As the Jazz plan for their future, for any kind of real shot at an NBA title, they’ll have to be patient. They’ll have to wait for the most major of hurdles to move out of their way. They can improve in the meantime, they can go on hoping, working and attacking, but they can’t hoist Larry O’Brien’s Trophy.
It’s a matter of predictability, of what is.
Of all the leagues in all the sports, the NBA and its playoffs are the easiest to foresee and, thereby, the most boring. It’s as much that way now as it’s ever been.
If you disagree, you wanna bet?
I’ll take the Golden State Warriors. Who you got?
Not only will the defending champs be the winners in this season’s playoffs, they will be for years to come — yes, the Warriors and Rockets are tied in the West finals at 2 apiece, but the Warriors are basketball’s best, by a wide margin, and they are relatively young. They won’t be done for a long, long time.
Kevin Durant is 29. Steph Curry 30. Klay Thompson 28. Draymond Green 28.
League opponents such as the Jazz and the Celtics and the Rockets and anyone else who’s waiting for the Warriors’ demise as a strategy, punch up a pillow and get comfortable, because it’s not going to fade anytime soon.
It’s reasonable to give the Warriors another three or four seasons of excellence. The only authentic way they won’t be at the top of the heap over that span is if one of their stars gets injured. It might take two key injuries. It might require a bus crash. Nobody wants that.
The Warriors aren’t going to just disintegrate or wander off. Thompson, who becomes a free agent in 2019 has already said he’d be willing to forego millions of dollars to stay with his guys. Turns out, they’re having as much fun playing — and winning — together as it looks like they’re having.
That reduces the likelihood that Rome will rot from within. That’s the hope for any opponent with designs on surpassing them. Inner dissension. Problems within the empire. Boredom.
The Warriors have already addressed that last potentiality. A couple of seasons ago, they went for the single-season win total record, and they got it. Now, they know how to pace themselves, without getting too wrapped up in the hum and the drum of the regular season. They actually can get by with a yawn now and again, as long as they have themselves primed for the season that matters most — the second one, from mid-April to mid-June. Those games in December and February don’t really matter. A loss here and there, even lopsided ones, are inconsequential.
When the Jazz beat the Warriors by 19 points, by 30 points, by 40 points, what did that really mean?
It meant something to the Jazz, but absolutely nothing to the Warriors. Nothing. Nada. Nichts. It was the equivalent of twisting the postgame shower nob to the on position and feeling about one second of cold before the water heated up to just the right temperature. It was a mild inconvenience before rain-nozzled nirvana was splashing all around.
The only other avenues for the demise of the Warriors are if the club decided it no longer wanted to pay substantial luxury taxes to keep the team together. That seems like the longest of shots, though. They’re paying the tax already, so … why stop? Or if LeBron James kept his form over the next few years and signed with one of the most talented teams outside of the Warriors.
As is, the Western Conference finals are the battle for the NBA title, and everyone who isn’t a Cavs or Celtics fan knows it. Maybe those people know it, too. They should, if they have eyes to see. All the run-up is just positioning for who will finish second through fourth. Folks can argue that positioning all they want, but most of the discussion is over who’s third and fourth. Already, the Rockets, a noble opponent, are second and the guys back east are fiddle-faddling around for whatever they will be.
It shouldn’t be this way. But it is.
For whatever reason, basketball, as a game, is flawed by what is apparent. Yeah, there are upsets, at times. But not that many.
No league suffers from this malady, this wave of the obvious, the way the NBA does. Perhaps it’s because of the limited numbers on each team. The NFL, with more participants and all kinds of variables, is a crapshoot, where teams can float from worst to first in short order. Baseball is more glacial, but there is movement there, too. Still, even individual sports are less predictable, sports such as golf and tennis. Again, the nature of the game, the conditions, the surfaces, the layouts, change from event to event.
As coach Norman Dale pointed out, the dimensions are always the same in basketball. Fire up the volume on an opponents’ home floor, feel the negative energy flowing toward the court, and, other than on rare, exceptional occasions, it does not matter. Turn the Warriors loose on any court, when they are duly motivated, and watch them win a best-of-seven series. Houston, that second-best team, might get a couple of games, but …
Any plans the Jazz — or other teams — have for championships are officially on hold. They can make progress. They can improve. They can narrow the gap. But they cannot close it.
Not now. Not anytime soon.
It’s written in the stars. It’s just the way it is.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.