After years of imbalanced NBA predictability, free agency rewards fans with a refreshingly wide-open title race
For the first time in several years, we have no idea who is going to win the NBA title -- and does it feel good
Over the last handful of years, there's been a glaring, polarizing movie trend. Everything's a sequel or a remake -- at least when it comes to box-office hits. Nine of the top 10 highest-grossing films of 2018 were either remakes, sequels or Marvel movies that featured familiar film or comic book characters. The only non-sequel, non-remake was "Bohemian Rhapsody," but it wasn't exactly conceived out of thin air -- it's a biopic based on the true events of one of the most popular rock bands of all time.
The trend has led to outcry and outrage from filmmakers and movie buffs alike about the persistent eradication of original thought, and yet you can't deny that the strategy has been extremely successful in terms of audience and profits. We yearn for the days that simple romantic comedies would make $100 million in theaters instead of being released directly to a streaming service, yet we are also the first to shell out $25 to see "Avengers: Endgame" in 3D.
So it's only fitting that over that same period of time, we've seen sequel after sequel in the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers met each other four straight years Finals -- before that, no teams had faced each other in more than two consecutive Finals. Same teams, same players (mostly) and NBA fans had the same ambivalent reaction as their movie-going counterparts.
On one hand we loathed the predictability of it all -- Warriors vs. Cavs became a fait accompli as we rationalized the inevitable conclusion with the trite "journey over destination" argument. But on the other hand, we were enthralled. The players felt like extended family members who we got to visit once a year. We witnessed the pinnacle of basketball talent and execution. We watched every minute of every game. The league, despite continually fielding questions about the lack of parity, was never in a better place.
Last year the Warriors entered the season once again as laughable favorites, but by the end things felt distinctly different -- dare we say, original. LeBron James, who had left Cleveland for the next chapter of his career with the Lakers, was absent from the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. By the end of the Finals, the Warriors were practically unrecognizable due to injuries, and were defeated by a unique hero who certainly did not fit the bill of a LeBron, a Kevin Durant or a Steph Curry. Kawhi Leonard was a new type of protagonist, and little did we know that his victory with the Raptors would mark the jumping off point for the most unpredictable NBA season in years.
In the weeks following the Finals, we've seen a monumental shift in not only the power structure of the NBA, but also the basic philosophy of what it takes to win. Free agents, who possess more power than ever before, strayed from the ubiquitous "big three" dynamic that began with the success of the Paul Pierce-Ray Allen-Kevin Garnett Boston Celtics, and reached its zenith when LeBron made The Decision to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach.
But this year, there is no "big three." There is no super-team. The field is wide open.
Durant Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn rather than return to a core of three other Hall of Famers in Golden State. Rather than rejoining Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, Jimmy Butler to the Heat, who possess no other legitimate stars. And then came the lethal blow to the super-team era -- Leonard spurning a potentially dynastic Lakers triumvirate of himself, LeBron and Anthony Davis, instead with Paul George for the cross-locker-room rival Clippers.with
Every so often, amid the sea of sequels and remakes, we get a film that's refreshingly creative and outside-the-box. Take "Get Out," for example, which redefined a genre and dominated the conversation, both culturally and financially, mostly because of its originality. Well, folks, the 2019-20 NBA season might as well be directed by Jordan Peele.
The head-spinning player movement of free agency, coupled with Klay Thompson's ACL injury which will likely keep him out until around the All-Star break, has created something unique, original and just as thrilling, if not more so, than the familiar story of the recent past. Here's a look at all the teams that have at least a fringe shot of winning next season's NBA title, separated into tiers along with their odds from Westgate Superbook as of July 6:
Wouldn't Be Shocked
A Puncher's Chance
Because the season ended with the Raptors, of all teams, holding the trophy, it's easy to forget that around this time last year, the Warriors were overwhelming favorites to win a third straight title at 4/7, with only four teams posting odds of 20/1 or better (Celtics, Lakers, Rockets and 76ers). This year, however, there are nine teams at 20/1 or better, with the Clippers only a slight favorite over the Bucks to win it all.
In other words, for the first time in a long time, it truly is anyone's game -- anyone's title -- and there's nothing more exciting for an NBA fan. Sure, maybe this bold, anti-super-team era fizzles quickly and the next superstar to demand a trade will seek to latch onto one of the newly formed duos. But for now we can anticipate an intriguing coming attraction -- an NBA season of unpredictability and originality, flying directly in the face of the tried-and-true sequels and remakes that came before it.
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