Upon the Bucks winning the championship to conclude the 2020-21 NBA season, I decided to see how the following season would play out before writing another article following up on their success. However, the Warriors winning their fourth championship in eight seasons, at the expense of those lauded Celtics core players, merely a season after the Bucks won their second title in franchise history, has piqued my interest.

It’s worth pointing out that my analysis of LeBron’s number change was not a prediction of the Lakers winning another championship, merely the intentions behind the number change. I believed, if anything, the Lakers experiment would fail, but not even making the playoffs was the worst-case scenario for this team. In my article from 1,072 days ago titled “Seismic Revisions,”9 I stated that I would gladly accept more player movement that bolsters the parity and unpredictability of the NBA. While the Westbrook trade was certainly unexpected, I would wager LeBron and the Lakers management were expecting more than a 33-49 record and 11th-place finish in the Western Conference. However, their struggles meant young teams like the Grizzlies and Timberwolves and up-and-coming teams like the Mavericks gained more regular season success and playoff basketball experience. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving teaming up in Brooklyn seemed like a hostile takeover of the NBA, especially when James Harden was added to the mix, but fell to the Bucks in the 2021 playoffs, traded Harden this past season, and then got swept by the Celtics in the First Round of the 2022 playoffs. Even the Hawks, who I pointed to as a team I looked forward to seeing develop in that same article, made a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2020-21 season, upsetting the 76ers and being the nail in the coffin for the Simmons-Embiid duo.

Despite this newfound parity, with a different team winning the title the past four seasons, the Warriors have found themselves back at the mountaintop just three seasons after their Hamptons Five, or Death Lineup fell apart in six games to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals. Steph Curry added a missing piece of his resume by hoisting a well-deserved Finals MVP with averages of 31.2 points per game, six rebounds, five assists, and two steals to go along with shooting 48.2% from the field, 43.7% from behind-the-arc, and 85.7% at the line. Andrew Wiggins, someone I had hoped would turn the Timberwolves franchise around back in 201710 alongside Karl Anthony-Towns and Jimmy Butler, a player wrote off as a bust, achieved a championship as the third option for this Warriors dynasty. He even raised his game to be the second option for the Warriors in the Finals, averaging 18.3 points per game in the Finals to go along with averaging a Warriors-high 39.2 minutes per game and shooting 44.6% from the field compared to Thompson’s 17 points per game on 35.6% shooting in 38.3 minutes per game. Harrison Barnes, Kevin Durant, and Andrew Wiggins; two of these are not like the other, but in the Warriors system, they’ve all become champions. Just as they were from 2015-2019, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala performed their roles, with heavily reduced playing time in Iguodala’s case, and played them well. They didn’t shoot as efficiently as you’d assume, but they matched the Celtics’ defensive intensity, forcing them to shoot just as poorly.

While Curry’s legacy continues its upward trajectory and the Warriors’ dynasty continues to etch its name in the annals of NBA history, it makes one wonder what the Celtics should do in these upcoming seasons. Their core is hitting their physical primes and finally reached the Finals, something I did risibly say was starting to look unlikely back in 2019, but they lost to the Bucks in the 2019 Eastern Semifinals. Some argue the Bucks would have beat them again in these past playoffs had they been at full strength. It’s at this moment I’d like to mention the importance of Khris Middleton to the Bucks, as he’s someone I once declared was the third option at best on a championship team, only to watch him go nuclear at times during that Bucks championship run, including a 40-point performance in Game 4 of the 2021 Finals. While the Celtics core is still young, Giannis isn’t much older than Tatum and Brown and is a year younger than Smart, while Middleton is five years younger than Horford; they can keep running it back, but unless they make some tweaks, I like the Bucks’ future more. The Celtics acquired Malcolm Brogdon days ago now in response to this; they also understand they can not rest on their laurels if this group is to win a championship.

With those two battling for Eastern supremacy, I should mention the Miami Heat, who intrepidly battled the Celtics down to the final seconds of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jimmy Butler’s missed three for the lead with 18 seconds to go was the dagger in this team’s playoff ambitions, and while it’s true you want your star players taking those shots in crucial moments, it is hard to argue he could have used more clock and found a better opportunity. While I applaud this Heat team for making the Finals three seasons ago and the Eastern Conference Finals this past season, they also need to make some tweaks if they want to continue to be a top contender in the Eastern Conference. It’s clear Butler needs some additional offensive support, something I mentioned in that “Seismic Revisions” article, but, in the past, they’ve also made my written words look ridiculous after the fact. With these three teams atop the Eastern Conference, it does give the rest of the field ample time to develop their players, gain playoff experience, and assemble a roster capable of overtaking them in a few years.

