PopGates’ writers try to pick up the pieces:

Has KD surpassed LeBron as the NBA’s best player?

Jonah Hall: If LeBron and Durant switch places, can you really say Cleveland would be better off? I can’t imagine it. LeBron with these Warriors…the NBA would be even more broken than it already is. Durant with these Cavs? Probably a better offensive team in some ways, but Durant can’t throw those insane cross-court passes that LeBron makes. The Cavs with Durant would look more like last year’s Thunder, replacing Westbrook with Kyrie, and add better shooting. Imagine last year’s Thunder with Kevin Love and Kyle Korver. I’ll say this: Durant has more to prove right now, and he’s definitely embracing the fact that he’s in the best possible basketball situation on earth.

Michael Steenstra: No.

In game 3, the Warriors were so much fun to watch. The KD addition has made them an unstoppable “joggernaut” in the playoffs. No doubt that KD is playing the best basketball of his career right now though. He also fit in with the Warriors so seamlessly this year as well, which points to his character traits as a teammate.

But LeBron is still the best player in the league. If we completely disbanded the league and had a re-draft from scratch, 99 people out of 100 would choose LeBron first overall. I’m not so sure KD would even go #2 in that scenario, to be honest (Anthony Davis/Steph?).

Austin Murphy: I look at NBA rankings as a kind of “King of the Hill” situation. You beat the best, you become the best. And no, this doesn’t extend to the point where someone like Chauncey Billups becomes the best in the world just for taking down the Lakers, but when Kevin Durant completely and utterly outplays LeBron James on both ends of the floor, I have no choice but to annoint him the best player in the world.

This is a coronation that people were predicting as far back as 2014, when KD won his first MVP, but a lack of Finals appearances prevented us from resuming the conversation. But here we are with the Warriors up 3-0, and Durant just hit the biggest shot of his life over LeBron, and the passing of the torch (or rather seizing), could not be more fitting or poetic.

People are going to harken back to LeBron’s dominance on the offensive end, the fact that he’s average a triple-double. Well considering that Stephen Curry is one of the leading rebounders in this series, I’m taking that stat with a grain of salt. LeBron’s assist numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise since he handles the ball on 90% of the Cavaliers’ possessions, whereas Durant has to share the ball with Curry and Thompson.

Furthermore, Durant has been a dominant force in the closing minutes, coming up super clutch in game three. LeBron has been largely absent in fourth quarters. To cap it off, KD has a defensive rating of 101 right now, trailing only soon-to-be-named-DPOY Draymond Green, while James is behind everybody’s favorite defensive force Kevin Love of all people.

Kevin Durant is your best player in the world, and this coming regular season will serve to solidify it.

Lucas Johnson: LeBron James still has the better career at this point. He has more MVPs, Championships and All NBA honors. When both are retired then maybe, if Durant continues to dominant the league and wins more championships, there is a possibility that Durant surpasses the King.

Does a five game series impact LeBron’s place on Mount Rushmore?

Jonah Hall: My view of Mount Rushmore is pretty cloudy. I’m not so enamored with the all-time rank discussions, even though I know people love chopping it up. Especially LeBron vs. Jordan. I’m not sure what LeBron is supposed to do here, other than clone himself. In Game 3, I can’t imagine anybody playing 45 minutes, carrying the load that he carries offensively, and NOT wearing down a little at the end of the game. Still, if Love hits two more threes, and Korver makes that corner three with a minute left, Cavs might have survived with a win. Wouldn’t change the series outcome though, just would’ve extended it.

Michael Steenstra: It doesn’t. I’m way passed my I-hate-LeBron stage. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player going against a once-in-a-lifetime team. The fact that he’s made it to 7 Finals in-a-row, albeit in the weaker of the two conference, says all it needs to about the man. For this current era of the NBA, LeBron is my Abe Lincoln up there.

The knock on LeBron by so many is that he doesn’t have the “clutch gene”. Maybe that’s true? But come no, Kyle Korver, the only thing you have to do is hit that shot and we have a series. That was the right pass. You can count LeBron to make the right pass every time. LeBron is a brilliant ball player with all of the right tools. He’ll always be top 2 for me because we all know that old people get stubborn about that stuff as they get older and I am officially north of 30 as of a few weeks ago.

