Will Golden State Warriors Or Cleveland Cavaliers Roll Through NBA Playoffs Undefeated?
The countdown to The Decision, Part III, began the moment Kevin Durant pulled up over James in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and all but demolished the Cavaliers’ repeat bid. Speculation has already started that James will move to Los Angeles to continue the Lakers legacy and expand his burgeoning film and television interests. James sprinkled some gossip dust when he showed up to watch Lonzo Ball play a summer-league game in Las Vegas, wearing a purple shirt. James’ wife, Savannah, was also recently spotted exploring the grounds of an elite prep school in Los Angeles.
James and his team are master strategists, savvy enough to avoid potholes while generating plenty of suspense. After keeping fans guessing the previous two times he had the potential to leave, James will easily maneuver through inquiries about his plans and leave it up to leaks and conspiracy theories to avoid boredom. The Cavaliers have already covered themselves in case James decides that keeping his promise to deliver a championship gives him greater leeway to exit again. The Irving trade brought back a coveted draft pick that could potentially serve as a building block for the organization’s future. But if James unexpectedly makes up his mind during the season that there really is no place like home, the pick could be used at the deadline to acquire a player who helps him move closer to catching the Warriors.
Irving’s unexpected trade demand will put James in a unique position because he has always been the sun in which all other planets in the league revolve. Now that Irving is gone, James will have to address what went wrong and why the second super team he assembled fractured because a star decided to bail on him. The Cavaliers have considerably more depth – if and when Thomas is able to play – and a motivating purpose with Irving not only elsewhere but suiting up for James’ longest-standing rival in Boston. Whatever Cleveland does this season, it will be measured by how it affects whether James stays or goes.
Golden State Warriors
This was supposed to be the time to gloat, to sit back and wait for that diamond-encrusted ring that will make all haters turn away blinded, in shame. Kevin Durant earned the right to have a clap-back summer, given the vitriol he had to endure over taking control of his career and joining a potential dynasty in Golden State. But the spoils of victory and finally beating LeBron James – having some proclaim him the best player in the game, a hero’s welcome parade through his hometown and the release of some petty-licious cupcake-inspired signature shoes – weren’t enough. He had to come up with one more response to someone on Twitter and gave an answer that offered more insight into the real reason he decided to leave Oklahoma City and revealed some of the deep-seated insecurities that he has never been ashamed of owning.
Before he was named Finals MVP and hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time, Durant told The Vertical that winning a title “wouldn’t mean my life was complete.” At the time, some pundits interpreted the comment as a way to protect himself in case the Warriors wound up losing their three-match with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But now that he has won and taken a bizarre victory lap, Durant returns for his first season as an NBA champion still in need of fulfillment.
Durant should be beyond having to defend his decision to leave the Thunder for the Warriors. He fessed up to his Twitter mistake rather than blame someone else – which should be commended – but will continue to field questions about his inability to let go. He can win a ring (or rings) but can’t win over all of the fans who turned on him. He can’t convince them he’s a good guy when love and hate in the irrational world of professional sports fandom mostly comes down to “Are you on my side?” He didn’t have to apologize to anyone – until he offended his former teammates and Billy Donovan with a “childish” third-person explanation for his departure. The Warriors had his back through a challenging season and still do. But by picking at a scab that appeared to be healing in Oklahoma City, Durant has extended the drama for another season and invited more scrutiny to himself and the overwhelming favorite to win it all this season.
Though Durant clearly remains scarred by the negative reaction to his move, revelations about a possible burner social-media account (or accounts) to take on critics elicited plenty of jokes and showcased an unusual predicament for one of the greatest scorers to ever lace them up: a player of Durant’s stature still hasn’t accumulated an army of ardent, ride-or-die supporters who are willing to meet someone in Temecula on his behalf. That could change with more championships, which seem to be headed his way in the form of a deluge. But perhaps this embarrassing incident will help Durant understand that expending too much effort to persuade people to like you could do more harm to yourself.