Barney Stinson once said new is always better, but that’s not the feeling I get from certain crevices of the internet when looking at the remaining landscape of the NBA’s playoff picture.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns, and LA Clippers. The last championship won by any of these four teams came in 1971 (Bucks). Two (Phoenix and LA) have never won a championship. Two (LA and Atlanta) have never even made it to the Finals. The most recent of these teams to make the Finals was the Suns way back in 1993.
Now, I happen to LOVE having these four teams duking it out in the conference finals.
A single title can mean so much to franchises like these with little to no historical postseason success. Look at the 2016 Cavaliers or the 2019 Raptors. Every single player who was part of either team will forever be a legend in Cleveland and Toronto. When moments like that are scarce for franchises like that, there’s a significantly stronger bond than players who helped bring the Lakers or Celtics their umpteenth title.
And so the idea of that occurring once again in a way that will bring incredible amounts of joy and just sheer awesomeness to a franchise and city is something I’m looking forward to, and it’s awesome that we’re getting it no matter which team ultimately emerges from the pack. Championships mean more to the organizations that don’t get to experience them as often.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way.
That premier franchises like the Lakers and Celtics or big market draws like Brooklyn and Golden State aren’t in the playoffs seems to irk certain people. That the biggest names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry are at home hinders the watchability of these playoffs.
I don’t know how large this group of people is, but they certainly exist.
It’s certainly a new era of basketball for the NBA. Only three players left in these playoffs have ever won a championship, and they all play for the Clippers (Kawhi Leonard, Rajon Rondo, and Serge Ibaka, who’s out for the year after surgery). This will be the first Finals since 2010 without one of James, Curry, or Durant.
I’m not oblivious to the allure of LeBron or Curry or KD. They’re unquestionably this generation’s greatest players and an easy draw for casual fans who might not have followed Atlanta’s incredible midseason turnaround or the first truly relevant Suns season in 10 years.
But the idea that the league's success should hinge on them in ways it did back in the 80s when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird pulled the league out of the cellar is ridiculous.
The NBA has more individual talent right now than at any other point in league history. Every team has star power worth watching, including the remaining four teams.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a two-time MVP right in the middle of his prime who put up 40–13–5 in his most recent playoff outing. Trae Young was an All-Star last year and is averaging 29 points and 10 assists in his first playoff run. Devin Booker is a two-time All-Star averaging 29–7–5 in his first taste of the postseason. Paul George has made seven All-Star appearances and is putting up nearly 26–9–5.
Not currently playing but are likely if not hopeful to return soon are Chris Paul, the Point God playing at an unprecedented level for a 36-year-old, and Kawhi, a two-time Finals MVP.
There are no 2015 Hawks remaining in these playoffs, a team with a collection of VERY good players but no real stars or superstars, the whole of which wound up being greater than the sum of its parts en route to 60 regular-season wins.
There are legitimate stars for fans to focus on with compelling storylines that make them easy to root for.
Giannis has faced criticism after consecutive unsightly playoff exits and was the superstar who stayed with his small-market team. CP3 and George have had their share of playoff shortcomings. Booker spent the first five years of his career on a god-awful Suns team with everyone saying he should get out of Phoenix ASAP. Young is the guy Atlanta traded away Luka Doncic for and, along with Booker, has heard plenty about how he’s an empty-stats producer (and he’s also only 22 years old!)
That at least one of these stars will completely rewrite their basketball legacy in such a massive way should excite the masses. Even Kawhi could reach a new level if he returns to lead the Clippers to the first title in franchise history.
How does anyone not think that’s awesome?
And also, what should be most important is that, even without some of the best players in the world, the actual on-court product has been excellent. Just look at this past weekend alone.
The depleted Clippers erased a 25-point deficit to earn a spot in their first-ever conference finals. Both the Bucks and Hawks stole tightly-contested Game 7s on the road to reach each other in the conference finals, the former of which was accomplished in overtime, the first in a Game 7 since 2006. And without CP3 for Game 1 against the Clippers, Booker went for 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a win.
Maybe I’m letting the vocal minority get to my head too much, but it boggles my mind that people see the current playoff picture as a bad thing.
Of course, I want to watch LeBron continue to add to his GOAT argument. Believe it or not, I actually wanted the Nets to beat Milwaukee because what Durant was doing coming off a torn Achilles was unprecedented,, and I wanted to watch more of it.
But I can also find joy in what plays out in front of me, especially when what we get is objectively still worth watching on every level, whether that’s superstars with incredible performances or teams battling it out in games that go down to the wire.
So while new might never be better for some who want to cling to the past, it’s still plenty entertaining for those open to it, and I can only hope that more people fall into the latter category and don’t miss out.