LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant is one of the most delectable finals matchups that the league could make happen. Not to accuse the NBA of anything like putting in referee fixes or malevolent actions such as those.
The track record of accusations hurled in the league’s direction could make the case that this is a matchup already in the works, like the OKC Thunder-Miami Heat brawl at the end of the postseason.
Make no mistakes, however. With this being one of the busiest and most baffling free-agency seasons that the league has had, the league has two finals matchup possibilities that would leave fans drooling until the seven-game series was underway.
There are only two franchises with an earshot of a chance to stop LeBron James before he crosses that finish line—for the second time.
Everyone loves a series with the scent of revenge spilling onto the hardwood. What team better to exact revenge on the Miami Heat than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who they so embarrassingly routed in this year’s finals?
The Thunder walked into the finals with all of the confidence in the world. Who wouldn’t have?
After falling 2-0 against the San Antonio Spurs in a series where the Spurs held home-court advantage, Oklahoma City exposed a fraction of its game that had been hidden all too often throughout the regular season. The Thunder actually played defense.
A young, immature team that relied too often on its jump shot and freakish athleticism to win games formed a defensive structure that forced Tony Parker to deal with a longer, more solid defender in Thabo Sefolosha.
Then, right before our eyes, that same team which had scripted an identity deep into the playoffs shriveled up on the hottest, brightest stage against a team that no one thought would ever figure it out.
Too bad for Oklahoma City, Miami did. As LeBron James figured out how to make the Miami Heat the most productive they had been in the two seasons they were compiled, the Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in a position they had rarely ever experienced—in a hole Kevin Durant couldn’t dig them out of.
Returning to the NBA finals with a chip on their shoulder and revenge in their souls forges an equation of blood, sweat and tears. Don’t expect the franchise to just rest idle as the offseason signings twiddle forward.
Durant knows how much he has to prove defensively and in the low post to begin to challenge the best player in the league. Russell Westbrook knows that, to thrive beside Durant, he has to learn how to evaluate the situation like a veteran point would while maintaining his versatility and potent scoring potential.
It would be a second chance the franchise and its players would not take lightly and, considering how hostile the Thunder’s crowd is regularly, the Asylum would be far less forgiving to the Miami “villains.”
Think about the Western Conference as it’s shaping up in this summer’s free agency, as far as previous playoff contenders.
- Dallas Mavericks: No Jason Kidd. No Deron Williams. No Jason Terry.
- Los Angeles Clippers: No Nick Young. Undeveloped Blake Griffin. Fiery Chris Paul.
- Memphis Grizzlies: Coasting into contention. Not enough power to make it far.
- San Antonio Spurs: Older core. More experience. Not offensively potent enough.
- New Orleans Hornets: Rookie star. Possibly no Eric Gordon, if the Hornets are smart.
- Utah Jazz: No direction.
That leaves only one franchise due for a takeover, or at least an enthusiastic attempt.
The Los Angeles Lakers, after the signing of Steve Nash, have become prime cut in the Western Conference on multiple cylinders.
Not to mention, the Lakers have the man who was once, and still is in some small circles, considered the best player in the world. Kobe Bryant may have not gotten the memo that the tile has been relinquished to Miami’s LeBron James, but James sure as hell has figured it out.
Snatching it back will take a lot more than a single-man show and potentially threatening defense to stop James and the South Beach militia.
A lot of fans are wondering if, after signing Nash, the Lakers would keep Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and the answer is yes, if their brains are working as fast as their pens.
With Nash on the Lakers’ side, they finally have an elite caliber point guard that can take a lot of the media’s pressure to pass off of Bryant and allow him to focus on his game for everything that it is—showboating. Bynum can have someone in the backcourt with one goal in mind: making the offense run as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.
One of the Lakers’ greatest offensive contributors at this point in the franchise’s history is Bynum and to keep him involved will be one of Nash’s primary responsibilities.
This matchup has the potential to officially crown James or to keep him in Kobe Bryant’s shadows into retirement, and fans could not be happier at either edge of the implications.
The Lakers sit in the second-best spot to come out of the West with not only Bryant carrying the experience, but Nash as well facilitating any conceivable avenue of winning.
Simply put, the Los Angeles Lakers need to be dealt with and no franchise in the West is geared to do so adequately, with the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
No one doubts whether or not the Miami Heat are coming out of the East, unless you’re just one of those cynical types who has zero faith in talent, synchronicity and experience. The question is which Western Conference franchise they will face in the 2013 NBA Finals?
The Los Angeles Lakers or the Oklahoma City Thunder?