Let’s be honest from the start, you probably read this headline and already formulated your opinion on this article. If you’re a fan of the Lakers or Knicks, you’re praising me uncontrollably. Everyone else is looking at me like this…
Regardless, you’ve clicked into the article, and now you’ll have to read my explanation of how Summer League (Yes, we’re talking about Summer League) shows the path to multiple Lakers-Knicks NBA Finals showdowns.
Let’s start with what we know about each team. The Lakers were the darlings of last year’s Las Vegas Summer League. Kyle Kuzma was dominant and showed early flashes of what Lakers fans saw during his rookie season. His 30 point-10 rebound championship game opened peoples eyes to how good a player he may eventually become. Must we not forget Mr. Lonzo Ball – neva lost!
He was posting near relative triple-doubles every game and showed how well-rounded of a player he was during the two-week stretch. The team’s championship win was just the cherry on top for the promising youngsters.
The Laekrs are currently undefeated in the 2018 Summer League and led by another talented young player, Josh Hart. His 23 points per game this summer is one of the best, and he’s a big reason the Lakers have a strong chance of repeating as champions.
Wondering how meaningless Summer League championships equate to NBA Finals runs?
Can anyone tell me who won the 2012 and 2013 NBA Summer League Las Vegas championships? I’ll wait.
That’s right – your quick Google search revealed that the Golden State Warriors were champions those years. First, led by Klay Thompson’s hot shooting and then Draymond Green’s rebounding and passing.
The seeds of what would become the NBA’s most dominant team this decade were planted six years ago.
The Lakers are no different. The front office seems to realize this because besides signing the best player on the planet, LeBron James, they handed out a bevy of 1-year deals. They know that their talented young core and a max player next offseason will put them in position to dethrone GSW.
For those who feel Golden State will be on top forever, may I remind you that the recent “super team” phenomena have led to a series of four or five-year stints?
Shaq and Kobe’s Lake Show, The Celtics’ Big 3, Miami’s Heatles, and LeBron’s recent Cavs squad all had expiration dates. This season will be year five for Steph, Klay, and Draymond’s dominance. Circumstances such as Steph’s ankle injuries and Draymond’s unselfishness led to the perfect salary cap situation in the Bay Area. It allowed them to stack their bench with talented veterans and add a superstar the caliber of Kevin Durant. But eventually, players want to be paid, and four max deals aren’t feasible in today’s game.
Expect the Warriors to lose one or two critical stars over the course of the next few seasons, which means a regression to the mean for the NBA’s most recent dynasty.
Now let’s talk about the New York Knicks.
Their path to the NBA finals will be built a bit differently. They’ve historically been an inferior Summer League team, and their win-loss record and this summer leave a lot to be desired, but Kevin Knox’s 23 point-7 rebound stat line is what should excite fans. He’s looked smooth and in control while on the court, a quality not often seen in 18-year-old players.
In two years a duo of him and Kristaps Porzingis will be exciting but is it enough to challenge for titles? The answer is no.
That’s why it takes a bit of projection. The Knicks have more than their fair share of bad contracts on the books, but those will begin to clear up by 2019. A clever sign-and-trade or two could be enough to land a Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler combo. This type of offseason move should remind NBA fans of one LeBron James, whom Irving had the ability to learn under.
LeBron went back to Cleveland and traded almost everyone except two young pieces. Irving had just signed his second NBA deal, which is where Porzingis will be next summer, and Tristan Thompson was still a rather cheap young player. That type of friendly contract resembles Knox’s deal.
That means the Knicks will have the same cap space, or maybe more due to a higher salary cap number, that the Cavaliers used to add two max-caliber players. Irving and Butler would fill the roles of James and Kevin Love in this scenario.
Now ask yourself, does a team of Irving, Butler, Knox, and Porzingis stand a chance in a weakened Eastern Conference?
As your head spins from this perfectly laid out plan, it’s important to recognize other teams will push these two squads. The Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, and remainder of the Warriors team will make the Western Conference a treacherous road. Then there’s the Sixers and Celtics; the teams projected to rule over the conference now that LeBron has moved on.
Despite those challenges, it’s hard to sit down at this year’s Summer League and not feel like these two squads aren’t destined for the next great rivalry.