The Los Angeles Lakers are not, by any stretch, a perfect basketball team. Yet they just won the 2020 NBA championship. Let's say that again: The best team in the NBA, at present, is an imperfect team. Isn't there something refreshing about that? Coming out of a three-season run in which the only thing that could defeat a basically perfect Golden State Warriors team was Kevin Durant's Achilles tendon, this 2020 NBA championship chase was a great reminder, at least to me, that watching an eight-month movie to which you actually don't know the ending before training camp starts is a decidedly more exciting prospect.
The 2020-21 season stands to be even better.
That's because the Warriors are coming back into the mix, and they're bringing with them the core of a team that won 73 games and a championship before Durant watered down all the winning by all but eliminating the possibility of losing. To beat the 2017 or 2018 Warriors, you had to be pretty much flawless. The Cleveland Cavaliers had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and got smoked. The Houston Rockets were the only team that ever got close to beating that Warriors team when healthy.
In my book, that's just not enough realistic title contenders to make for an exciting postseason. True, the NBA has long existed as a top-heavy league, but this year's bubble, though obviously not without its own competitive challenges, featured, by my count, eight legitimate contenders, albeit to varying degrees. The Lakers, Clippers and Bucks were the top three teams all season. The Raptors, Celtics and Rockets were considered second-tier contenders. The Heat and Nuggets surprised most everyone with their runs, which, again, became all the more possible in a field devoid of a super team.
Add the Warriors, the Durant-Irving Brooklyn Nets, and if you want to get wild, the fully healthy Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers to the mix, and that's 13 honest-to-god contenders -- some obviously on the fringe -- heading into next season, and none of them are perfect.
The Lakers were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the playoffs, and they're old. The Bucks rely on an exploitable defensive scheme and their best player can't shoot. The Rockets are tiny. Similarly, the Celtics lack a dominant big and Kemba Walker either isn't as good as he used to be or isn't healthy. The Nuggets were a middling, and at times abysmal, defensive team for most of the season, don't shoot 3s well or at volume, and who knows if Jamal Murray can repeat his bubble performance.
The Clippers, who lost to the Nuggets, lack any real identity, are not a particularly voluminous 3-point shooting team and they might not be able to rely on Paul George in tight spots. Meanwhile, the Sixers can't shoot or create half-court offense to save their life and their two best players -- Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons -- actually might make each other worse. The Raptors lack a true star and they might lose Fred VanVleet and/or Kyle Lowry. The Blazers have a tiny backcourt and can't compete defensively, at least not with the elite teams, largely because of it. The Jazz are a quintessential good-but-not great team. The Nets are depending on a guy coming off an Achilles tear and another in Irving who has missed two of the last three postseasons with injuries and legitimately hurt his team in the one he did play. Heck, the Heat just went to the Finals and they were a No. 5 seed; clearly they're not great, either.
And then you have the Warriors, who might have the same core as the 2015 team that won it all, though that core is a lot older. Stephen Curry is 32. Klay Thompson is 30 and coming off an ACL tear. Draymond Green is also 30 and with the way he plays, there's just no guarantee he can dial up his Defensive Player of the Year-level activity again.
The Warriors didn't need a traditional big man when they had Durant effectively filling the role as the rim protector while doubling as the greatest 6-foot-10 shooter to ever walk the planet. Plus, back then, everyone downsized their lineups to compete with the small Warriors. Now the Lakers have gone Twin Towers with Anthony Davis and often a second 7-footer alongside him, not to mention a 6-9 tank in LeBron James as their point guard. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic. Being small is no longer a decided advantage for the Warriors.
And that's what makes it fun. The Warriors have holes. So does everyone else. When they had Durant, the Warriors were a real-life cheat code. It wasn't a game so much as a lab experiment. Just how close to perfect can we get with these ingredients? Now that Durant bailed and Kawhi didn't choose the Lakers, a lot of teams have two stars but no teams, as of now, have three. I, for one, am hoping it stays that way through free agency. If it does, the 2020-21 championship chase is going to be wild.