Austin Murphy: Here’s my problem, I’m supposed to dismiss LeBron’s poor performance in the 2007 NBA Finals because he was a youngster playing on a trash team, and I’m also supposed to dismiss this current series because he’s simply overmatched (despite personally hand-picking every member of the Cavs’ lineup)? The double-standard needs to end, and LeBron needs to be held responsible for his team’s underperformance.

Are they overmatched? Sure, but this is the same Cavaliers team that just blitzed through the east at a mark of 12-1. Either this series is held against LeBron’s legacy, or his feat of 7-straight NBA Finals comes with a major asterisk because of how bad the east is.

Currently, I have him at #3 all-time after MJ and Kareem, and I’m starting to realize that this might be an overrating due to recency bias from the 2016 NBA Finals. Maybe 10, 20 years down the line the bias will dissipate, and that’s where I think he slips further down due to his win percentage in the Finals. He’s about to lose his fifth championship series, and I think he falls back down below Magic if he never wins another one – highly likely given how good these Warriors are.

Lucas Johnson: At this point, he simply cannot be on the NBA Mount Rushmore. There are players that are just as good or almost as, that have better finals records that should be chosen ahead of the King.

Are the 2017 Golden State Warriors the greatest team in NBA History?

Jonah Hall: So many factors when you consider different eras of the NBA. This is a historically great team, for an era of hoops that is all about pace and space. Passing, shooting, play-making. I know Noah wants to see big-men come back to dominate, but the rules and the emphasis on spacing and pick-and-roll have opened up the game so much, that this version of the game will be in vogue for a long time.

I’d love to see the Celtics and Lakers of the mid-to-late 1980s play these Warriors. I’d love to see the 1994 Rockets, or the 72-win 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. I’d love to see them play the 2007-08 Celtics that won 66 games. This Warriors team is the greatest offensive team ever assembled. They play incredible defense as well, but this version of defense is very different than 1996 NBA defense or 2008 NBA defense. The modern NBA is a different game. I can’t compare different eras with any real confidence.

Michael Steenstra: I’m sick of all these old heads claiming that their team could beat this team. Did you see Ben Wallace claim that the ’04 Pistons could beat them? Get out of here…that dude could BARELY make a lay-up.

I like to think of track and field as an example. In the 1940’s, people thought that the human body was incapable of running a sub-4 minute mile. Then one dude broke it in the 1950’s and now High School runners are capable of breaking it.

People build upon the base of knowledge in sports and improve constantly. The training routines and dietary restrictions that NBA players have now are just insane. There is no way that the old teams could compete nowadays, I’m sorry. The way that the Warriors play offense is the best I have ever seen. They are one game away from sweeping the entire playoffs. They beat some really terrific teams, as well. Of course this argument is subjective but I think that yes, they are the greatest basketball team ever assembled.

Austin Murphy: In terms of their generational talent, sure, but we have to look at everything with context. These guys don’t succeed without the precedence set by the Celtics’, Lakers’, and Bulls’ dynasties. Furthermore, there’s no question that they would roast the ’65 Celtics given their range and superior athleticism; the sport of basketball is just at a place it’s never been before talent-wise.

Really, the only teams that I think have an argument are the 1987 Lakers, 1996 Bulls, and 2001 Lakers. Magic’s Lakers could match the Warriors pace, though they likely falter due to a lack of true spacing and distance shooting. Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers could pound the Warriors inside on every possession, but Fisher and Fox would be destroyed by Durant and whichever guard Kobe doesn’t cover.

That leaves me with Jordan’s Bulls. Neither team has a good center so that position is a wash. Neither team relies on their power forwards for scoring, so that’s a wash (given Rodman’s and Green’s defensive talents). This leaves us with just perimeter versus perimeter. Durant will still score on Pippen, but I imagine that Michael switches onto Curry and allows Harper to chase Klay around. In the end, I have to go with the GOAT, because Michael Jordan isn’t losing a seven-game series to anyone. Bulls in 7.

