Generic Blog Post: Previewing The NBA Finals.

I'm on vacation, but the blog never rests.  So to fill the space while I'm off, I've written a bunch of posts in advance of my time off, each of which will be published while I'm away. They're not timely, they aren't reflective of whatever is happening at the moment, instead, they are generic posts about evergreen topics that can be read at anytime.  

And they're each a result of what you've suggested I blog about.

Today's is a response to an email from Chris...

You could write a blog previewing the NBA Finals now, and it will be relevant when the series begins in a month.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Seven of the 2016 NBA Finals on June 19, 2016 at ORACLE Arena 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)By the time this posts, the NBA Finals will finally be ready to begin.  We can thank the Celtics and Spurs for giving us an interminably long layoff leading up to this year's title series, one that features a matchup that I'm really excited for.

Cavs/Warriors is, right now, the best rivalry in pro sports and as compelling as last years series was, this year provides even more intrigue, with the added dynamics of more history between the teams, the Kevin Durant factor, and two-time former Cleveland coach Mike Brown either running the show or holding an assistant's clipboard for Golden State.

It's a series that features seven of the top 20 to 25 players in the league, and that carries with it immensely huge stakes.  It's a chance for a remarkable three-year run by the Warriors to be capped off with a second title, an opportunity for the great Kevin Durant to win his first ring, and a chance for LeBron James to add a fourth - and perhaps, most significant championship to his already amazing resume.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN - as good an NBA writer as there is - says that the identity of the league is also up for grabs...

....the Warriors-Cavs rivalry carries even more than a ring count: It's a battle over the outward identity of the NBA at one of the league's most ascendant moments. With the retirement of Kobe Bryant in 2016, LeBron James and Stephen Curry remain as the league's two breakthrough stars and the two players who get business execs around the league downright giddy about the balance sheet when they pass through town. Another Finals matchup offers yet another round in a battle for the NBA's supreme individual identity -- and winning means everything.

In 2015, following the Warriors' title, 15.9 percent of NBA fans named Steph their favorite player, with 11.7 percent identifying with LeBron, according to ESPN fan research. One year later, after the Cavs' comeback series win, the numbers flipped -- 15.6 percent for LeBron, 12.3 percent for Steph. In the NBA, which is fueled by personalities, a fan's relationship with a star is a bit more fluid and conditional than in other sports. Many an NBA fan demands a brilliant individual performance that delivers a W before committing. A win for Steph and those fan sentiments are likely to flip again.

We're getting the best possible series we could've asked for from a pure basketball sense as well as from the standpoint of evolving, interesting storylines.  These are the two most important teams and they have the most important players in the league. I love that we're getting this series again.

I just hate how we got here. 

From the moment that last year's NBA Finals ended, a third straight championship meeting between Golden State and Cleveland this June didn't just seem likely, it seemed inevitable. More so after the Warriors added Kevin Durant.  I argued when KD headed west that the era of the Super-team is both good for the league and for fans of it, and I still feel the same way.  

The big contracts matter less because everyone is getting them, and we've long since passed the point where a player had to move to a major media market to stand out outside the game, as Durant himself has proven.  Winning matters now more than ever before. In a salary-cap league that's seen the salary cap and the luxury tax increase by 62 percent in just four years, and in a sport that can change seismically based one one player move alone, players are going to choose to play for franchises that provide the best opportunity to win.

Which gives us super-teams.

Which for fans, are great.

Golden State benefits from obtaining one of the truly great players on a deal that, when you compare it to almost every other contract being agreed to this offseason, is a steal for the Warriors.  

Durant, as an elite-level talent, benefits from what's essentially two one-year deals, the same kind of arrangement that LeBron James has worked under in Cleveland.  Like LeBron, Durant will have almost complete control over who he plays with, who he plays for, and where he goes for the duration of his prime.  If things don't work out in Northern California, or if the Warriors degenerate back into second class NBA citizens (which won't happen), KD can go find a better situation elsewhere.

