There's one tidbit that doesn't receive enough coverage in the discussion surrounding who wins Round 3 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals. Will head coach Steve Kerr return to the bench? Can Mike Brown lead the Western Conference champions to a title if necessary?
Before diving into predictions and key players for the NBA Finals, one of the biggest uncertainties surrounds Kerr, who led the Warriors to their third consecutive league-leading record at 67-15.
Brown left Kerr's return up for speculation when he said, "First of all, Steve may be back," to The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.
According to sources in ESPN.com reporter Ramona Shelburne's report, Kerr still experiences lingering pain stemming from a back surgery in 2015.
"Sources told ESPN that he's still in a significant amount of pain and discomfort and that his return to traveling with the team should not be read as an indication of progress," Shelburne said.
Kerr doesn't plan to open the series on the bench, per ESPN.com reporter Chris Haynes.
"As of right now, I will not coach Thursday night," Kerr said after practice Monday. "It's still up in the air."
You have to wonder how Brown would handle rotations and putting his team in place to execute game plans if the series extends to six or seven contests.
Nonetheless, the guys on the court will decide the outcome. Who are the key players? Who takes home an NBA Finals MVP? Which team wins the series?
2017 NBA Finals Series Schedule and Format
Game 1: Cleveland at Golden State, Thursday, June 1 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 2: Cleveland at Golden State, Sunday, June 4 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 3: Golden State at Cleveland, Wednesday, June 7 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC
Game 4: Golden State at Cleveland, Friday, June 9 at 9 p.m. on ET ABC
*Game 5: Cleveland at Golden State, Monday, June 12 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC
*Game 6: Golden State at Cleveland, Thursday, June 15 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC
*Game 7: Cleveland at Golden State, Sunday, June 18 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC
*Game will be played if necessary.
Cleveland Cavaliers Key Player: Kevin Love
A shoulder injury cut Kevin Love's 2015 postseason to four games and kept him on the bench for the first NBA Finals matchup between these teams. Last year, he barely registered as a factor and missed Game 3 due to a concussion. The Cavaliers forward averaged 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in a forgettable championship series performance.
The Warriors added Kevin Durant, but the Cavaliers will have a complete postseason player in Love. He's averaging a double-double through 13 games and played his best series against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Cavaliers have focused on helping Love find his niche alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, per Bleacher Report's Greg Swartz. In the report, head coach Tyronn Lue's assessment sounds similar to what Chris Bosh went through when playing alongside Dwyane Wade and James with the Miami Heat.
"I think it's a result of just learning and understanding what we're trying to do," Lue said. "Now that he's been in the system for three years, he understands where he's supposed to be, he knows when he's supposed to react."
After Golden State added the second-best player in the league, it's imperative for Cleveland to squeeze the most out of Love. It's not a coincidence that he's reaching his peak postseason production right before the championship showdown.
Golden State Warriors Key Player: Draymond Green
Draymond Green isn't just a high-kicking, outspoken team motivator. He does just about everything for the Warriors on both sides of the court. For the 2017 postseason, he leads the team in rebounds (8.7), assists (7.2), steals (1.9) and blocks (2.1) per game. Above all, the versatile forward becomes the primary agitator to James in this series.
Green tangled with James in last year's NBA Finals and served a suspension for Game 5. Now, he'll be expected to put forth the same effort and keep his cool. There's no stopping him from jawing at the referees, James or even his teammates due to his overriding passion, but the Warriors can't afford to lose him due to an early-game ejection at any point in this matchup.
As far as production, Green's passing ability goes overlooked as a point forward. With Klay Thompson shooting below 39 percent in two out of three playoff series, the Warriors' leading facilitator may look to get the third sharpshooter involved early in the matchup.
Green will certainly have his hands full pestering James and banging in the paint, which likely means sacrificing some energy on the offensive end.
Cavaliers Win in 7 Games, LeBron James Wins 4th Finals MVP
It goes without saying when James wins a title, he also wins the NBA Finals MVP—that trend will continue for the 2017 postseason. The 32-year-old superstar won the honors in back-to-back years between 2012-13 with the Heat. He'll hoist the Bill Russell Trophy again in June.
Here are the outcome predictions for the individual games:
Game 1: Cleveland
Game 2: Golden State
Game 3: Golden State
Game 4: Cleveland
Game 5: Golden State
Game 6: Cleveland
Game 7: Cleveland
The key to the Cavaliers winning the series will be taking one of the first two games at Oracle Arena. It's important for Cleveland to neutralize Golden State's home-court advantage and set the tone for the matchup.
As illustrated above, we should expect another long series between the two NBA superpowers. Many feel Durant tilts the balance in the Warriors' favor for an early knockout, but Love's arrival on the big stage along with the Cavaliers' deep bench rotation evens the playing field.
In a Game 7, go with the defending champions, who proved they could win the title on the road last year.