Don’t buy this nonsense that LeBron James no longer holds the unofficial title of the “Best Player on the Planet” or that the torch has somehow been passed from LeBron to Kevin Durant.
Sure, Durant has been better in this NBA Finals, absolutely. He’s outscored LeBron 33-11 in the fourth quarter over three games. Sooner than later, the series will end with Durant embracing his mother Wanda while holding the Larry O’Brien trophy in one hand the Bill Russell MVP trophy in the other.
This, as Warriors head coach Steve Kerr correctly pointed out, is Durant’s time. That elusive NBA championship is headed his way, perhaps as early as Game 4 on Friday in Cleveland.
But better than LeBron? No. Two weeks ago we were comparing LeBron to Michael Jordan. Yet today he’s suddenly not even the best among today’s players? That was quick.
If LeBron and Durant traded places, the Warriors would still be on the verge of a sweep. The talent gap between the two teams is that great. LeBron has Kyrie Irving as a second option. Durant has two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. Golden State’s second and third best players are Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in any order you’d like.
LeBron’s second and third best teammates are Kevin Love and fill in the blank. J.R. Smith? Tristan Thompson? Richard Jefferson? You get the point.
When LeBron took his only in-game break on Wednesday he went to the bench with his team leading 31-29 and with 1:49 remaining in the first quarter. In less than two minutes, Golden State outscored the Cavs, without LeBron, 10-0.
The Warriors can keep their head above water when Durant takes a seat. The Cavs drown without LeBron.
In this series, Durant has established himself as the undisputed second best player in the league. His former teammates in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, are not at Durant’s level. That was evident when Durant stepped into a go-ahead 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining. It is the defining moment of his career.
It’s a matter of time before there is a shift from LeBron to Durant for title of best player. It will eventually happen but just not yet. The conclusion you should draw from this series is that LeBron’s days of winning another championship are closing quickly thanks to Durant and the Warriors.
In fact, his window may be slammed shut.
The Warriors are positioned to have their top four players under contract for at least another three to four years. Golden State is a prohibitive favorite for the foreseeable future. James, 32, will have a lot of work to compete with that. And he’ll need to do it quickly.
James is under contract through next season and there are already rumblings that he will eventually relocate in Los Angeles, either with the Lakers or the Clippers. James owns a home there and wants to be a player in Hollywood once he retires.
The Cavs, with LeBron, Kyrie and Love healthy, are the class of the Eastern Conference but it will take another top player to close the gap with the Warriors.
Indiana’s Paul George, who can become a free agent after next season, has been mentioned as potential target but unless the Cavs were willing to trade Irving why would the Pacers want to deal their All Star for supporting player? The idea isn’t to trade Irving or Love; it’s to add a player to that group. Carmelo Anthony, assuming he can negotiate a buyout with the Knicks and become a free agent, would be a more than viable option. It doesn’t make the Cavs better than the Warriors but Melo would upgrade Cleveland’s roster.
Time is of the essence for LeBron, whose career record in the NBA Finals is 17-26. In the fourth quarter of Game 3 James needed help as he failed to produce a field goal over the last 6:54. Go ahead and blame it on fatigue but James made several poor decisions, starting with deferring to Kyle Korver with 52 seconds left and the Cavs up two. Korver’s errant three that led to Durant’s pull-up jumper. A jumper that LeBron was late closing out on.
Cleveland’s issue was on the offensive end. The Cavs missed their last eight shots and were outscored 11-0 in the last three minutes. LeBron did a lot; he finished with 39 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He can’t do everything.
Durant isn’t better. He just plays for a better team. In fact, it’s a superteam that may have closed LeBron’s championship window once and for all.
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