Forecasting the next decade of the NBA

by Andrew Kennedy

Before the Finals started I did a little research looking at the past NBA champions and runner-ups. I basically came to the conclusion that the Dallas Mavericks could not beat the Miami Heat this year. The Heat’s big three were all in their primes and Dallas was simply older than any other team that won the title.

The only thing I could see that could explain Dallas winning the series in a historical context was that Dirk Nowitzki really was one of the greatest 15 or 20 players to ever play in the league and despite being in his 12th season was still in his prime and thus a worthy star to single-handedly lead this team to a title.

Now the Mavericks did win this series with great “team” basketball, as everyone likes to say, but at the end of the day when people look back at the record books and the teams that won it all, this Dallas team will stand out and be remembered for having one unbelievable star player.

When I looked back at all of the NBA champions since 1980, it was never surprising who won and why they did. Everything made sense. At the end of the day, you needed to have one of ten different players to even have a chance: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant. And now Dirk is on that list. He and Moses are the only ones I put on that list who only won a single title. Dirk could have easily won two and Moses was a top 12 player of all-time and deserving.

So for the last 32 years, other than two seasons, you needed one of 11 different guys to win a title. That means it should be pretty easy to predict the next decade. All you have to do is figure out who the next five or six guys are who should be winning titles.

A couple of things first: nine of those 11 players were all drafted by the team that they won their titles with. This should be no surprise. If there are only 11 players that are determining championships in this league then it shouldn’t be shocking that these 11 players are always top three or five players in the league and therefore are never tradeable.

The only players who were traded were all big men: Kareem, Moses and Shaq counting his title in 2006. So predicting Dwight Howard to eventually win a title on another team is allowed.

The other note is when these guys win their titles. The closer to their eighth season in the league, the better. That was the biggest reason why I picked Miami this year. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were all in their eighth seasons while Dallas’ best three were all 11 years or more in the league.

That trend may continue to change slightly in the upcoming years since the league is deeper and the players come in younger. I think that those two things may make it so that players have to wait even longer to win titles.

My candidates for the players that could be leading their teams to titles in the next year are (in order of their chances): LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony. (Didn’t include Wade because his fate is tied with LeBron)

So without further ado, here are my predictions for the next ten years in the NBA:

2011-2012: Miami Heat beat Los Angeles Lakers

No one loves the Thunder more than me and I still think the Lakers bounce back next year and make the Thunder keep waiting. I think the Heat win basically for the same reason I thought they’d win this year. They’re all so close to their prime and if they add a few pieces and get another year under their belt they should be ready to win.

I feel like even though it was days ago everyone is forgetting how close they were this year. If LeBron was just five percent more aggressive they might have swept Dallas.

Also, LeBron’s horrible performance was really horrible but I don’t think that every year for the rest of his career he will crumble like that in his last playoff series. He made strides this year with his play against Chicago and Boston and was clutch against them. If he starts getting into the post more and figures out how to play better with Wade I definitely see them winning next year.

The Mavericks were a tough matchup for them this year and Dallas won’t be back next year. Miami is great defensively and can contain most stars in the league like they did with Derrick Rose. They just ran into a top 15 player ever who happens to be as unguardable as any player ever and Miami couldn’t do anything about it.

I think the Lakers get back one last time kind of like how they did in 1991when they lost to the Bulls. I’m thinking one last trip to the Finals for Kobe as the alpha dog. I think Kobe grew older this year and lost a lot of his athleticism that he normally relied on. Great players figure out how to adapt and Kobe will do that and bounce back next year figuring out a way to play with less athletic ability and I think he leads the Lakers back to the Finals.

2012-2013: Oklahoma City Thunder beat Chicago Bulls

The Thunder are finally ready this year and they break out even more than they have so far. They win 65 games or so in the regular season and simply go on a tear through the playoffs especially in the West.

Durant is the MVP of the season and Russell Westbrook is more under control by this time and they are too much for anyone else to handle.

Chicago beats Miami mainly because the Heat have now gone to two straight Finals, LeBron relaxes some now that he has finally won and Wade is hurt, maybe forever (I really don’t see how he lasts more than three more years).

Rose is awesome for the Bulls, they have added a shooter and other help but still rely on their defense. But their defense just isn’t enough in the Finals for the Thunder who are completely unstoppable and look like a team that will win the next 10 championships.

2013-2014: Los Angeles Lakers beat Miami Heat

Kobe is back in his 18th season and beats the Heat single-handedly!