Lucas Johnson: I hate using the phrase ‘the greatest team ever assembled.’ In main part because basketball has evolved with each decade and you cannot put the 1960’s Boston Celtics as better than 2010’s Warriors because the league and rules were different. With that being said the LeBron’s Miami Heat team would be a closer comparison to the Warriors now. Still I do not believe that Heat team would not win. Though personally I would love to see that Celtics team with Bill Russell and Bob Cousy play against this Warriors team in the modern NBA.

How whack were these playoffs? In hindsight what are your feelings about super teams and your outlook on the next few years in the NBA?

Jonah Hall: I think about how spoiled I was by the 2014 playoffs. That spring, the first round gave us five Game 7s, and an extremely competitive, buzzer-beating six-game series between the Blazers and Rockets. The following rounds weren’t all that great. In the Conference Finals, Indiana put up a fight against Miami, but Game 6 was an avalanche. The Spurs took out OKC in six, but only two games were close.

As a Celtics fan, I loved the Boston-Washington series. There was definite drama, and the competition level was high. For the non-Celtics and non-Wizards fans, I know that it was an afterthought, because everyone was waiting on Warriors-Cavs. It was a great step for the young Celtics. Isaiah’s 53-point Game 2 was legendary.

When we look back on this year, it will be Golden State and then everyone else. Except for the folks of San Antonio, people will forget about Zaza stepping underneath Kawhi’s ankle, and removing any potential drama at the beginning of the West Finals. People will forget about Kyle Lowry’s injury snuffing out any hopes the Raptors had of making their second round series with the Cavs competitive—it could have gone 6. People will forget how good the Spurs-Rockets series was…because of how ugly the ending was.

With all the blowouts, and the inevitability of Warriors-Cavs…and now the inevitability of the Warriors by themselves…we all feel kind of let-down. The best teams aren’t fun to watch when they aren’t genuinely tested. We didn’t get anything resembling a true test for these Warriors. They were tested in Game 1 against the Spurs, and last night in Game 3. That’s not enough. The way the cap spike cleared the way for Durant was a rare thing…pure timing and the luck they had with signing Steph Curry to a four-year deal before his ankles were no longer a question mark. The fact that Durant joined the record-setting 73-win Warriors (who should have won the title) didn’t sit well with most NBA fans. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” isn’t as easily digestible as the “vengeance and redemption” tale. But you could argue this actually is a vengeance and redemption tale.

Despite Golden State’s 73 wins, the Cavs won the title last year.

For Durant, this is redemption for OKC’s 2012 Finals loss to Miami. For Draymond, its vengeance for last year’s testicle-punch and suspension that swung the series. For Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, its redemption—beating the team that he led to the NBA Finals in 2007, and then fired him a few years later. For David West, this series avenges the LeBron-inflicted losses he absorbed while with the Pacers all those years. For JaVale McGee, its redemption for being clowned by so many for so long. McGee has played well, despite the fact he can’t deal with a pick-and-roll. For Steph, Klay, and Iguodala, and Steve Kerr, this series is about getting rid of the bad taste that stayed with them after last June’s Game 7 loss. For Kerr, who is dealing with lingering complications and pain from spinal surgery, the joy of victory will be a nice reprieve.

Michael Steenstra: As the playoffs have marched on, I have been thinking, “these playoffs are so whack.” But my good friends, we are all witnesses (Warriors should steal this). We are watching the most dominant playoff performance of all time and that’s actually really fricken’ cool if you think about it.

That being said, I have been down on the NBA all season long and I can’t put my finger on why that is. I suppose it may be the super teams? It’s definitely fun to think your hometown team has a chance even if they slip into the playoffs as the 7th seed and that just doesn’t seem to happen much.

The game is stale in my opinion though. In-arena NBA experiences are dull. I know many people disagree with this but I can’t stand the constant music while the ball is in play, the t-shirt cannons, the hype men telling me to get on my feet in the meaningless 52nd game of the season between the Wizards and the 76ers. The length of the season is drain on everyone. The players, the fans, the media. The post-game media session is just a bunch of grumpy players and equally grumpy media people asking the same old questions as quick as possible so they can all go home and be done with work. The NBA seems to be more about the paychecks, clothing style, and getting a ring at all costs (even if that means joining a super team) than it is about going out and diving for loose balls and playing your ass off on the floor. While I’m ranting (sorry about that), the way that players take shots AFTER the buzzer in between scoreboards to protect their precious stats drives me insane! It’s just an example of how the game has become selfish.