Consecutive MVP-winning center Nikola Jokic just underwent his breakout season when I published “Denver’s Specious Goldmine?”11 1,398 days ago. I analyzed the team’s potential around Jokic; while they did make a Western Conference Finals appearance in the 2020 playoff bubble, most of the ensuing success they’ve had since then has been in the form of individual accolades for the big man. They’ve won 50 or more games just once in that span, and while they have been unlucky with injuries in the regular season and especially in the playoffs the last two seasons, they have underperformed relative to their potential. The personnel around Jokic hasn’t exactly been the best fit, but his consecutive MVPs right after Giannis won consecutive MVPs finally gives the mainstream media additional narratives to discuss. Still, the Nuggets, much like the Heat, need to be careful, as they are in danger of plateauing and allowing younger, up-and-coming teams to surpass them.

While I’m not the biggest fan of teams formed primarily around a monopolized one-player system, I must commend Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks for upsetting the Phoenix Suns in the 2022 Western Semifinals and making the Western Conference Finals. If Dončić is to be the superstar the Mavericks and the NBA community want him to be, the Mavericks front office will have to surround him with better personnel; how much movement is realistically possible in one offseason, though? Free agency opened eight days ago, and official contracts have been allowed to be signed for three days now; while the Mavericks traded for Christian Wood, other teams have also made moves to improve. The Timberwolves traded for Rudy Gobert, the Celtics acquired Brogdon, and the Bulls, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Pelicans, Suns, Timberwolves, and Wizards all re-signed their star players while gaining new players in the draft. In addition, with the Kevin Durant trade request looming over the NBA landscape, it’ll be more difficult for the lower-seeded playoff teams from last season who did not improve over the offseason to return to the postseason.

My Durant landing destination prediction? I don’t have one, but it would be interesting to see him on the Suns alongside Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Suns are a team nearly on the verge of making franchise history but have stumbled on their path the last two seasons. Should the Suns acquire Durant, it would add more intrigue to the regular season matchups and a potential playoff series between them and the defending champion Warriors. Reportedly, there are talks of either Durant or Irving, maybe even both, heading to Los Angeles to team up with LeBron, but fantasizing over a potential Lakers superteam is a longstanding Lakers offseason tradition. It would also be a mood-killing decision, as the apparent parity of the NBA has put a fun, competitive atmosphere together for fans to enjoy the last handful of seasons; a superteam now would bore people. Regardless of where Durant goes, his legacy is certainly on the line.

We became accustomed to star players staying with one team their entire careers. Regardless if people don’t want to accept this fact, LeBron James’ decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and form the Heatles in 2010 has changed the way players and franchises address player mobility. While many boo and hiss players, most notably Kevin Durant, for ditching their teams and joining up with established stars, the truth is, it doesn’t matter anymore. I told my brother several months ago Durant’s best course of action is to get out and quickly join a new team; 15 years ago, I would’ve just shrugged and assumed the front office would do something to assist their star player. While titles are forever, they can fade in historical significance to fans; if you don’t believe me, when’s the last time anyone near you praised the greatness of the 1950s Lakers? As I tried to state 1,850 days ago12 and even more poorly the day before13, it’s a business, and ever since the widespread societal acceptability of consumerism; it’s always been a business. These star players can now better take advantage of the spoils granted from The Decision and forever etch their names in the history books; people may groan and recognize those titles as less significant, and they may have a point. It doesn’t change the fact they reached the pinnacle.

All titles retain their context by those with an understanding and respect for history as time inevitably moves on. Mainstream media and casual sports fans may spread narratives contrary to reality, but knowledge and confidence always trump ignorant statements, even if they remain none the wiser. Remember that as the older stars continue aging out of superstardom and the younger generation of stars look to replace them, it’s an exciting time to be a basketball fan again.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Havarti – 8/8/2021 – The Numerology Behind LeBron’s Numerical Change
  2. Havarti – 7/10/2021 – Expeditious Discourse: 1947 BAA Finals
  3. Havarti – 6/19/2021 – My Hypothetical NBA Expansion Ideas
  4. Havarti – 6/13/2021 – Professional Basketball’s Salad Days
  5. Havarti – 10/28/2019 – Where in the World Is Carmelo Anthony?
  6. Havarti – 10/24/2020 – I Didn’t Care About the NBA Playoffs
  7. Havarti – 6/13/2018 – I Was Wrong
  8. Havarti – 10/19/2017 – Luck of the Irish
  9. Havarti – 8/2/2019 – Seismic Revisions
  10. Havarti – 6/24/2017 – Jimmy and the Wolves
  11. Havarti – 9/10/2018 – Denver’s Specious Goldmine?
  12. Havarti – 6/15/2017 – White Collar Loyalty
  13. Havarti – 6/14/2017 – NBA: Postmortem

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