Superteams in Warriors' way
Reinforced sides Cavaliers, Thunder and Rockets set to challenge Golden State
Kevin Durant barely had a chance to grip his first NBA championship trophy in Golden State's victory celebration in June before rival clubs were moving to challenge the Warriors "superteam" for supremacy.
The 72nd NBA season opens tomorrow morning (Singapore time), with a fistful of clubs having assembled three or more stars, uniting to stop Durant, three-point sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and forward Draymond Green from bringing Golden State a third title in four campaigns.
Last season's Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook welcomed Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to Oklahoma City Thunder, while Houston Rockets added Chris Paul to team up with NBA assists leader and No. 2 scorer James Harden, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward joining Al Horford at Boston Celtics.
And Cleveland Cavaliers, with four-time MVP LeBron James bidding for an eighth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, added his pal Dwyane Wade, oft-injured Derrick Rose plus Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas in the deal that sent Irving to Boston.
In all, eight players with a total of 45 All-Star Game appearances switched teams.
"Just because you compile a team of superstars doesn't mean it's going to work, because it's a lot of ego," Green told GQ magazine.
"And we just happen to have a perfect group to where it works."
Las Vegas oddsmakers agree. The Warriors are runaway favourites to retain their crown at about 2-1 with Cleveland next at 4-1, ahead of Boston at 10-1. Houston and San Antonio are at 15-1, just ahead of Oklahoma City at 16-1.
It's the NBA version of a nuclear arms race, complete with a handful of teams stockpiling top talent.
Legend Michael Jordan, a six-time NBA champion with Chicago Bulls and owner of the Charlotte Hornets, warned of mutually assured destruction.
"It's going to hurt the league from a competitive standpoint," Jordan told Cigar Aficionado magazine.
"You're going to have one or two teams who are going to be great and 28 teams who are going to be garbage. Or they're going to have a tough time surviving in the business environment."
In the wake of a heartbreaking seventh-game loss to Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals after a record 73-9 season, the Warriors recruited Durant, the former MVP who opted out of Oklahoma City. They rolled through the play-offs with a 16-1 record.
It's a follow-on to the escalation James helped spark in 2010 when he left Cleveland for Miami to join Wade and Chris Bosh in a "Big Three" that reached four NBA Finals in a row, winning in 2012 and 2013.
When he returned to the Cavaliers in 2014, he matched up with Irving and added Kevin Love for a new "Big Three" and now such trios abound.
"It's... sick to see how everybody is just in a... panic about what to do," Green told GQ.
"That's the fun part about it - they know they don't stand a chance."
Green said the Warriors were inspired by Houston general manager Daryl Morey's comments after June's NBA Finals, when he said the Warriors "are not unbeatable. There have been bigger upsets in sports history. We are going to keep improving our roster... We have something up our sleeves".
That proved to be pairing Paul and Harden, two of the NBA's best, in the Houston backcourt.
"They are really trying to rethink their whole strategy," Green told GQ.
The superteams will be tested on opening day with Boston visiting Cleveland and Houston at Golden State. Oklahoma City will open on Friday morning (Singapore time) at home against New York Knicks, Anthony's former club.
James says that despite potential issues with 2011 MVP Rose, 2006 MVP Wade, himself, Love, Crowder and teammates relegated to reserve duties, the Cavaliers will come together and again be a championship threat.
"At the end of the day, when we signed for this club, we all know what we're here for," James said.
"So there's no ego. The only ego is to bring your game, which these guys know how to do. We all have a common goal, so none of that other stuff matters." - AFP