Meanwhile, we as fans will get a chance to watch as the Warriors roll onto the floor arguably the greatest starting five since the Dream Team, meshing together the two most recent MVP winners with two other top-15 players.  Golden State will not win more than 73 games next season, but they will be insanely fun to watch.  They were the biggest must-watch thing in sports this past season, and every Dubs game in 2016-17 will be required viewing.  Meanwhile with "one and done" deals becoming the rage for superstars, and a number of high-end players entering free agency as soon as next season, the NBA has an infinite number of storylines in the coming years as its best players chase titles in an effort to standout in a league where money is no longer the most important capital. 

Winning has obviously always mattered in the NBA, but in a way, it matters more than ever, and while purists will pine for a day when dynastic teams were created more organically, a winning culture and a good, consistent foundation can still be built using mechanisms like the draft and savvy front office maneuvering.  

And if a team does those things, it's in the running for a superstar.

The problem is that not only did you and I believe that Cavs/Warriors III was inevitable, but the whole league acted as if it felt the same way.  Only a handful of teams made bold moves last offseason, none of which put themselves in serious title contention, and only three teams made significant "all-in" moves at the trade deadline this year, none of which really made them serious championship threats.  Houston's addition of Lou Williams was never going to push the Rockets past the Warriors (or the Spurs, for that matter), same for Toronto never being a real challenger to the Cavaliers by acquiring Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker.  And while it was fun for UK fans to think about Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins playing together in New Orleans, that move did nothing more than make most of us remember that the Pelicans are still actually a team.

It was telling that a team like the Celtics - who ended up with the best record in the Eastern Conference and had valuable potential trade assets, totally sat the deadline out. Same for everyone else.  No GM, coach, or owner thought that their team could legitimately challenge both the Cavs and Warriors.

And they were right.

In the playoffs, no credible threat to either eventual finalist emerged.  The conference finals may have played out a little differently had Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas gotten injured for San Antonio and Boston respectively, but neither of those two teams were going to dethrone the defending conference champs. The playoffs were a formality, with no credible threat emerging to either the Cavaliers or the Warriors, and while the end result is the NBA Finals most of us wanted, it'd have been nice to have at least a little drama along the way.

But now that we are here, we should have a great series. LeBron and the Cavs playing with the pressure that naturally accompanies LeBron and the Cavs - they've lost one game in the playoffs so far, and chances are that you heard more about that one game than any of their 12 wins to get to this point combined.  His Airness never played under that kind of scrutiny.

And the Warriors are playing with both last year's 3-1 meltdown looming over this series, the added pressure that comes with adding one of the game's best-ever individual scorers, and what comes with trying to avoid being a transcendent, superstar-laden team that's won 250 of their last 303 regular season playoff games over the past three seasons with just one title to show for it.

We're going to talk just as much about the loser of the NBA Finals as we do the winner.

It's easy to get intoxicated by the Warriors when you watch them, and it's hard to not get caught up in how effortless they make winning look sometimes.  If you only look at this series through the lens of how damn good the Warriors, it's hard to imagine them losing more than one game. And ultimately, I think they'll win this series.

But beating LeBron James is never easy.  Two years ago, with Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov as his primary running mates, LeBron managed two wins, and a 2-1 series lead against a Golden State team that, after losing game three of that year's Finals, didn't drop another game until mid-December.

The Cavaliers won't go down quietly, and even if they're slightly undermanned, they do benefit by playing a Golden State team that wants to play fast, but my guess is that they will go down.  My guess is that we see a more well-rested, higher-efficiency Steph Curry than we watched a year ago.  My guess is that the Cavs don't have enough defensive answers for the totality of Golden State's offense. My guess is that the Warriors can do enough things to make Kevin Love less of a factor than Cleveland needs him to be.  My guess is that Golden State can get more from its reserves.  And my guess is that, armed with homecourt again and a future Hall-of-Famer that they didn't have last year, that the series goes as long as it did a year ago, but with a different result.

Warriors in seven, and the countdown to another rematch beginning as soon as this one ends. 

Mo Egger

Mo Egger

Mo Egger delivers his unique take on sports on Cincinnati's ESPN 1530! Read more


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