After a four month hiatus which left the 2019-2020 season in doubt, along with all of it's storylines, we have finally crowned a champion. Although it may not be a surprise, the Los Angeles Lakers have ended their ten year title "drought" after taking a decisive 106-93 victory in Game 6 against the Miami Heat. While there is plenty to unpack given the result of this season, here are the five most important takeaways I gleaned from the final game of this historic NBA season.
Maybe it's not just the LeBron and AD Show
When I talked about the Lakers' loss on Friday, I explained that a major downfall for this team was the fact that their bench simply did not show up. Despite a 40 point triple double from LeBron and 28 points from AD, only one other player in LA's rotation managed to score in double digits in Game 5. However, the Lakers bench really showed out in Game 6 as they routed the Miami Heat, leading by as much as thirty points throughout the game.
If there's one major strength in this current Lakers lineup, it's their defense, and that's what allowed Game 6 to be as decisive as it was. By running constant double teams on Jimmy Butler, LA forced Miami's star to look for other options around the arc, and with Robinson and Herro both having off shooting nights to say the least, the Lakers were able to use their size advantage to strongly outrebound Miami in their own defensive end. Los Angeles combined for 34 defensive rebounds in Game 6, only allowing 9 offensive rebounds from Miami.
On the other end of the court, Los Angeles had one of their better shooting nights of the playoffs, with Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combining for fourteen 3-point buckets. During the first half, Los Angeles' dominant shooting from all around the court allowed them to go on a 41-15 run, allowing them to cruise into a 28-point lead at halftime.
When looking at this roster in terms of being a consistent title contender, I don't see any major holes they need to fill for next year, which is very good considering the weak 2020 free agent class. If they could trade for a more versatile shooter, I don't see much stopping this Lakers team.
LeBron's legacy is set in stone
Starting with this blog post, I am officially taking the stance of LeBron being my goat. Four rings, four finals MVPS, and still the best player in the league at age 35, I really think a lot of the arguments against him are pretty weak.
In terms of his finals record, I really don't see where you can paint this as a weakness. I know odds are just numbers at the end of the day, but according to Odds Shark's comprehensive list of historical finals odds, LeBron has only been the favorite twice in the ten finals he's played in. Given, he was never that heavy of an underdog, but this stat alone shows that his three rings were never that easy for him, especially in 2007 and 2018. In 2018, without Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers were a 10 to 1 underdog to win that series, and LeBron still averaged 34 points per game in the series.
Jordan was undefeated in the NBA Finals, but by the time his quality of play would have declined and his age would show, he was already retired. At age 35, LeBron won his fourth ring and fourth finals MVP, while finishing second in voting for the regular season MVP. If his level of play hasn't slowed down yet, when will it?
In terms of figuring out the era in which both of these superstars played, I can't really glean much in terms of the GOAT debate. Jordan didn't play in a league of plumbers and electricians like many modern fans thing, and the dominance of the three-ball really isn't that detrimental, you're just an oldhead.
What this ring means for other Lakers
It makes sense that LeBron is the focal point of this Lakers championship team, as it is the result of over two years of hard work. When talking about the legacy of LeBron after his career ends, I think a major point will be how he has acted like a player/coach/general manager, especially since his return to Cleveland in 2014.
As historically successful as the Lakers are as a franchise, they would not be 2020 Champions if it weren't for LeBron deciding to go West in 2018. With his influence on the team's front office, plenty of recent additions have had a lot to add to their legacy following the NBA Finals.
I think the biggest story that sticks out in this situation is Dwight Howard. After rising through the ranks of the league's superstars in the 2000s, losing in the Finals once along the way, Howard's career took a bit of a dip after 2013 as he floated around the league, with many saying his career was washed. I'm not a Lakers fan, but watching Howard cry on Instagram live as he clutched the Larry O'Brien trophy was an all-time great moment, almost as great as watching JR drop his phone into a champagne bucket. A well-deserved ring for a longtime staple of the NBA.
Anthony Davis earns his first ring in what will sure be many. I think Davis is the perfect example of a trapped player breaking free. Everyone knew exactly what he was capable of since day one, but New Orleans was definitely not doing enough to build around the budding superstar. Luckily, Davis was able to avoid the trappings of apathetic franchises that have claimed many stars.
Finally, Rajon Rondo became the second player in NBA history to win a ring with both the Lakers and the Celtics. That's pretty neat.
The Heat are just getting warmed up
See what I did there? That's a ten out of ten pun right there.
Of course, there were many tears in Miami's post game conferences last night. To get so close to winning it all only to see your opponent lift the Larry O'Brien is heartbreaking, especially after the incredible run that Miami made to get there. However, Miami has proven that they can compete against teams stacked with superstars. Honestly, I can't even attribute their success solely on the break before the bubble. Pre-pandemic, Miami was shaking things up, most notably in their very close loss at home to the Clippers in late January.
Jimmy Butler has completely redeemed himself, as his play on the court and statements from teammates and coaches prove that he has become a true leader. Outside of Butler, Miami has a very solid foundation, with young shooters in Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro to back him up. Bam Adebayo proved to be a force for Miami as well, but he may be a useful tool in making Miami a consistent championship contender.
Pat Riley is a front office genius, there's no doubt about it, so he probably understands more than anyone that the Heat are one or two pieces away from their fourth title. Looking at where most of the league's stars are right now in their careers, I really think the only viable option for Miami is Giannis. Luckily, I think they're in a pretty good position to snag him, it's just a matter of when they want to do it. If it's this offseason, they're going to have to make a trade. While plenty of draft picks are going to be involved, I think the biggest piece Miami can throw into a trade with Milwaukee is Bam, since the addition of Giannis means they're well-covered in terms of size. They could wait to sign him in 2021, but it's going to be a lot more competitive as plenty of other teams are going to be offering up some contracts.
Who's the best bet for 2021?
If you're a fan of futures, I'd recommend waiting a little bit before you place your bets. Naturally, the Lakers open 2020-2021 as favorites for the championship at +400. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet, if not for the returning threat of a healthy Golden State Warriors, who are currently listed by MGM at +800, the fourth best odds currently. The only two teams I would avoid placing a bet on right now are the Clippers and the Bucks, the Bucks because Giannis' future is still uncertain, and the Clippers because I really can't trust them after their lackluster playoff performance. The cracks are showing quickly with that team, and if they can't come out of the gate hot, I'm expecting them to fall apart. I refuse to address the Nets at +900; the summer of 2019 still hurts too much.
For more on what a post bubble NBA looks like, check out the report from our very own Will Tondo.