Before LeBron got to the league and after MJ left(the '98 edition) the NBA kind of hit a lull. Sure there was Shaq and Kobe destroying everyone but the league had become diluted with 18 year old "sensations" that were not ready for the big stage and the NBA was just missing something. By the time LeBron arrived, Kobe was hitting his prime, the Spurs were creating a dynasty, the Pistons were developing a rarity in the NBA of a great team with no superstar and things were about to take off. Now 11 years later, watching the playoffs, I see some new themes developing, some great things continuing, and machine that just won't quit.
With many of the superstars of the past decade nearing the ends of their careers like Kobe, Peirce & Garnett, Nowitzki, and Tim Duncan(more on him shortly) the NBA has a serious pool of young talent. The first person that comes to mind outside of the likes of LeBron and Durant is Steph Curry. As long as his ankles allow him to do so, Curry is going to destroy every 3 point record in the books and retire as the greatest shooter of the basketball that this planet has ever seen. It's that simple. The only reason he doesn't get mentioned alongside Durant offensively is because Durant is 6'10 and can shoot over everyone. Regardless, I'll take Curry in a shooting contest over anyone. No questions asked.
Another superstar in the making is Russel Westbrook. It's awesome and also kind of a shame that he has to share the court with Durant because he needs the ball in his hands and while he occasionally makes boneheaded plays, his athleticism is matched only by LeBron. How about Blake Griffin, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, and let's not forget about the injured Rondo and DRose. We also have Kevin Love who is hopefully going to get traded and make the team, if its in the East, an instant threat. The list goes on and on. Lillard and Aldridge inPortland, Harden in Houston, and Noah in Chicago. I also can't forget the 2 guys who inspired me to write this post in the first place, John Wall and Bradley Beal, who are going to be a handful to deal with in the coming years. The NBA has a bright future and that's not even including the most hyped draft class we've seen in a long time!
Could someone let the Spurs know that they were supposed to be old and washed-up like 5 years ago? Seriously, who are these people and from what planet are they? It seems like for the last 5 years, we go into a season writing off the Spurs, labeling them as "getting old" and then every season they are essentially the best team in the league all year and that's all the while resting their star players more than any other team.
And is it just me or is Tim Duncan getting better? If it wasn't clear before, Tim Duncan is the best power forward of all-time. Call him boring(which I used to). It doesn't matter. He is efficient, he makes no mistakes ever, he can score, he can pass, he can defend, and he can disarm bombs with both hands tied behind his back, blindfolded. Okay so the last one isn't true, or maybe it is. Either way he's a legend and if the Spurs can continue to crush the MVP Durant, make the finals and potentially spoil LeBron's 3-peat, this Spurs team locks itself into a top 3 dynasty of all time in any sport. Right? Five titles in 15 years and oh by the way they haven't won less than 50 games in a season since Tim Duncan arrived, when I was TEN YEARS OLD! Holy Cow!
But it's not just Duncan. It's Gregg Popovich who is both a basketball genius and freaking hilarious. It's 2 of the 3 best foreign NBA players ever in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. And finally, year after year, the Spurs' front office finds the pieces that fit those 3 guys perfectly. Right now they have a potential Scotty Pippen 2.0 in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green who can get hot and hit 3's with the best of them. The Spurs are the definition of a finely tuned machine. Their games look like a computer simulation of exactly how you would want a basketball team to play. It's unreal and it's fun to watch. Whoever gets them in the Finals, presuming they make it, is going to have a tough time.
What would an NBA post be without LeBron? We all know he's the best player alive right now yada yada yada. I think the important thing to note is that this is a defining moment in LeBron's career. Not unlike seemingly every other moment LeBron has been in, this year, these last few games could define the ultimate legacy of LeBron. He's already guaranteed top 3 status but to be #1 I'm not sure he can afford to lose his 3rd NBA finals. The reason I think this year is key is partly because of the first to points I made above. Eventually, this Spurs team is going to decline just a bit but that is not the case this year. Maybe it's next year. If LeBron can make it to the ring this year, probably against the Spurs it could be smooth sailing the rest of his career. The Spurs seem to be the last team of the past decade that is still hanging on and still has the experience, the mojo, the "it" factor to beat anyone at anytime. Knocking off the Spurs 2/3 times puts huge style points on LeBrons resume.
If the Spurs are the last dynamic 'Team' for LeBron to get through then the rest of his career will be knocking off the up and coming superstars. As I mentioned before, the league is going to be super fun to watch for the foreseeable future, but are there stars out there that can really beat LBJ in a 7 game series? If LeBron can make it past this Indiana team and then the Spurs I can see the rest of his career playing out like MJ's. A lot of individual talent that is just barely below the level it takes to knock off an all-timer.
If Lebron fails to win the ring in 2014 or fails to even make the finals, the final chapter in his career novel will look a lot different than if he pulls it off again(maybe with some more help from Ray Ray)!