The 2021-22 NBA regular season wraps up next week, with just a handful of games for each franchise to play before the play-in tournament…
Nothing divides the NBA community quite like the GOAT debate.
It’s the only topic where everyone has an opinion, unless you’re that annoying person who says ‘we shouldn’t compare people from different eras’ or ‘we should just appreciate greatness’.
Ninety-nine per cent of fans have chosen their guy: either the dominant, tongue-waving Michael Jordan or the versatile, intelligent, unwavering LeBron James. You have a guy, I have a guy and that’s that.
But everyone seems to be looking too close to the picture to see the whole thing. We know the stats, accolades, feats and even defeats as they come with time. But what about what’s happening ahead of time?
I’m talking about James being one championship away from cementing his GOAT argument even though James is not one championship away from being the GOAT.
Currently James is in a room with the greatest doctors on the planet as they scientifically heal his nasty ankle sprain. Anthony Davis has been hurt as well for what seems like an eternity.
Yet people are infinitely more shocked the 36-year-old with 49,939 minutes (only 61 minutes away from the big 50,000) is actually injured. Whereas when Davis goes down, playing less minutes a game, we say ‘oh, I was wondering when he was going to be out again’.
If James and Davis can rest up and win a championship this year, every true contender will crumble. Look at the teams you expect to win it all in the next two years.
Philadelphia are on their last legs trying to keep a style-conflicting duo of young players together. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are great individual players. But put Simmons around four sharp shooters and remove the big fella clogging the middle of the floor, and that sounds like a team to compete.
As with Embiid, without Simmons constantly driving to the basket, the lane will open up for Embiid to play his traditional big-men game. If they do not at least make finals, the duo will split from frustration, or the organisation will realise building a team around two injury-prone players that always play better when the other is out is maybe not the best idea.
The Nets are just a ticking time bomb, especially with Kyrie Irving. If you don’t believe me, watch 2018-19 Kyrie Irving highlights in the Bucks series. That’s what it looks like when things don’t go Irving’s way after one round of post-season failure.
If that doesn’t get them, then injuries to Kevin Durant will. Maybe there will even be arguments over who takes the final shots come playoffs or who sacrifices the most when it really matters. There are so many things that can go wrong in Brooklyn, and all are valid. But the truth is while all three are in their prime, if it doesn’t happen this year, it probably just won’t happen.
The Clippers don’t look to be a team that can handle another post-season failure, especially if it’s another choke job. But out of the bubble this year hopefully, maybe things will turn around and Paul George won’t struggle.
Who else is there? The Bucks? It’s been the same story through Giannis Antetokounmpo’s short superstar stretch. It’s also the reason he’s not winning the MVP. He hasn’t shown anything to say he can take his game to the next level come deep in the playoffs. Maybe that changes, maybe it doesn’t. But Milwaukee don’t have the pieces to build around Antetokounmpo in a championship-contending way.
After that, the Heat lack a superstar. The Blazers have always floated in the same tier. The Celtics are too young. So are the Jazz, Suns and Nuggets.
If James wins the championship this year, then that means next year, Anthony Davis will hopefully be a lot better.
I have faith that James would still be the alpha and therefore potentially finals MVP. They would just need to go back the next year, making it James’ first three-peat and sixth championship. That is something Jordan fans constantly rip James about.
The competition looks good on paper, but they would crumble, blow up or just prove they never belonged.