Perhaps this Golden State run, which has been highlighted by complete unselfishness from their stars, will spur a renaissance in the league? I’m really curious to see what Adam Silver and his precious Competition Committee puts together to try to bring back some parity to the league though.

Austin Murphy: It really doesn’t mean a thing to me. The Warriors’ dominance this year shouldn’t be a surprise given the tendency in NBA history for teams that were “supposed to win” series coming back with a vengeance the following season and either sweeping or gentleman sweeping the Finals (e.g. 1979, 1989, 2014). These occasions serve to show that the previous outcome was more than a likely a bit of a fluke, and the truly superior team wins out with a commanding performance the following year.

*The potential 16-0 run is certainly a little surprising, but I’ll have you all know (and you can check for proof) that I’ve been tweeting #warriorsin16 since before the playoffs started. I don’t claim to be omniscient, but….

I was mildly surprised about the Cavs’ run through the east, but the Celtics/Wizards series showed there is still competition. It’s hard for anyone to win a series once your best player (Isaiah Thomas) goes down, and LeBron was completely fresh from coasting through the season for the umpteenth time.

I’m not worried at all about the league. There have always been dynasties and teams to dominate decades, and there always will be.

Lucas Johnson: I was not entertained by these playoffs until Game 3 of the Finals. There were always blows out after blow outs with no defense. I am never a big fan of super teams but they help bring in media and money into the NBA so I suppose they are a good thing. I suspect in the next couple of years that the Warriors will be the next team to have a 3-peat and there will be a lot Warriors bandwagon fans.

What can the league do next year to knock off the Warriors and the Cavs?

Jonah Hall: Build their rosters for the 2018-19 season, and hope Iguodala retires.

Michael Steenstra: Convince LeBron to take a year off, he’s earned it! The Cavaliers may actually be on the downslope. In two years I think the East has a new champion and we finally start to see this guy age a little bit. I could be wrong but we can hope for that, right?

The West is probably screwed though. Curry is going to re-sign this Summer at the max (finally) and it seems like there is a good chance they keep the team together. If one of the Big 3 get injured, other teams start to have a fighting chance (but no guarantee, for sure). If they stay healthy, they threaten that 73 win record and win another title next year. They really are unstoppable.

Austin Murphy: I’m not picking anyone to take out the Warriors next year, but I truly expect this to be the year LeBron finally misses the Finals (and I’ll keep saying it every year until it finally happens…Law of Large Numbers). In this Finals he is seeing that even going into God-Mode in the playoffs isn’t enough the beat Golden State, and the Cavaliers are completely capped out. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing that they can do to improve their roster. No one wants Thompson’s garbage contract, and Kevin Love isn’t a realistic trade piece; no one wants to trade a young star for an overhyped, underachieving, past-his-prime stretch four. Cleveland is stuck, and LeBron needs to lay in the bed he made for himself.

I fully expect next year to be the year one of either Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or John Wall elevates his team into contention and wins 50-55 games or so. Whoever does this will be named MVP, and if it’s one of the guys in the east we’ll be seeing either Milwaukee or Washington in the 2018 NBA Finals (for either franchise, their first championship series since the ‘70s).

The Golden State Warriors will still win the 2018 NBA Finals, finally repeating and winning their third in four years to become this decade’s true dynasty. Five straight Finals for one team is unheard of, though, so I think something happens in 2019 to surprise us and maybe give us a decade-closing championship series with two teams that have yet to make it in the 2010s (mirroring the opening series of Boston/Los Angeles in 2010). Maybe something like Houston/Toronto.dd

Lucas Johnson: The Cavs may go through a rebuild, not a major rebuild but a minor one, and that may cause them to have chemistry problems next season based on what type of changes occur. Both the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards have a chance to knock off the Cavs. The Celtics have a killer back court and are just missing a front court star to push them over the top. The Wizards need an upgrade at center and backup point guard. If the Wiz can do that then they will be a real threat. In the West the Warriors are solidified as the best team. Unless the San Antonio Spurs can add Chris Paul like rumors suggest or the Minnesota Timberwolves develop into the young explosive team everyone expects, then the Warriors will not have anything to worry about it.