Sports

Klein ’20: Golden State Warriors are an early championship lock

By
Sports Columnist
Sunday, October 14, 2018

Believe it or not, the NBA returns this week. With so much going on in the world of sports during October between the MLB playoffs and football season, it can be easy to put basketball on the back-burner. That being said, the start of the NBA season should be fascinating. How will LeBron James look in Laker gold alongside Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley? Will Kawhi Leonard feel comfortable in Toronto and turn the Raptors into true Finals contenders? What can we expect from Trae Young? There are plenty of intriguing questions to ask. Unfortunately, I can’t say with any honesty that the end of the NBA season will be quite so interesting. Because let’s face it: The Golden State Warriors are winning the 2018-19 season, and there’s nothing any other team can do to stop them.

Fans of the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and maybe even Lakers may shout in rebuke. The Celtics won 55 games last season and went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With those guys back healthy, and further growth from Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown, the Celts will be much improved since last year. The Rockets took the Warriors to the brink of elimination in 2017-18, holding a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals before disaster hit in the form of an ill-timed Chris Paul injury. If Carmelo Anthony can manage some semblance of a positive contribution, then Houston will be back and dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Raptors won 59 games and captured the first seed last year — now they’ve swapped out DeMar DeRozan, who has underperformed in the playoffs, for Leonard, a former Finals MVP. There’s a viable path for this team to win over 62 games. The Lakers have LeBron, and anything can happen with the King on the court. He’ll arguably have a better supporting cast this season with Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. LeBron dragged Jeff Green, George Hill and Tristan Thompson to the Finals last season in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston — surely there’s a chance he can pull off the magical yet again?

But all this hope and optimism is for naught. The Warriors were the best team in NBA history with Javale McGee and Zaza Pachulia at center. Now they’ve added DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins comes with plenty of question marks. He’s returning from a torn Achilles that will need rehabbing for a good part of the season. He’s known for being a problem in the locker room, sometimes a downright negative influence on his teammates. He occasionally slacks off on plays and doesn’t give his best effort. At the end of the day though, this is still Cousins, and 80 percent of Cousins at his best takes the Warriors to another level. This is a guy who was an MVP candidate before the injury, averaging 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. Imagine a starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. That’s an Olympic-level lineup of basketball talent.

The 28-year-old center fits in terrifically with Golden State. Cousins can score down low when needed, an asset that adds yet another dimension to the Warriors’ offense. Now they can pummel opponents in the paint if shots aren’t falling at certain points in the game. Cousins can also knock down three-pointers, meaning all five Warriors are able threats from the perimeter. Of course, he is an adept passer as well. The ball movement could be ridiculous.

Even if Cousins cannot fit seamlessly into the starting lineup, he can always provide scoring punch off the bench with the second unit, a weakness for the Warriors in the playoffs last year. With Andre Iguodala increasingly injury-prone, Golden State won’t have to rely on him and Shaun Livingston to the same extent. Cousins can dominate against lesser bench players, especially in four-minute spurts.

Golden State doesn’t need Cousins to rush back and play to his normal level right away. He can take his time and ease back into games. The Warriors are only counting on him come April. And at the end of the day, they still have Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green. They don’t exactly need a ton of help.

So yes, there are a few teams out there that have championship aspirations. But no one comes close to the Warriors. The Celtics lost to a Cavs team that was swept in the Finals. Are Irving and Hayward enough to make up the difference against a championship Warriors team plus Cousins? The Raptors need Leonard to stay healthy and fit in with the team and even then, they will most likely be underdogs against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. The Rockets peaked last year — can Paul stay healthy, Anthony contribute and the Warriors decline? Beyond doubtful. The Lakers are another star away from title contention.

I’m locking in my Finals pick early: Warriors in 4. Doesn’t matter who they’re playing.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.