Su­per teams don’t bother James

It’s great for league, he says, even as War­riors are on the verge of sweep­ing Cava­liers.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Ta­nia Gan­guli ta­nia.gan­guli@la­times.com

CLEVE­LAND — There was some­thing calm about LeBron James’ de­meanor early Thurs­day af­ter­noon as he spoke about the Go­liath he seemed to know he couldn’t beat.

“Is it fair?” James said the day af­ter the Cleve­land Cava­liers fell into a 3-0 deficit in the NBA Fi­nals against the Golden State War­riors. “I don’t care. I mean, I think it’s great. It’s great for our league. Right now, look at our TV rat­ings, look at the money our league is pour­ing in. I mean, guys are lov­ing the game, our fans love the game. I mean, who am I to say if it’s fair or not? No mat­ter who I’m go­ing against, if I’m go­ing against four Hall of Famers … or if I’m go­ing against two or what­ever the case may be, I’m al­ways ex­cited to play the game. And I’m not one to judge and say if it’s fair or not if guys are adding play­ers to their team.…

“Is it fair that the New York Yan­kees in the ’90s were adding piece af­ter piece af­ter piece? I mean, if you have the op­por­tu­nity to do that — is it fair that the Cow­boys added Deion San­ders?”

A vic­tory Fri­day in Game 4 would give the War­riors their sec­ond cham­pi­onship in three sea­sons and com­plete the first per­fect post­sea­son in NBA his­tory at 16-0.

The War­riors should be this good again next sea­son. And the year af­ter. It could be a very long time un­til any­one closes the gap, and James prob­a­bly will pay the big­gest price.

He is the best player in the league, the best player in this se­ries. That he was set for a third straight Fi­nals matchup with the War­riors this June was a fore­gone con­clu­sion six months ago. That it would be this lop­sided once they met, few pre­dicted.

Dy­nas­ties be­come more po­tent when jux­ta­posed with the op­po­nents they van­quish.

How would the lega­cies of Karl Malone and John Stock­ton have been dif­fer­ent if they were not thwarted by Michael Jor­dan’s Chicago Bulls. What might Chris Web­ber’s ca­reer have been had he not played in the same di­vi­sion as the Lak­ers’ Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant at their peak?

James him­self was part of a su­per team not long ago, but he sees a dis­tinc­tion be­tween his Mi­ami Heat teams and the War­riors, who were mostly built with play­ers they drafted.

“My case, go­ing to Mi­ami, we had to clear a lot of [salarycap] space be­cause they didn't have any­body as far as guys that they wanted to keep as far as [Larry] Bird rights be­sides U.D. [Udo­nis Haslem] and D-Wade,” James said. “They had the op­por­tu­nity to go get two of us, and they did that in me and [Chris] Bosh, and then we were able to fi­na­gle a way to get Mike Miller be­cause some of us took pay cuts, and got some other guys. We had Rio [Mario Chalmers] be­cause he was drafted. But it was a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. To­tally dif­fer­ent. To­tally dif­fer­ent.”

James and Bosh signed with the Heat in 2010, join­ing Dwyane Wade to win cham­pi­onships. They won two, in 2012 and 2013. They lost twice in the Fi­nals, to the Dal­las Mav­er­icks in 2011 and to San An­to­nio Spurs in in 2014.

Jor­dan’s stran­gle­hold on the NBA in­ten­si­fied dur­ing his sec­ond run of three con­sec­u­tive ti­tles, when the Bulls added fu­ture Hall of Famer Den­nis Rod­man to a ros­ter that al­ready had enough tal­ent to win a cham­pi­onship. War­riors coach Steve Kerr played on that team.

“You don’t re­ally stop and think about it un­til af­ter,” Kerr said. “I think we swept Or­lando in the con­fer­ence fi­nals, which was prob­a­bly the big­gest ac­com­plish­ment be­cause that was a loaded team. Shaq and Penny [Har­d­away] and we took care of busi­ness. And then went up 3-0 in the Fi­nals, had a lit­tle bit of a let­down [to the Seat­tle Su­person­ics]. That was a great team, too, with Gary Pay­ton and Shawn Kemp, Hersey Hawkins, that group.”

The Bulls won 72 games that sea­son (1995-96), lost one game in the first three rounds of the play­offs, then won the Fi­nals 4-2.

The team Kerr is coach­ing seems even more in­vin­ci­ble.

The War­riors won a record 73 games dur­ing the 2015-16 sea­son, but fell short in a seven-game se­ries against the Cava­liers in the Fi­nals. The se­ries changed when Golden State’s Dray­mond Green was sus­pended for Game 5. The War­riors lost a 3-1 lead, be­com­ing the first team in Fi­nals his­tory to do so.

That loss smarted, but helped them at­tract Kevin Du­rant, then a seven-time All Star, four-time scor­ing cham­pion and 2014 league MVP. He wanted to win. They sold him on how much fun he would have join­ing this group, play­ing with the cul­ture they had formed.

They had the space to do it be­cause the salary cap rose more than $24 mil­lion head­ing into the 2016-17 sea­son. It al­lowed the War­riors to sign Du­rant to a two-year deal worth $54 mil­lion. De­spite some early bumps — they lost their sea­son opener, then in their sixth game lost to the Lak­ers, who fin­ished the sea­son 26-56. Quickly, though, their great­ness re­vealed it­self. They went a league-best 67-15 in the reg­u­lar sea­son and swept their first three post­sea­son se­ries.

In the East, the Cava­liers also coasted through the play­offs, los­ing only one game be­fore bump­ing into the War­riors. That’s what led to these ques­tions of fair­ness, posed to James and other play­ers.

“One thing about the NBA is there’s this thing called the salary cap that only al­lows you to do so much,” Green said. “It al­lowed us to sign Kevin Du­rant. In that case, it’s got to be fair. You can’t do things that’s un­fair with the salary cap. We abide by the same rules ev­ery­body else does.”

That’s one way of look­ing at it. One could also ar­gue that sports aren’t sup­posed to be fair. You win on the court by win­ning the game off it, too. And the War­riors cer­tainly did that.

“I mean, lis­ten,” James said with an air of un­der­stand­ing. “It hap­pens. It’s sports. You have an op­por­tu­nity to sign one of the best play­ers and you can do it, go ahead and do it. Why not? If I be­come an owner, I’m go­ing to try to sign ev­ery­body.”

Ron­ald Martinez Getty Im­ages

KEVIN DU­RANT, left, and LeBron James have been spec­tac­u­lar in the NBA Fi­nals, but the over­all tal­ent of Du­rant’s War­riors has over­whelmed James’ Cava­liers in the first three games.

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