NBA Question of the Day: Whose championship window is closing?
Whose championship window is closing?
From now until NBA training camps open, we’ll be asking a question about the league and its upcoming season. Today: Whose championship window is closing?
BOSTON – As we marvel at how Cleveland and Golden State are at the top of the basketball world right now, their rise will eventually give way to painful plummet back to earth.
That’s just the way things are in the NBA.
The Detroit Pistons went six years in a row (2003-2008) to the Eastern Conference finals or NBA Finals. That was soon followed by a six year run (2010-2016) where they couldn’t even get to the playoffs.
The Celtics were at the top of everyone’s elite list of NBA teams for years after winning it all in 2008 courtesy of the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. As those players got older and the roster’s youth didn’t come of age as quickly as they needed to in order to stay at the front of the NBA pack, the Celtics found themselves trying to climb their way back to elite team status.
Every title-winning or title-contending team has seen their window of opportunity take a major step forward, sustained for a few years if they’re lucky, only to fall back to the pack of championship hopefuls.
Here’s a look at a few teams whose window of opportunity to win a championship appears to have closed or at best, remains slightly ajar.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Lob City has been a huge letdown in the playoffs.
Ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers was brought in to not only call plays as the Clippers’ head coach, but also call the shots in terms of putting this roster together.
Three seasons on the job and the Clippers have yet to get past the second round of the playoffs.
And the challenge of keeping this roster together will only get tougher in the years to come.
Blake Griffin can opt out of the final year of his contract and hit the free agent market next summer.
Chris Paul also has the power to opt-out of his contract and hit the free agent market in the summer of 2017.
That’s why this season is so pivotal to the Clippers’ franchise.
But to have the kind of success they’re looking for, won’t be easy.
Golden State is an overwhelming favorite to win it all this season. And don’t sleep on Portland, an improved Minnesota team and of course, San Antonio.
As talented as Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick may be, the chances of them getting past the second round for the first time aren’t great.
And if they fail to do so, it’s hard to imagine that pieces of their core group won’t look to take their talents elsewhere.
The window closing for Atlanta’s quest at Eastern Conference supremacy didn’t begin with Al Horford signed on with the Boston Celtics this summer. It actually began a year earlier when the Hawks lost DeMarre Carroll to free agency after he signed with the Toronto Raptors.
His replacement was Kent Bazemore, a high-energy shooting guard who could also defend small forwards. Bazemore did a nice job of filling the void left by Carroll, but Atlanta’s depth and chemistry wasn’t as good as it was the year before when they won a franchise-record 60 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in Atlanta Hawks history.
Looking at their roster now, there’s a decent amount of talent still on the roster.
Paul Millsap is an All-Star and Dennis Schroeder is one of the more promising young point guards in the NBA. Kyle Korver is still a lethal 3-point shooter and Atlanta native Dwight Howard returns home and will provide a strong presence around the rim.
The Hawks are a legit playoff team, which would be OK if it weren’t for the fact that just two seasons ago they were playing for the right to get to the NBA Finals.
Houston is an intriguing addition to this list, a team that has been to the playoffs each of the past four seasons.
It was just two years ago that the Houston Rockets were in the Western Conference Finals, looking very much like a team that was poised to be a title contender for years to come.
They had a young star on the rise in James Harden, versatile, multi-positional players like Trevor Ariza and a Hall of Famer coaching the team in ex-Celtic Kevin McHale.
A 4-7 start by the Rockets last season resulted in McHale losing his job and with that, a Rockets team losing their way and never really recovering the positive vibes generated from their 2015 trip to the Western Conference finals.
Today, the Rockets are very much a team in transition.
While Harden is still the epicenter of the Rockets franchise, Houston continues to tinker with the best pieces to surround him with.
Ariza is still in the fold as well as pesky point guard Patrick Beverley and versatile wing defender Corey Brewer. The Rockets added some much-needed scoring punch with a pair of ex-Pelicans in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson.
This team will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs let alone be a title contender, serving as yet another reminder of how quickly a team can go from being on the cusp of competing for a title to one fighting just to get to the postseason.
But sandwiched around that trip to the Conference finals was four playoff trips with each ending in a first-round playoff series loss.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
As Kevin Durant walked out that door for the Thunder, so went their chances at an NBA title in the near future. No team from last season will take as huge a step back this year than the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook will have a phenomenal season and give the Thunder a fighting chance to get to the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
And in those seven playoff appearances, the Thunder have made the most of their postseason journey with a trip to the second round (2013), four trips to the Western Conference finals (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016) and one trip to the NBA Finals (2012).
But it goes without saying that the Thunder will have a tremendous challenge awaiting them to duplicate or exceed that kind of success now that Durant has signed on with the Golden State Warriors.
Steven Adams is a blossoming big man with an edge about him that’s a perfect fit with Westbrook’s aggressive style of play.
Enes Kanter’s improved play made the Thunder comfortable with trading away Serge Ibaka in a deal that netted them Victor Oladipo who should provide another scoring threat along with Westbrook.
And don’t discount the Billy Donovan factor.
Anytime a college coach comes to the NBA, there are legitimate concerns about how well they will adjust to the pro game.
Donovan, who led the University of Florida to a pair of national titles, had an impressive rookie coaching season in leading the Thunder to the Conference finals.
There’s no question Donovan is a good coach and with Westbrook around, the Thunder will be a legitimate playoff contender. But this franchise has made a habit in recent years of making deep, meaningful playoff runs.
That remains the goal, but this roster as it is assembled, playing in a top-heavy Western Conference, the Thunder are among the middle-of-the-pack in the West which will be a change – quite a change – for Westbrook and company.