Goodwill: The inevitable clash of NBA titans will live up to its billing

Goodwill: The inevitable clash of NBA titans will live up to its billing

The NBA has resisted the notion of it being a two-team league but the NBA Finals features the two teams who have lapped the field so many times over, 28 franchises got seasick.

But the expected seven-game marathon between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers makes the winter trek and spring slumber well worth it, should it live up to its billing.

And if we’re all honest, as much as a compelling playoff would’ve been welcomed, seeing a classic Finals will be the perfect bleach to a season where we spent most of the time going, “Blech!”

It’s the reward of believing the regular season is meaningless and seeing the playoffs as a meaningless exercise, the possibility of this Finals being the best in recent NBA history.

Two champions facing each other isn’t a rarity, as the Pistons and Spurs faced off in 2005, the Lakers and Celtics met up in 2010 and the Spurs and Heat matched wits in 2013 and 2014. But this version has more spice, intrigue and more long-term ramifications all around.

LeBron James is admittedly chasing the ghost of history as opposed to having a true peer, although the Warriors’ ascension was something he didn’t see coming when leaving Miami for Cleveland after the 2014 season.

Somehow, all roads, all conversations seem to begin and end with him, as he’s made the Michael Jordan comparisons almost seem realistic, even though he should stand alone on accomplishments that have actually exceeded the hype he entered the league with in 2003.

If there’s one way James can be compared favorably with Jordan, it’s this: If there isn’t a considerable gap in quality between the two teams, it’s nearly unfathomable to see a James team lose four times in the next two weeks.

That’s a testament to his will, focus and downright greatness at his age and experience more than it is some perceived race with Jordan. That alone should send a shiver down Golden State’s steeled spine, one that was admittedly hardened by James leading the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit this time last year.

Cleveland’s team was built on the back of the man whose birth essentially guarantees a berth into June in James, reaching his seventh straight Finals, a feat unheard of in the modern NBA. The Cavaliers’ ineptitude in James’ four-year absence—along with some curious bounces in the draft lottery—gave them enough assets to turn into drafting Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson then trading for Kevin Love.

The rest of the roster was compiled by shrewd trades from the bargain bin along with an unspoken pressure from James to ensure ownership spared no expense when it came to contracts, luxury tax penalties be damned.

For Golden State, is it revenge or validation? Well, for the members of the 73-win team that let a 3-1 lead slip away it could be the former, as they’ve been on the end of some not-so-subliminal shots from James and the Cavaliers since last Father’s Day.

For Kevin Durant, it would be the latter considering the criticism he’s taken in the name of competitive balance for joining a 73-win team—after squandering a 3-1 lead of his own last May as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

His transition to the Warriors has made them more than a team whose sum was greater than the individual parts, but now an unstoppable juggernaut with very few weaknesses, if any.

Before his late February knee injury, it could be argued Durant was a top-three MVP candidate with his improved defense combined with an efficient offensive repertoire that was already unfair and impossible to defend.

But perhaps the brightest light besides the one that follows James everywhere he goes and even the places he resides in should belong to Stephen Curry. Having a lackluster Finals in 2016 where it could be argued he unraveled along with getting a front-row seat to Kyrie Irving hitting a winning triple in his face on his home floor could harken some back to Magic Johnson being called “Tragic” after the 1984 Finals.

Whether that label was fair to Johnson or not didn’t matter; It stuck until he redeemed himself from choking away that series to the Boston Celtics. He already had the greatest game a rookie could have with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in 1980 against the 76ers in The Finals, and followed it up with another Finals MVP in 1982.

Curry doesn’t yet have those showings on this stage, and his worse-than-reported knee injury from last June isn’t a problem this time around. He’s yet to produce a moment on this stage worthy of his resume.

He needs this as much as Durant apparently “needs” to show the public he made the right decision by leaving Oklahoma City, as if that matters. As if Durant himself didn’t put up a 30-6 line in the 2012 Finals while shooting 55 percent and 39 from the 3-point line.

But it’s not just the stars. It’s the shuffling of rotations, as the Warriors can go to their Death Lineup with Draymond Green at center, with length and shooting all around.

