The 2018 NBA Finals was a dud.
We’ve seen the same matchup for four years in a row now, and since Kevin Durant joined the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, it hasn’t even been competitive. The Cavs have won a total of one game in the last two NBA Finals. NBA fans don’t want to see the same teams go at it year after year, especially when one teams boasts two league MVPs who are currently both in the primes of their careers. The NBA is supposed to be about drama and suspense, but in the past few seasons it’s felt like we already knew the ending before the season began.
TV viewership was also significantly down this year, so it’s in the NBA’s best interest for a Finals series to be more competitive. The series drew a 12.2 TV rating over all, but the last game of the series had a substantial drop. It fell 12 percent from Game Three of the series, and 11 percent from 2017’s Game Four. Warriors fans are ecstatic about having what might be considered the best basketball team of all time, but everyone else is bored and ready for something new.
Well, here’s some good news for anyone not a Cavs or Warriors: I don’t believe we’re going to see the Cavaliers or the Warriors in the NBA Finals next season.
It’s easy to predict this for the Cavs. If LeBron James leaves Cleveland, the Cavs will once again become a cellar dweller like they were when he left the first time for Miami in 2010. The year after LeBron left the first time, the Cavs won only 19 games and finished dead last in the eastern conference. Until he came back, they didn’t finish any higher than 10th in four years. LeBron right now is chasing greatness, and to many, greatness is defined primarily by rings. Kevin Love, the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft, and J.R. Smith and co. won’t even be enough to get them back to the Finals next year, let alone win it. Unless the Cavs pull in a couple more Superstars by trade of free agency, LeBron is going to find a team with a more realistic chance of winning a ring. So we may very well see King James again in the Finals next year, just in a different uniform.
LeBron’s destination directly affects the Warriors chances of making it back to the Finals. As monstrous as they are, they’ve shown they can be vulnerable at times. Two years ago they had to dig their way out of a 3-1 hole in the second round of the playoffs against Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and the OKC Thunder. The next year they brought Durant aboard and cruised through the playoffs. This year, even with Durant, the Warriors were almost ousted in the Western Conference Finals. The Houston Rockets assembled a team with enough star power and three point shooting to give the Warriors a run for their money, and they did. It took Chris Paul missing Games Six and Seven and the Rockets missing 29 of their final 30 three point shots for the Warriors to earn an NBA Finals bid. What if the Rockets had LeBron?
If the Rockets sign James in free agency and are able to retain a couple of their core guys like Eric Gordon or Trevor Ariza, that team could beat the Warriors. The Warriors likely won’t stay stagnant in the offseason, but they need to re-sign Klay Thompson and restructure Durant’s contract, so it’s unclear how much cap space they’ll have to make any big moves. The issue with a LeBron move to Houston is that it will once again make the Western Conference Finals the “real Finals,” and then the actual Finals will turn out to be a one-sided mess.
The Los Angeles Lakers are also desperately trying to win the LeBron sweepstakes, and while they don’t have as solid a core as the Rockets, any team with LeBron instantly becomes a contender. The Lakers have the money to possibly sign two more max deals; maybe Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins. With rising sophomores Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma in the backcourt and James and George as forwards, that team would also have a reasonable chance against the Warriors.
There is always the possibility however, that LeBron stays in the east. Maybe he stays in Cleveland for his family or maybe he joins the up and coming Philadelphia 76ers who have been trying to recruit him for months.
If that happens, the Rockets will need to sign Paul George. They’ll need to win him over from the idea of playing in his hometown of LA with the promise of a ring. Houston doesn’t need all that much to put themselves ahead of Golden State. Lebron would be icing on the cake, but George would be enough to get it done. George and James Harden can both create for themselves and shoot lights out. Clint Capela can hold down the fort in the paint by blocking shots and grabbing offensive boards. Chris Paul, one of the smartest point guards in the NBA, can run the show.
The league might look very different by the time the season tips off at the end of October. Hopefully things will be shaken up enough so that the end results will be different as well.