No, I just think Dwight Howard ends up in Los Angeles by this season or the one previous and in 2014 the Lakers are the best team in the league.

Every great center before Dwight and in his situation has literally ended up in Los Angeles and won titles. Wilt, Kareem and Shaq. Dwight is on that level by this time and does the same with an old knees Kobe.

The Heat get back but can’t matchup with the Lakers’ size. I would say Miami has added more pieces but I think they are so locked into the style of play or close to it that we saw this year because of LeBron, Wade and Bosh that not much changes.

Everyone starts questioning LeBron even more and LeBron starts openly thinking about retirement.

2014-2015: Los Angeles Lakers beat Chicago Bulls

Dwight gets his second and last. Kobe is almost done but keeps morphing into a new player and gets his seventh. I can’t believe I think he might.

The Jordan comparisons still don’t work because Kobe will have won five of his titles with Shaq or Dwight and was second fiddle to them and the other two still with Gasol and Odom.

The Bulls keep contending but never seem like they have enough to get over the top. This is the problem with having your best player be a point guard. Everyone who likes Rose is comparing him to Isiah Thomas and everyone that dislikes him (if this will ever be possible) calls him a “too nice Allen Iverson.”

2015-2016: Oklahoma City beats Miami Heat

The Heat lose their third title. While they did win one title, everyone is calling it a failure now that they are 1-for-4 in the Finals.

The reason: Durant is so much in his prime he is like a God. He’s got more strength now, a solid post game and still awkward enough that he gets a ton of calls. He has been so good these last few years, four straight MVP’s because he’s averaging around 33-10 over this time, that everyone always focuses so much on him that Westbrook and Harden (please still be there) torch the other teams at will.

Miami can’t handle this. LeBron is looking like he is losing some athleticism and looks like an old Magic. He averages a triple-double in the Finals and Wade has two huge games before getting hurt in the series.

2016-2017: Chicago Bulls beat Oklahoma City Thunder

Jordan makes a comeback at age 55 and gives Chicago just what they were missing the last few seasons and they win it all!

Just kidding (That’s right, I’m kidding about a decent joke I made about predicting the NBA champion seven years from now).

Rose finally gets his title, now in his ninth season in the league and totally in his prime. He’s savvier now, stopped shooting as many threes and is better at getting calls around the rim.

Joakim Noah is a total monster by this point in his career and everyone in the league hates him. He averages like 8 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 blocks for the Finals and makes his case for Finals MVP but Rose still gets it despite going 6-for-24 in the Game 6 clincher.

Also, Chicago is super deep and a great defensive team except for they now have Stephon Curry who they have to hide everywhere on defense. But the team is so good defensively and Curry is so smart that he still gets a ton of steals and becomes a perfect complement to Rose.

They beat Oklahoma City but Durant is on fire for the whole series averaging near 40 points per game. The problem is that Durant has to carry the team too much and Oklahoma City didn’t change from last season, even though they won it then, you always have to change to win multiple titles.

2017-2018: Chicago Bulls beat Los Angeles Clippers

Derrick Rose vs. Blake Griffin! The NBA Finals on NBC!

The amazing matchup for these Finals are trumped by the fact that the Finals have returned to NBC where they belong. Hannah Storm is also back and Bill Walton, who is now in a wheelchair, does some promotional ads/interviews for the series.

The Bulls are starting to really mirror the Isiah Pistons. They seem like the ultimate team by this point and play the best defense in the league while Rose has regained MVP stature from Durant who had just won it five straight times.

Blake stays on the Clippers this whole time because he’s a really nice guy. The Clips have been pretty solid for the past four seasons now, winning 50-plus games each year.

They finally break through and beat Oklahoma City to get to the Finals now that they have a very old and smart Chris Paul. Paul hasn’t been making much noise the last few seasons but now that he is playing with Blake (in his eighth season) has revitalized his career a la Steve Nash with Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix.

The Clippers are actually a lot like those Phoenix teams and just don’t have enough to beat Chicago who is on top of the basketball world. Blake averages something like 34-16 in the Finals, the first glimpse of someone dominating this Chicago defense.

2018-2019: Los Angeles Clippers beat Cleveland Cavaliers

The story of the year is Cleveland finally making it to the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left and getting the chance to beat LeBron (now in his 16th season) in the second round.

