Kawhi Leonard

Steph Curry, Giannis, LeBron James: Warriors Twitter debates NBA's best

Steph Curry, Giannis, LeBron James: Warriors Twitter debates NBA's best

Some of the best, and -- let's be honest -- worst conversations regarding the Warriors reside on social media. Strong voices and opinions of Dub Nation defend or criticize their squad, not afraid to share their thoughts with absolute authority. Many of these personalities live on Twitter, where everyone can be a general manager, coach, critic, troll and hot take artist. Or all at once.

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In the second installment of our Warriors Twitter Roundtable, we look at another major conversation floating around the Warriors Twitter world. Answering the question will be a panel of some of the more prominent and revered voices within the community.

If Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic are completely healthy next season and playing at the top of their current abilities, who would be your top five players in the NBA?

@poormanscommish: I generally don’t like to throw any guys under the bus by leaving them out of rankings, or doing comparisons and whatnot, but okay: Steph, Giannis, LeBron, KD, and Kawhi. Hopefully, Dame never reads this!

@samesfandiari: Oh! This is tough. The hedge answer is "They are all great" but with that said, my list would be (In no order): Steph, KD, LBJ, Giannis, Kawhi. Steph, LBJ and Giannis are 3 best players to build a system around. Kawhi and KD are best all-around players, best 1 v 1, etc. They are all great but until I see one of these five drops off, they are my list.

@Jannelle12: Completely healthy and playing at the top of their abilities, I have in no particular order: Steph, Kawhi, KD, Giannis, LeBron

@AndyKHLiu: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron, Kawhi and Giannis. You could put those in any order but that would be one through five for me. At their current abilities and what they've shown not only throughout a regular season but postseason, these would be the five I trust in a must-win game and series. Anthony Davis and James Harden both have cases above Giannis, one could argue, but their resumes are simply as strong as the upcoming 2-time MVP.

My take (@grantliffmann): Rarely do you see a uniform consensus, but here we are. In no particular order, I'd go Curry, Durant, Leonard, Antetokounmpo and James are viewed by the panel as the top five players in the NBA right now if fully healthy. Four of the five are proven NBA champions, and the fifth is most likely a back-to-back MVP. In my eyes, Harden and Davis just miss the cut as the next best in the league. Yet, when fully healthy and playing at the top of his game, Embiid is a player that has the size and talent to make the leap into the top five. Perhaps he will need a change of scenery or new circumstances in Philadelphia, but his abilities on both ends of the floor are what intrigue me the most.

RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Clippers, not Lakers or Rockets, are destined as Warriors' next rival

Clippers, not Lakers or Rockets, are destined as Warriors' next rival

The Warriors have good reason to believe that if their core stays healthy, they will finish next season bound for the playoffs. They should hope a rival awaits, because a little hate in their hearts tends to bring out their best.

Well, the remade and revivified Clippers might be the best bet -- and not merely because Stephen Curry’s favorite opponent, Patrick Beverley, is sure to do his part.

As much as the Bay Area craves a legitimate Warriors-Lakers feud, something we’ve never had despite the teams sharing California for nearly 60 years, there is but a tiny chance of getting it and roughly zero change of growing it.

LeBron James, already with more mileage than anyone in the NBA, will be 36 next spring. He’s still amazing, a physical miracle. He cannot, however, dodge Papa Time forever. Only two players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, ranking 1-2 in career minutes, have higher mileage. Though each played past his 40th birthday, each also was a part-timer by then.

It’s unrealistic to expect three more seasons as a full-time high-impact player. Without LeBron, there is no rivalry. Sorry.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Which brings us back to the Clippers. When they bruised and bloodied the Warriors in taking them to six games in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, they did so behind the likes of Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell and 20-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Now they have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in their primes; PG is 30, Kawhi turned 29 last month. And they still have Williams and Harrell. Harrell will be a free agent and could be lured away by a fat contract. Team chairman Steve Ballmer might have to choose between Harrell and Marcus Morris Sr.

Or ... Ballmer could shrug off the financials and keep both, particularly if they win the 2020 championship. This is conceivable because 1) he is the wealthiest owner in the league and 2) that fortune has, during the coronavirus pandemic, bounced him from being America’s 15th richest person into the top six. Worth an estimated $52 billion nine months ago, the former Microsoft exec now is estimated to be worth well north of $70 bil.

Ballmer also has on his team the legend Jerry West, who helped assemble the Warriors into the league’s best squad. Don’t think West’s competitive streak won’t sizzle at the sight of the Warriors in the postseason.

And don’t think Warriors CEO Joe Lacob won’t be out for a few pints of logo blood.

Remember the mutual loathing between the Warriors and the Clippers? Well, after losing 11 of 12 games, the last 10 in a row, the Clips in 2017 realized it was time to disengage. Chris Paul was done. Who could blame him? The league’s spiciest intraconference rivalry had deteriorated into slapstick.

So, Paul signs with Houston. Now it’s on. Even while losing 18 of 21 (including postseason) to the Warriors over a three-year span, the Rockets had emerged as the closest thing to a foil in the Western Conference. With CP3 joining James Harden, Houston spanked the Warriors in the regular season, winning five of seven. Fool’s gold. The Warriors, hate in their hearts, ousted the Rockets in back-to-back postseasons. A failed experiment, to the disgust of general manager Daryl Morey. Paul was sent to Oklahoma City.

The Rockets inserted Russell Westbrook -- among the most hated of Warriors opponents -- to ride shotgun with Harden. How juicy would it be to see Morey and his team rolling into Chase Center next April or May?