It’s Tristan Thompson being able to win a game on his own just by dominating the offensive glass. It’s Klay Thompson being able to detonate in a quarter for 30 points, winning a game on his perfectly-formed shooting motion.

It’s Kevin Love being a more confident and better fitting player this year, as a perfect stretch-shooting complement to James’ pinpoint passing. It’s the Cavaliers defense being terrible during the regular season but serviceable during the playoffs.

It’s Golden State having the fortune of Kawhi Leonard’s ankles landing on Zaza Pachulia’s foot, along with the fortune of a league flushing new salary cap money and being able to land Durant while having Curry on the biggest value contract in NBA history.

It’s Golden State’s defense being able to morph into a switching monster of length while hiding Curry’s flaws. It’s Golden State figuring out if Mike Brown will coach for seven games or if Steve Kerr will ride in on his white horse from his painful back ailment to lead his team to a second title in three years.

But who are we kidding here? It’s always about LeBron, right?

Still, though, Warriors will get their revenge, with Curry serving it with cold jumpers to validate his place in NBA history.

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr. grabbed some attention when he remarked that he was "perfect fit for today's NBA game" during an appearance on The Will Cain Show.

The interview went a long way towards showing off the uber-confident nature of Porter, who has consistently talked about being the best player in his class throughout the draft process. Porter also remarked that he was "an immediate impact guy," and that he "doesn't want it to take long to be one of the best players in the NBA."

His hubris has been intruiging considering the mystery surrounding the prospect.

During the interview Porter added that he would be open to doing more workouts for NBA front offices ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft. The only workout he has completed so far was his pro day workout in Chicago, and multiple reports have cited that Porter did look good shooting, though he was in an isolated setting with no defenders.

The one thing Porter has not done much throughout the process is talk about his weaknesses, which is somewhat concerning seeing as he has much to improve on. The general consensus is that a healthy Porter can get buckets at will. But if he can improve his ball-handling, rebounding and passing skills, he will be much more than a go-to scorer. Tightening his ball-handling skills is likely the key, as the ability to grab the rebound and push in transition would be a huge boon for Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg's offense.

The biggest question when it comes to Porter on the Bulls is can he fit with Lauri Markkanen? Despite receiving many favorable Kevin Durant and Paul George comparisons leading up to the draft, there is a rising sentiment that his best position in the NBA may be the power forward spot. It is not yet known if he has the foot speed to stay in front of quicker wings in today's NBA. But at six-feet-ten-inches, it is easy to imagine him having a huge advantage against slower power forwards rather than wings. While Markkanen is not currently built to be a full-time center, playing him at the five with Porter at the four would present Hoiberg with a potentially devastating closing lineup.

Versatility is the name of the game in today's league, and Michael Porter Jr. may be the key to unlocking the full potential of Hoiberg's pace-and-space attack. 

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls


Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

Just two years after being drafted in the second round, Paul Zipser told German media that he doesn’t see the Bulls wanting him next season.

The Bulls have until mid-July to pick up Zipser's option.

"I would not be surprised if they no longer want me.” Zipser said in German and translated via Google Translate

“Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not play in Chicago soon.”

Last month, Zipser had surgery on his fractured left foot, in his native country of Germany, which grew speculation the Bulls wouldn’t pick up his player option for next season. Zipser said the surgery "went perfectly."

Zipser showed some flashes of potential in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 per game and 2.8 rebounds in 44 games. But this past season, he played more games, but injuries derailed him from improving his overall production. He finished with four points and 2.4 rebounds in 54 games, including 12 starts.

Zipser explained that things changed from his first year to his second year.

“They were very varied," Zipser said. "The first year was just going very well. I fought my way into the team from the beginning and showed how I can help the team. The Bulls just needed someone like me. That's why it worked so well. We benefited from each other - that's why we were successful.”

“That was very different. It was not right from the beginning, and I was already struggling with my injury. It was not quite clear what it is. If you have pain in your foot, you automatically go down a bit with intensity. You just do not want to hurt yourself and be completely out. It was then difficult for me to keep my head in the sport - I did not manage that well. Nevertheless, the injury should not be an excuse.”

Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Zipser might not dress up in a Bulls uniform next year.