The biggest takeaway from the last two weeks in the chaos of the NBA has been obvious: heavens to murgatroyd, the West is stacked. Jimmy Butler, a Top 15 player in the NBA, went from the Bulls to the Timberwolves. Paul George, a Top 15 player in the NBA, went from the Pacers to the Thunder. And Paul Millsap, a 4-time All-Star, went from the Hawks to the Nuggets.
There’s going to be a Game of Thrones level battle for the Western Conference All-Star team, where in some contracts, the bonuses can be significant.
And we still don’t know where Gordon Hayward will land!
But I got this question a lot over the weekend: Why would LeBron go to the Lakers in the West in 2018 when simply getting to the Finals is going to be difficult? In the East, LeBron could sit 30 games to rest up for the Finals … and coast through the Eastern Conference playoffs?
The easy answer: LeBron is aware he’s chasing a ghost in Michael Jordan. And one of the (silly) knocks on LeBron is that he’s been able to get to the Finals seven years in a row is because he’s rolling through a mediocre-at-best Eastern Conference.
The scenario: LeBron, assuming he’s healthy, gets to the Finals for an 8th straight year in 2018. That’s unheard of. Assuming LeBron loses, he knows that at age 33, he’s running out of gas – unlike Jordan, LeBron didn’t take 1.5 years off to play baseball – and he’s going to need a younger, deeper team to chase the Warriors.
The Lakers will provide that. Lonzo Ball – assuming he makes everyone better, like I expect him to – and Brandon Ingram will be on rookie contracts. Paul George, short of winning a title with the Thunder, will bolt for the Lakers. That trio would be very good; adding LeBron would instantly make them a serious contender.
Ah, but here’s what nobody talks about: The Warriors, again assuming they get to the Title in 2018, will be going for their 5th straight Finals appearance in 2019. No team in modern NBA history has reached the Finals five years in a row. Teams get worn down. Injuries mount from all the extra playoff games. Bickering happens.
And Curry and Durant will both be 30; Andre Iguodala will be 35, and Shaun Livingston will be 33. The team will be aging, while the Lakers core of George, Lonzo and Ingram will all be in their 20s.
LeBron pulls that ring off – taking down the greatest dynasty in NBA history – and he’ll eclipse Michael Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.