When Rudy Gobert jokingly coughed on the press conference microphones, the dominoes fell and the season was canceled. Nobody knew how or if the NBA would return. Exactly seven months later, the Walt Disney World Bubble has concluded and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in the sixth game; claiming their 17th title in team history.
Being that professional sports involve such close contact and the difficult ability to social distance, nobody knew how the Bubble would work. We watched the MLB have multiple delays and the NFL begins to implode. The NHL did well, but not as successful as the NBA. The Orland Bubble was a huge win and kudos to Adam Silver. After watching the competitiveness from all teams 1-8 (and qualifiers), the constant flow of content, the accommodations provided by Disney, and the ZERO positive COVID cases, Adam Silver needs to be considered one of the best-ever league commissioners. We're not just talking basketball, best throughout all sports, in all of history.
For three full months, we had nonstop, hardnose, high scoring basketball. A lot was learned by the participating teams, and the 2021 NBA season is going to be a must-watch.
Photo: USA Today
It would be appropriate to start with your Champions. The Los Angeles Lakers were destined to win this year's titles, after the devastating loss to their legend, Kobe Bryant. This was an encourager for the team, but the leadership and talent present on this squad were the reason for securing the win. The Lakers were no doubt the favorites out of the West, and they would have most likely defeated the Celtics, and Raptors, or even the Bucks.
What we learned was the LBJ + AD combo is lethal, and we can expect to see them stay together for at least another season. Anthony Davis is set to hit free agency, but it is hard to imagine him leaving after securing his first title. He is arguably the best teammate LeBron has ever had (Dwade 2nd, Kyrie 3rd, Bosh 4th, KLove 5th). It took some time to generate on-the-floor chemistry, but it ultimately paid off. Anthony Davis provided a formidable defense and high power offense, which took the load off LBJ. If the Lakers retain AD, Rondo, and Dwight wile also trading some assets for more firepower, it is safe to say the Lakers can make another run next season.
LeBron won his 4th title in his 17th season and is still dominant. He was the MVP runner up but still managed to be a lead performer throughout the entire playoffs.
He led the league in assists. Seeing this stat shows that LeBron will be here to stay for many years. If he dishes out 15, 16, assists a game and lessens upon driving to the paint, LBJ could play into his forties no question.
The Miami Heat deserves the same amount of respect and credit after their tremendous run. The Heat were the underdogs but they proved that they were not messing around. As a 5-seed, they swept the Pacers, stunned the Bucks in 5 games, and defeated the Celtics in the ECF. Although they fell short in the Finals, they won't be considered underdogs anymore.
Jimmy Butler has silenced the Bulls/Twolves/Sixers haters who doubted his leadership ability and style of play. He played his tail off, and even with a semi-injured ankle, Butler left it all on the floor. He was a top performer throughout the entirety of the playoffs and finals. The Heat are almost there. They have the star. They have a talented group of youth players in the likes of Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson. They have the gritty vets in Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, and Andre Iguodala. They also possess one of the league's best coaching-front office combinations with Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. If Bam and Goran played the full finals series, it might have gotten extended to a Game 6 or 7, but they still weren't at the Lakers level. Free agents will be checking in to see if there is room for them in Miami. You can expect to see the Heat to heavily compete and attempt to get back to the finals next season.
Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant
On top of the Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets were the biggest surprises. OKC shocked the world when they traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Nobody expected them to even contend, let alone landing a 5-seed. They took the Rockets to seven games but ultimately lost. It is interesting what is in store for OKC because they parted ways with Head Coach, Billy Donovan. The Thunder are going to be in a full rebuild, with solid players to build upon with Shai Giligeous-Alexander and Lugentz Dort. CP3 is expected to get traded this offseason. Danilo Gallinari and Nerlens Noel free agents this year. Next year, it's Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder. Not to mention, from now until 2026, the Nuggets have 15 first-round picks and 8 second-round pick. Holy crap. The future is bright for the Thunder.
The Nuggets however are looking to add upon their nucleus of Jamaal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and Bol Bol. Upsetting the Clippers garnished themselves some props, but it is just not enough, just yet. There is tons of talent on this roster and they are heading in the right direction to compete in another WCF and possibly a finals appearance.
The biggest disappointments of the playoffs were the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, and the Milwaukee Bucks. A new era for the Clippers starts now. The team and long time coach, Doc Rivers, have parted ways. They have some impending free agents but not a lot of draft-capital. The combination of personal they had, clearly wasn't a winning formula. Rome wasn't built in a day, but they will need to win next year or this experiment will be labeled a bust. Both PG and Kawaii are free agents next season, and they will move to the next best location to win. The Lakers are the big brothers right now, and the Clippers will try to find their own shadow.
Doc Rivers was jobless for a hot second until he rang the liberty bell and joined the 76ers. Joel Embid and Ben Simmons are two very dominant players, but the question is can they be dominant together? They are no Leonard and PG, so Doc has his work cut out for him. The team has no problem winning games, but they are becoming master choke artists come playoff play.
The Rockets were dominant in the regular season with their small-ball lineups, but it is clear that won't be effective in the playoffs. PJ Tucker was no match for AD and Dwight. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are two generational talents, but what will it take for them to win. On the Rockets, Harden has evolved tremendously as a player, but he has not passed the conference finals once. Mike D'Antoni is out as HC, and we don't know who will inherit this team. What is known is that the team will need to make changes in order to make deeper runs in the playoffs.
Giannis and the Bucks were the heavy favorites in the East and were destined for a finals run. He earned the MVP and DPOY accolades, all he wanted was the ring. This run showed that the Giannis needs a more proven star. That is no slight to Kris Middleton, but he is no partner-in-crime for a championship dub. But besides the drive to win, does any free agent really want to go to Milwaukee? Giannis talked with team leadership to get a better understanding of what the future holds, but it is hard to see the Greek-Freak remaining in the Cream City. He will look to walk in 2021, and the Heat are already the favorites. If the Bucks are smart, they can trade him for a haul this year if free agency disappoints them.
Photo: New York Times
The team that gained a lot from the bubble was the Boston Celtics. This team is legit. Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the stars of the future. Marcus Smart will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate one day. Kemba Walker is a perfect point guard. Brad Stevens is a top-5 coach alongside a top-5 GM, Danny Ainge. This team knows how to draft and they know how to recruit. They fell short of their ultimate goal, but the C's are a top team in the East and will continue to be one.
The gap between contender, talented, and talentless is closing in the NBA. Luka Doncic is the future of the league, and the Dallas Mavericks will look to add depth to get over the hump in the playoffs. Nick Nurse's Raptors system works, but the team will need to decide on impending free agents Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. Devon Booker and the Sun are cooking something in Pheonix, and hopefully, they can add talent around him. The Utah Jazz has a top-ten duo with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Damian Lillard (and hopefully Carmelo Anthony) want revenge. The Nets are going into next season as a new team, with Head Coach Steve Nash, a healthy Kevin Durant, and possibly a third star. The Orlando Magic have raw talent. We can't forget about the Golden State Warriors. They weren't in the bubble due to their injuries, but you have to imagine a squad of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and the #2 overall pick will be right back at the top.
Sports as a whole are starting to come to a close. NHL and NBA are now both done, with MLB finishing in a few weeks. With the season resuming late and the length of the bubble tournament, the players and staff deserve an extended rest. According to NBCSports, the NBA originally planned to have free agency started on October 18, but given Adam Silver's recent comments about starting next season in January, the original plan doesn't appear to be the one that will stick. What we do know is that the Draft will be held on November 18th. As we watch Los Angeles and Lakers fan celebrate, we're counting down the days until the offseason excitement.