The NBA has a chance to become something in the next few seasons, something it has become unfamiliar with: competitive. Despite not ending like he hoped, Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Warriors led to the NBA becoming a one-team league with little intrigue in the outcome. Now that Durant has left and several other stars moved teams, the NBA is set up for one of its most open and competitive stretches in decades. That is, unless Kawhi Leonard forms an equally unmatched superteam with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Perhaps no free agency decision has carried the weight of Leonard’s, which reportedly is down to the Raptors, Clippers, and Lakers. Let’s take a look at how the NBA will differ depending on his choices:
Scenario 1: Raptors/Clippers and parity
The outcome of choosing the Raptors or the Clippers is relatively close. And this is the scenario that would create a wildly fascinating season for NBA fans. Choosing between the Raptors or the Clippers inserts whichever team he joins into a large stack of legitimate championship contenders. It doesn’t matter which he chooses, because he can win with both squads. In this scenario there are eight other teams that would join the Raptors/Clippers as teams that come into the season with realistic title hopes:
That’s nine teams! Think about it: when is the last time nine NBA teams have had a chance to win the NBA championship? Leonard would give either Toronto or the Clippers a good chance for a title, but they would far from invincible. In fact, neither team would even come into the season as the favorite, opening this up to so many possibilities.
Those teams would be on equal grounds with the Lakers, Celtics, Bucks, Rockets, and Jazz. Golden State’s days of dominance are over, but still features one superstar with another on the mend, a great coach, and a style with more than a punching chance in an NBA where there is no overwhelmingly great team. The 76ers’ roster is bizarre and large, but will be a force defensively and matches up well with the top of the conference. Flashy Brooklyn is only being added in here because it’s not certain Durant will miss all of next season. If he can return all bets are off and anyone counting him out is setting themselves up to be fooled.
None of these teams would be prohibitive favorites, and that is what would make the season great.
Scenario 2: Lakers and a one-team league
With so many teams in the NBA expected to be good but not quite dominant next season, the last thing fans need is what would come if Leonard chooses the Lakers. Like with the Durant-led Warriors, this would be an all-time great team that no other team even has a chance to defeat. Don’t get it twisted: if Durant and Klay Thompson were not injured, the Warriors would have beaten the Raptors in yet another boring, quick, non-newsworthy NBA Finals. It would take them what, four games? Five at the most?
No team has anywhere near the talent to match a Lakers team with LeBron James, Leonard, and Anthony Davis. With Durant’s injury, James and Leonard are the two best players in the NBA and Davis is only a few spots behind. Not exactly fair, huh?
NBA super fans will make cases for others, but unless major injuries occur, next’s seasons NBA will become all too predictable. Yes, there will still be drama, trades, and rumors, but the outcome will be spoiled as we would all once again have to sit through another one-team season.
There is no in-between for the NBA right now. Next year is either going to be must-see television or a season where the champion has been known since July. And it all comes down to the most mysterious player in all of sports.