NBA 2010s: The Decade Debate

By TroyJenkins
Apr. 04, 2018

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

"These are just my thoughts. Just what I was feeling at the time."

In preparation for the apparent coronation of the Houston Rockets, everyone has begun to prepare the eulogy and epitaph for the Golden State Warriors. I’m guessing it will read like this: a team thought to be the next great NBA dynasty cut short by injuries and a rising Rockets team from Houston. The playoffs are right around the corner. If this is truly the end of the Warriors, it’s important to note their impact. They changed how the game is played, how teams are built and robbed LeBron James of a clear shot at being universally considered the greatest of all-time. And that’s what is interesting to me. While the playoffs draw near, we’ve entered the timeframe of LeBron super fans doing everything in their power to push LeBron as the greatest and sling mud at his historical contemporaries. It has been the same story for a decade. Personally, I have LeBron tied at number five with Larry Bird on my all-time list. They’re behind Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Bill Russell. But that is a discussion for another time. Today’s discussion is about how LeBron could be the G.O.A.T right now had the Warriors never rose to prominence.

Think back to the Summer of 2014. The dynastic ambitions of the Miami Heat had been killed on a warm night in San Antonio. Following this, LeBron returned to Cleveland to join forces with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with two rings in his back pocket. The Warriors were nowhere in the title picture. Hiring Steve Kerr just looked like a team desperate to take the next step from first-round eliminations. Now consider what we know now: The Cavs would go on to appear in three-straight NBA Finals. Also, imagine a scenario where the Warriors don’t exist. Could LeBron beat a James Harden-Dwight Howard Rockets team on his own? There’s a good chance he could’ve done it. Could he have led the now healthy Cavs to a Finals victory over the KD-Russ Thunder? I believe he could. Could he make it three in a row by beating his old nemesis in the San Antonio Spurs? Once again, I believe he could. Without the existence of the Warriors, LeBron could have had five rings, looking for his sixth, and have a 5-2 Finals record.

Unfortunately for LeBron, the Warriors do exist. Which brings up the real topic of this article. NBA history is very easy to skim over if you’re in a rush. George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers drove history in the 1950s, Russell’s Celtics dominated the 1960s, a dark age of drugs and tape delays plagued the 1970s, Magic and Bird saved the game in the 1980s, Jordan took the game globally in the 1990s, and Tim Duncan/Kobe/Shaq defined the 2000s era of basketball. The 2010s were supposed to be the LeBron era. And for a time, it was without question. LeBron has appeared in all but one NBA Finals (2010), his movement controlled the league and what teams were doing, and he was winning. What the Warriors have done to LeBron’s era is cut it in half. Yes, LeBron is still the best player of this decade. But ever since 2015, LeBron has not been the game’s driving force. That distinction belongs to Golden State. They have a transcendent player in Steph Curry that has ushered in a new style of play. Golden State took LeBron’s Miami blueprint to its apex with the Kevin Durant signing. Ever since 2015, the league has been dictated by them. How to beat them, how to be like them, how to join them, and so on. All we can say about LeBron is that he’s the best player. And for the first time in NBA history, it feels like that title is a little empty. So let’s say the demise of the Warriors has been greatly overstated. Let's say they win it all again this year. Who would this decade belong to then? And if you want to say both entities (LeBron and the Warriors), who gets the lion share of the glory? Just a thought.