Uh, if only.

Houston likely is making its last stand. The smart money says the only way there is even a remote chance of staying with this core, and coach Mike D’Antoni, is if next season opens with a ring presentation.

That might not be enough. We saw team chairman Tilman Fertitta spitting flames after losing to the Warriors in May 2019, but we also know he holds a microscope over the payroll. He didn’t become “the world’s richest restaurateur,” according to Forbes, by slipping nickels to the help.

The “restaurateur” part has him in trouble. The pandemic is ravaging those in the business of restaurants. Fertitta told CNBC in March that he was losing about $1 million a day -- and that was two months before he acknowledged having to borrow $300 million at 12 percent.

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As a Warriors rival, the Rockets are as done as the CP3 Clippers.

The Warriors are built for two or three more contending seasons. The Clippers are built for at least that many. May the next regular season provide a glimpse of what’s to follow.

Warriors' playoff series vs. Cavaliers, Spurs shouldn't have asterisks

Warriors' playoff series vs. Cavaliers, Spurs shouldn't have asterisks

Shaquille O'Neal recently argued that the NBA should cancel the remainder of the current season, suggesting that whichever team was crowned champion in a shortened or altered playoff format would have an asterisk next to its achievement. Whether he is correct in that opinion or not, you can be sure there are plenty of people who share it.

However, it's important to remember that not all asterisks are created equal. 

Injuries happen. They're an inherent aspect of sports. To argue that an injury should produce an asterisk is the ultimate loser mentality -- as if injury risk isn't equally shared by all those in participation. The Houston Rockets and their fans can cry all they want about putting an asterisk next to the Warriors' victory in the 2017-18 Western Conference finals due to Chris Paul missing the final two games with a hamstring injury, but in doing so, they conveniently leave out the fact that Andre Iguodala sat out the final four games of that series. You can't have it both ways.

Asterisks should be reserved for situations in which cheating occurs, or when a team or player receives a distinct competitive advantage for something outside of the stated rules of game. The Houston Astros' sign stealing? Yep, that would qualify in my opinion. Apparently Rob Manfred disagrees.

Bleacher Report's NBA staff recently produced what it believes are the league's eight biggest asterisks since 1990, but the legitimacy of the asterisk definitely varies by each individual case. The Sacramento Kings losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference finals carries far more deserved asterisk potential for instance than, say, the Rockets winning back-to-back titles in the mid-90s while Michael Jordan was playing baseball.

Of the eight nominees, two involve the Warriors, though one is far more deserving of an asterisk than the other.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

First, let's begin with the one that doesn't deserve one whatsoever.

Just like there isn't an asterisk on the Warriors' series victory in the 2017-18 Western Conference finals, there isn't one on the 2016-17 Western Conference finals either, nor should there be. Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin, however, disagrees.

"When Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard four minutes into the third quarter of Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals, causing him to reinjure his ankle, it didn't just swing that series -- it had widespread implications around the league," Highkin wrote. "The Spurs had a 21-point lead over the Warriors when Leonard went down, and without him, they collapsed and lost the game. From then on, without their best player, San Antonio had no shot, and Golden State easily swept the next three games to reach the Finals, wherein they beat the Cavaliers in five games to win their second championship in three years."

Leonard is a phenomenal player, and Highkin is correct in recounting that the Spurs had the Warriors in a deep hole early in Game 1 of the series prior to being injured. But last I checked, there are four quarters in an NBA game, and playoff series are a best-of-seven format. Even if Leonard doesn't get hurt and the Spurs win Game 1, they still have to beat the 2016-17 Warriors -- arguably the greatest team of all time -- three more times.

That team went 16-1 on its way to the title. Get that asterisk the hell out of here.

The other nominee that involves the Warriors -- the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2016 title -- certainly is more deserving of an asterisk than the first, but even still, it probably falls short of the requirements.

"Fresh off a 73-9 campaign and armed with the league MVP in Stephen Curry, the Warriors looked demonstrably stronger after Games 1 and 2, which they won by a combined 48 points -- the greatest such number through the first two games of any Finals," Bleacher Report's Preston Ellis wrote. "But near the end of the Warriors' Game 4 victory, LeBron James and Draymond Green got into an altercation. Green's groin swipe was upgraded to a flagrant foul, which resulted in a suspension, while James was issued a technical foul for his clothesline and step-over."

"Should the two have earned matching technical fouls, Green -- who then wouldn't have accrued enough flagrant points in the postseason to trigger an automatic suspension -- would have suited up for Game 5 and could have helped close the series in Oakland," Ellis continued. "Instead, Andrew Bogut left a three-point game early in the third quarter with a knee injury, and the Cavaliers ran away with a 15-point victory."

In furthering the case for an asterisk, Ellis also made mention of Curry's ejection in Game 6, which was the result of several questionable calls. And while he is correct that in almost any other situation, you would expect the punishments to be handed out equally between players, that's never going to be the case when it comes to the biggest superstar in the league -- nor has it ever been. Yes, the punishment distribution was questionable at best, but Green put himself in a position to be suspended with all of the flagrant points he accrued prior to that game.

Did Curry get hosed on some calls in Game 6? Absolutely. But what else do you expect in a clinching scenario on the road?

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The fact of the matter is, though the officials didn't exactly help them out, the Warriors had multiple opportunities to avoid blowing a 3-1 series lead. They didn't. They lost. Then they got Kevin Durant.

No asterisk. No complaints.