The Los Angeles Lakers just won what could go down as one of the most memorable championships in NBA history. It occurred in a bubble at Disney World amid a worldwide pandemic, happened the year of Kobe Bryant's untimely passing and earned LeBron James his fourth ring.
All that said, the Lakers should not be favored to repeat and win the 2020-21 NBA championship. No, that distinction should go to the Warriors.
According to PointsBet futures odds, the Lakers are the 2020-21 betting favorites with the Bucks in second and Golden State in third. But have we all forgotten that quickly just how good the Warriors were not that long ago?
Just 16 months ago, they were playing in their fifth straight NBA Finals and they may have won their fourth title in five years if it weren't for Kevin Durant rupturing his Achilles and Klay Thompson tearing his ACL. Durant has since left for the Nets, but Thompson will be back and so will Stephen Curry. The two will reunite with Draymond Green to reassemble one of the best trios in NBA history.
Green and Thompson are only 30 and, though Curry is 32, his game doesn't exactly rely on athleticism. As long as he can get his shot off, it will be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons the league has ever seen.
Durant being out of the picture will change things, sure. But don't forget that the Warriors had absolutely zero need for him when he signed there in the summer of 2016. They were coming off a season in which they won 73 games, most in NBA history, and were up 3-1 in the NBA Finals. They didn't win the series, but they did get a ring the year before with Curry, Thompson and Green leading the way.
Now they will be back with a first-team All-Rookie to run with in Eric Paschall and whatever the No. 2 overall pick nets them. It could be another blue-chip young player with All-Star potential like James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards. Or, they could flip it for a more established star.
Either way, the Warriors are in position to come back loaded and with more talent than the Lakers or any other team in the NBA. And they have one of the best front office operations in sports to move the pieces around, plus a very good coach in Steve Kerr.
The biggest question for Golden State is not the Lakers or the Clippers or any challenger. It is Thompson's injury, as his (a torn ACL) was much more serious than the one which kept Curry out for much of this season (broken hand). Thompson was arguably a top-10 player in the league when he went down, but now may have his mobility affected. Considering his best traits involve shooting off screens and smothering wings on defense, it is definitely worth monitoring.
But Thompson will end up with at least three extra months to recover because the league calendar was pushed back. By the time the NBA season begins, possibly in January, he will be over a year-and-a-half removed from the injury, which usually takes 9-to-12 months to rehab.
There is also reason to believe the Curry-Thompson-Green triumvirate will be as motivated as they have ever been. They see the hype the Lakers and other teams received this year. And they may also see the criticism the two titles they won with Durant have received.
Just last week, Durant was back at it defending his decision to sign with the Warriors, saying he didn't take the easy way out. The perception those two championships weren't as hard-earned as other ones affects Curry, Thompson and Green by relation.
Add it all up and the Warriors are set up to be right back in the mix as NBA title contenders. And, truthfully, how they fare next year could change the way the entire 2019-20 season is viewed.
What if they seamlessly reinstall themselves as the clear-cut kings of the NBA? It could change the context of whatever was accomplished this season, much like when Michael Jordan returned to win another three-peat with the Bulls after his brief retirement to play baseball.
The Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler won two championships, but still to this day fans and media wonder aloud what would have happened if Jordan never left. The same could happen with the Warriors, who with Curry, Green and Thompson have already proven capable of being one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Now, that is no reason to take away from anything the Lakers or other teams did this year. But let's just all recognize the sleeping giant that is likely awaiting the NBA. There is a distinct chance the best team in the NBA wasn't in the bubble.