Credit the Golden State Warriors with altering the normal “build through the draft” process that most NBA general managers inherited from their predecessors. Ironically, the Warriors built their core through the draft and even won a title and broke the regular season wins record doing so. But it was the addition of Kevin Durant that transformed the Warriors into the new age hardwood juggernaut that they’ve become. They’re the talk of the Association, the envy of the league and the reason why teams have loaded up with current and past all-stars, piecing star names together just to make the matchup with the Warriors look remotely even. Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Houston and Boston have all assembled star-heavy teams. Which one is the biggest threat to the Warriors? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this interesting question.
(Left) Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30), and forwards Andre Iguodala (9), and Kevin Durant (35) (AP Photo/Brandon Dill); (top right) Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and Carmelo Anthony (7). (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki); (bottom right) Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James (23) and Dwyane Wade. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Riley: I love what the Oklahoma City Thunder has done. When you add Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the reigning MVP in Russell Westbrook, who’s fresh off a season of triple-double averages, you’re now a legitimate title contender. George was never comfortable being the go-to-guy late in games so you remove that weight from his shoulders and allow him to play a completementary piece to two guys who have made careers out of closing games and it’s a good fit. At this stage in his career, I believe Anthony won’t have a problem deferring to a player of Westbrook’s caliber, and the reigning MVP has the experience of deferring to great players from playing with Durant during his MVP years. George gives Westbrook another ball handler and Anthony gives Westbrook another scorer who he can count on late in games. It’s the perfect mixture for a challenge to the Warriors.
Green: Once Isaiah Thomas returns from a hip injury then it’s easy to see that Cleveland is loaded. Any team featuring LeBron James is going to be considered a “Super Team” but when you surround him with future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, Thomas, former league MVP Derrick Rose and Kevin Love then they become a dominant unit. Sprinkle in solid role players like Jae Crowder, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson and this becomes the deepest team in the NBA. I love how Cleveland has reshaped their roster since last summer’s Finals and I wouldn’t bet against them in this year’s Finals as long as they are healthy. We haven’t seen this team with Thomas, yet, and that’s scary. He was an MVP candidate for all of last season’s campaign and pairing him with James and Wade could give the Warriors fits.
Riley: Cleveland has an interesting mix of old stars and young emerging stars who are injured. Both Wade and James are currently healthy but they’ve been in the Association since 2003. Thomas and Rose were dynamic point guards at certain points in their careers but Rose has been injury-prone and Thomas has a severe hip issue that could re-jig his career. Cleveland is counting on Rose and Thomas to come up big next summer, but their health is a serious concern. If this was four seasons ago then I’d guarantee Cleveland a title but this team is old and injury-prone, they’re not spry and in their prime like the stars from the Thunder. Yes, Anthony was drafted in that 2003 class as well but he’s not headlining the team the same way James and Wade are for theirs. Westbrook, 28, and George, 27, are in the prime of their careers as MVP-caliber performers. And 24-year-old center Steven Adams is a 7-foot defensive-minded dynamo and gives the Thunder athleticism and ability in the paint. No matter how deep a team is, it comes down to your best five players when games get close, and the Thunder have perhaps the scariest lineup outside of the Warriors.
Green: It also comes down to the experience, which Wade, James and Love provide. The thing that separates Cleveland from OKC, in my opinion, is that there’s whole bunch of champions on the Cavaliers’ roster and that experience can go a lot further than any MVP trophy or scoring title. You can’t find that same dynamic on the Thunder roster, which is littered with personal accolades and achievements but no serious hardware. Cleveland has that pedigree and that’s what it’s going to take to knock off this emerging dynasty in Golden State that has two championships out of the last three seasons. The one season they didn’t win the title, it was Cleveland who knocked them off. And if you’re asking who has the best chance of beating the Warriors well why not the team and the player who have proven already that they can do it?