The series isn’t over yet, but it might as well be.
An extremely talented and cohesive Golden State squad put a fork in the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, rallying to win Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Cleveland’s home floor. It was a heartbreaking and deflating moment for Cleveland fans, who were hoping to see a repeat of last year’s Game 3 series turnaround.
Let’s face it. Golden State has this series wrapped up. When LeBron James says in the Game 3 postgame news conference that Golden State has “probably the most firepower I've played against in my career,” this series, to borrow from the legendary Chick Hearn, is in the refrigerator.
As good and as entertaining Golden State is to watch, a team that is most deserving of pulling off a 16-for-16 sweep, the runaway this season has become does beg the question of what happens next in a league known for its dynasties.
James has a year remaining before he can re-enter free agency. Does Cavs owner Dan Gilbert take one more shot a championship run, picking up a couple of more pieces for 2017-18 in hopes of winning a second title and getting James to stick around beyond next summer? Or does everyone cash in their chips and move on?
In James’ case, moving on could very well involve playing the Shaquille O’Neal card and moving to Los Angeles. Bill Simmons and The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor believe the Lakers and/or the Clippers are in play for James, whose Los Angeles house drew media attention recently for racist graffiti left on the property.
If James does leave his home state again, what does that do for the state of the Eastern Conference? Cleveland would be effectively done, obviously, but which team would step up in the Cavs’ place.
Atlanta? Hawks fans can sure hope, since the team is a perennial playoff qualifier. But the team is nowhere near close to being worthy of a trip to the Finals, and the team’s progress took a step backward this season.
Washington? The Wizards seem to be on the rise, as shown in this year’s playoffs. Are they there yet? Not quite.
The Boston Celtics, whose 1980s battles with Los Angeles, Philadeliphia and (later) Detroit demonstrated how powerful their dynasty was, is perhaps the closest to the top. A couple of strong drafts and another No. 1 choice have the Celtics in a good spot heading into 2017-18.
As much as dynasties can be a turn-off for sports fans who value parity and competition above absolute team loyalty, that’s the way the NBA operates. We’re going to see Golden State playing at a high level for some time to come, and it will be a good team to watch. But there will be a point where another team will challenge Golden State’s standing.
Don’t rule out Cleveland next season if Gilbert, with direction from James, does some free-agent shopping this summer. But it could very well be some other franchise, especially if James decides he wants to spend the tail end of his career with his friends in Hollywood.