Because of a quirk of collective bargaining, all of the NBA moves you’ve been hearing about since Sunday at midnight do not become official until Friday at noon, which means that there is at least a chance that LeBron James will look at the Lakers bringing in JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Lance Stephenson to play alongside him, say, “Aw, hell no,” and go play with the 76ers or something. It’s about the same chance as all those ideas people had between November 2016 and January 2017 to stop Donald Trump from taking office. But, since these words are being written before noon on Friday, that caveat must be issued.
Likewise, the response move of the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, the addition of four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins – essentially to replace McGee, which is bonkers – still is not, as of this writing, official. But that does not matter, because Golden State adding Cousins changes absolutely nothing.
In May 2015, when Golden State was on its way to winning its first of three titles in the last four years, FiveThirtyEight explained “How The Golden State Warriors Are Breaking The NBA.” The following February, GQ took it a step further, proclaiming, “The Golden State Warriors Are So Good They’re Ruining the NBA.” The Cavaliers rallied to defeat the Warriors in that year’s Finals, so in June 2017, it became a question, from FiveThirtyEight, “Are The Warriors Ruining Basketball?” This May, the focus came clearer, as Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur laid it at the feet of one man, “Kevin Durant, who has ruined basketball.” The next two sentences of Arthur’s column walked that line back somewhat, but it doesn’t matter. We’re three years into this now, and this week it was MLive.com with the big question that’s been asked before, “Are the Golden State Warriors ruining the NBA?”
It’s a fun thought exercise, and a discussion topic that’s good for media business, because saying the Warriors ruined/are ruining/will ruin the NBA brings out people who agree and are angry because their team isn’t the Warriors, as well as riling up Warriors fans and getting a large number of hate-clicks because of that.
But what if everyone is wrong? What if the Warriors are breaking the NBA, but not actually ruining it, if that makes sense?
The most-watched NBA Finals in history was in 1998, capped by the most-watched Finals game in history in Game 6, as nearly 36 million Americans watched Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to a sixth championship in eight years – a dynasty interrupted only because Jordan took off in between three-peats to play some minor league baseball. The 1998 Finals were a rematch of the previous year’s Bulls-Jazz series, too, so it’s silly to pretend that the same teams being there repeatedly is a real problem.
What stunk about this year’s Finals wasn’t just that it was a sweep, but that the Cavaliers were so badly overmatched, to the point that it really did feel like watching James try to take down Golden State all by himself. And if Cleveland hadn’t blown Game 1, who knows how differently things would have played out? (The Warriors would have won in five or six.)
With a sweep, the ratings for this year’s Finals were the lowest of any of the four Warriors-Cavaliers encounters, and that can be one of the sources of hand-wringing. But even with a sweep denying ABC the chance to get into the part of a series that tends to get higher ratings, the 17.56 million average viewership was higher than any non-Warriors/Cavs Finals in the post-Jordan era with the exception of 2001 (Lakers-76ers), 2004 (Pistons-Lakers), and 2010 (Lakers-Celtics).
People will tune in to the Finals next year to see if whatever non-Cleveland team represents the East in the Finals can take down the Warriors? And remember, for as supposedly untouchable as Golden State already was, it took Chris Paul being injured and the Rockets missing 27 consecutive three-pointers in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to give the Warriors the chance to sweep Cleveland.
If there’s a Lakers-Warriors series along the way, that’s going to do boffo ratings, too, with LeBron once again taking a crack at basically going one-on-five, because, seriously, what on earth are they doing there?
The health of the rest of the league? There are at least four teams in the West who can start a series against Golden State, acknowledge that the odds might be against them, but know that beating them isn’t impossible. Then there’s a wide open Eastern Conference, which is better at the top than people realize, and has a budding renewal of a classic rivalry with Boston-Philly, and whoever winds up going to the Finals can at least hope that running through a gauntlet in the West wears down Golden State to the point where they can be picked off.
Or the Warriors will win again, furthering a dynasty that may leave a lot of people frustrated, but certainly is not ruining the NBA.