(AP Photo/James Crisp)
The final buzzer came with a yawn, confirming all fears. The NBA Finals were a foregone conclusion. The Warriors staked a claim as the greatest team in history.
And now the real drama begins.
The Suns will emerge from the basement, controlling the NBA draft with the No. 1 overall pick. LeBron James could join the Lakers, leaving an organization for the third time during the prime of his career, shifting the balance of power overnight.
Meanwhile, the growing bond between Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns is a super team in the making and a bromance that can’t be ignored, especially in Phoenix.
Start with the Warriors, a team that has won three titles in the span of four seasons. Their only misstep occurred after posting 73 regular-season victories in 2016, breaking one of Michael Jordan’s most hallowed records. Steve Kerr has now collected eight championships, threatening the record set by former coach and ringmaster, Phil Jackson. They have the perfect leader coach to keep egos in check and the brotherhood intact. Their run is far from done.
James’ impending decision could complicate our NBA playoff drought, compounding our collective misery. Entertainment moguls in Hollywood privy to marketing strategies are convinced he’s heading to the Lakers. For a superstar with lofty aspirations outside of basketball, few destinations make more business sense than L.A.
One of his closest friends, Dwyane Wade, said that James will base his professional priorities on family and lifestyle, effectively ruling out Cleveland and Milwaukee. And when former NBA star Gary Payton claimed that James’ 13-year old son had committed to Sierra Canyon High School just outside of Los Angeles, you could almost feel the ground shake in the Western Conference.
All of this presents a daunting dilemma to Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough. Diehards on Planet Orange have waited 50 years for the No. 1 pick in the draft. They’ve endured eight seasons without playing a basketball game in the month of May.
If the Warriors have an extended shelf life and James is about to join the Evil Empire, how do you balance long-term strategy with short-term angst?
Finally, the Booker-Towns connection, former teammates who played at Kentucky and suddenly seem inseparable in social gatherings. They battled the Lopez twins on Jimmy Kimmel Live! When dysfunction in Minnesota surfaced as a NBA talking point, Booker posted a photo-shopped picture of Towns in a Suns uniform. He posted an Instagram photo with Towns and two other friends above the caption of, “Great people.” And they both appeared in a promotional video for Kevin Hart’s new movie, “Night School.”
Once, James and Wade were the NBA’s most prominent frenemies. During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, they talked openly about playing together, along with Carmelo Anthony. They started a trend that now defines professional basketball, even if it damages the integrity of competition.
McDonough surely understands the implications. If Towns doesn’t end up in Phoenix, maybe Booker will find a way to join his friend in Minnesota down the road, or maybe they’ll convene in another NBA city. Contracts don’t matter in this game, not when disgruntled players can force their way out of untenable situations with alarming success. And if the Suns choose poorly in the upcoming draft, the situation could get sticky.
Especially when Booker vowed to never miss the postseason again. Especially if the Lakers succeed in luring James to Tinsel Town, putting yet another obstacle in our path.
McDonough’s strategy seems obvious. He must make a good-faith effort to acquire Towns from Minnesota, if only to prove his commitment to Booker. If James is destined to be the Lakers’ next superstar, he should try to pry Lonzo Ball out of L.A. in exchange for Marquese Chriss and the No. 16 pick.
After all, James is his own point guard, and has no need for Lonzo or his obnoxious father. If all of that fails, he better hope that Deandre Ayton is truly a generational talent, capable of making the Suns a playoff team in 2018-19.
Because Booker’s patience is running thin, and the fatal flaw in any timeline is becoming evident:
NBA franchise don’t operate in a vacuum. Young players can’t always be trusted. Opposing teams won’t sit still while the Suns slowly build a team worthy of the playoffs. And the offseason is a full-blown competition between 30 teams, not just the handful lucky enough to compete for a title.
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