Cleveland is led by Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter and Anthony Davis. Davis is a freak and the best player on the team, like a “what if Anthony Randolph was way better” type of player. He is the new breed of superstar in the NBA, close to a Pippen-type also.

This Cleveland team seems destined with more than a handful of buzzer-beaters during their run to the Finals.

But it all comes crashing down as it always does in Cleveland once they make it to the Finals and get swept by the Clippers. The final blow coming when Blake Griffin jumps over Anthony Davis for a slam in the fourth quarter of Game 4 (a blast from the past from Blake who is now in his ninth year) and finally shaves off Davis’ unibrow in the process.

Cleveland doesn’t make it to the playoffs the next season but all is well now that they have beaten LeBron.

2019-2020: Oklahoma City Thunder beat Chicago Bulls

It’s a rematch from the 2013 and 2017 NBA Finals. Some NBA fans (me, since I’m the only fan currently living in my future) are arguing how this is the best rivalry in the league and we’ve somewhat been deprived of the matchup not happening more often.

Both teams’ best players are past their primes but it’s sort of a transition period for the league. Blake has now suffered another knee injury again and most of the stars of the last decade are thinking about retirement.

The Thunder beat the Lakers in the West Finals who added Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony to Dwight and Kobe (now in his 24th season and all-time scoring champ). The Lakers are just depressing but have moments of great team basketball because they have all of these old stars. Deron and Melo have never won and try to team up one last time to get a ring like the 2004 Lakers with Gary Payton and Karl Malone.

The Thunder still have it though. Westbrook is still athletic enough and Harden’s old man game makes him as productive as ever. Durant too is arguably still near his prime like Dirk in 2011 because he is so crafty in the post and has transformed his game to mirror Dirk’s.

The Thunder are a lot like the 2011 Mavs and have no problem discarding the Bulls who only made it to the Finals because the East is now super weak like in the early 2000s.

Chicago is now using Rose more off the ball as a scorer like Iverson and has Curry run the point who is more like an old Nash at this point. It’s good enough to get them to the Finals but not to beat the Thunder who win easily in five.

2020-2021: Los Angeles Clippers beat Miami Heat

LeBron is in his last year of his career. We know this because he had an hour-long TV special where he told a dying Jim Gray this before the start of the season.

The East is still really weak and LeBron, who still plays all five positions and handles the ball the majority of the time for Miami, has a remarkable season. Fans (again, just me) want to start liking LeBron but have a hard time of getting over his antics including his retirement TV special.

LeBron is remembered however as one of the greats ever of course, a top 10 player because his numbers speak for themselves. He’s in a class with Wilt and Shaq most closely. He stands the test of time better than anyone and is in iron man of sorts to the league.

He’s nothing but clutch by this point in his career. He’s got some younger talent around him, Brad Beal who is the best 3-point shooter in the league (this happened in my NBA 2K Association so it is here too), but it’s still LeBron’s team. He shoots a very low percentage in the playoffs but makes big shots and gets a ton of rebounds. It seems like every time down the floor the Heat simply post LeBron up a la Bird in the late 80s.

They lose in the Finals to the Clippers and probably never should have gotten there in the first place but again, the East is weak (no idea why I keep making this point or even think that will eventually happen).

Blake is a modern day Tim Duncan. He got his first title two years ago with the second best player being 14-year vet Chris Paul (now retired). He now gets his second with the perfect wingman, the Ginobili to his Duncan: Austin Rivers!

That’s right! My favorite player since Kevin Durant and Steve Nash gets his first title. He wasn’t drafted by the Clippers but joined them last season. It took some time to learn playing with Blake but now they know when to take turns.

Blake gets the MVP of the Finals but Rivers is the real reason they win, scoring in bunches as well as anyone in the league at this point.

And now I can die in peace. I’m sitting front row for every Finals game as I have become the Jack Nicholson of the Clippers once Rivers went there.

Conclusion

Alright, I wrote about a million words on the future of the NBA. In 10 years I will go back and see if any of this came true.

Here’s a summary of the stars of the next decade and how they fared in my mental simulation:

LeBron James – 1 championship, 3 runner-ups.
Dwight Howard – 2 championships
Kevin Durant – 3 championships, 1 runner-up
Derrick Rose – 2 championships, 3 runner-ups
Chris Paul – 1 championship, 1 runner-up
Kobe Bryant – 2 championships, 1 runner-up
Blake Griffin – 2 championships, 1 runner-up
Carmelo Anthony – 0 championships

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