People watched Wednesday’s Warriors-Lakers preseason game imagining all the things that this series could be, starting with the one thing it never has been.
Oh, there is certainly history with the Lakers, and until six years ago, every day was warm and sunny. They had only five playoff-less seasons in their first 65 years, and had all the reasons to be smug that Boston Celtics have had.
There is also history with the Warriors, and until six years ago it was gray and damp and occasionally plain old lousy. They've missed the playoffs more than they've made them, and only in the last five years have they felt like they could walk with the lower-case-g giants.
And surely there is history between LeBron James, Ltd., and the Warriors because their paths have intersected more times in a shorter time span than any time since the Celtics-Lakers first glory days in the 1960s.
But the Warriors and Lakers have never been a rivalry in any meaningful way. They have rarely been within 10 games of each other in the standings, and the Lakers have won six of the seven playoff series in which the two teams played, the last time 28 years ago. Most of the time, the Lakers were among the league’s elite, and the Warriors listed under Others.
And the Lakers didn't need the Warriors then any more than the Warriors need the Lakers now.
But that’s only the history, and history is not what we traffic in these days. The reality is, the NBA dramatists wants this to become a thing, and it becomes a thing only at the Warriors’ peril.
The Warriors do not need a rival, not now. They own this league for the foreseeable future, and need rivals like they need blown hamstrings.
And why, you ask, sensing a round of buzzkilling on the horizon? Because the only way this becomes a rivalry is if the Warriors regress again this regular season, and if they regress again, its because they had injuries, or agendas, or internal strife, or some combination of the above.
The Lakers, you see, are not yet a 60-win team by any rational thought. They got James to stop being a 30-win team, and that mission is almost certainly accomplished. If nothing else, their time below the cut line in the Western Conference is finally at an end.
But the Warriors are not a rearview-mirror team, and if they were, the most obvious choice to be closer than it appears is Houston. Oklahoma City is still not whole even though Paul George decided to stay with Russell Westbrook. San Antonio is savaged. Utah is a tough out but an out nonetheless. Denver is on the come, but not at the same level as even the Lakers. Portland is what Portland has been for years now. Minnesota is a hot mess, and can only serve as a disruptive force if/when Jimmy Butler is traded.
In short, the Warriors are only a rival to the Lakers if something goes hideously wrong for them. Anybody up for that scenario?
Yeah, I thought not.
If the Warriors need rivals, they can surely make ones of their own. The officials come immediately to mind, as Golden State easily won the technical foul race a year ago and is already on their way in the practice season this year.
Their own attention spans were a problem a year ago, and while they swear they have figured out how to combat that, they have yet to be tested; so they’re their own rival, attention span-wise.
The looming free agencies of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant could become an ongoing irritant if only because the questions about their pending free agency will spice up any bland shootaround presser.
But they don’t need the Lakers on their daily to-do list, not anywhere near what the Lakers need from the Warriors. True, this drama-dampening violates the First Two Laws Of Narrative World, “Reality Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Do With It,” and “The Beast Must Be Fed Every Day, Even If It’s The Same Grub Every Time.” And Lord knows their work at sucking the drama out of the story three times in four years has been pretty comprehensive; I mean, their playoff record in the last four years is the equivalent of one of the top 25 regular seasons in history.
Besides, what does beating LeBron James yet again earn them, other than more yawns about disappointing sequels? Mychal Thompson’s earnest prediction on the radio that the teams will play a seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals means that they will play 11 times this year (not including the two practice games, the second of which will be in San Jose Friday night) and will have played James 41 times in five years.
You’re probably up for that in ways that Warriors-Pistons or Warriors-Suns or Warriors-Kings fail. But the Warriors would almost surely prefer something different on the menu, and something less taxing than 11 more enervating rounds with the leviathan that never goes away.