LeBron James short list of title contenders features friends, old foes, an equal split of Eastern and Western squads and includes the OKC Thunder.
In an exclusive interview LeBron James cited six NBA squads as title contenders for the upcoming 2018-19 season. The King’s short list includes previous East squads who his old team the Cleveland Cavaliers took out the past several seasons along with an up and coming squad. And in the West he made two obvious picks as well as a certain team OKC Thunder fans will be grinning over.
While many pundits have claimed the Lakers will be right in the mix a few of us (cough) haven’t been quite so optimistic. Turns out neither is James whose short list doesn’t include his new home team either. Either he’s playing possum or perhaps he’s trying to remove the pressure from the youngsters shoulders who’ll likely be with the team long term. Although the Lakers added several vets none of the players inked (other than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) were signed to long term contracts.
The squads who do make his list include the OKC Thunder. The thing about LeBron is he’s so coy you never truly know if this was a simple short list James offered or if their is an agenda attached.
Of the six teams earmarked by LeBron there is a certain symmetry to his selections. Three squads are from the east and three are from the west. Several of the teams feature former teammates, current workout partners, best “banana boat buddies”, or were aggressively vying for his services in free agency. Two feature players James either hoped to add to the Lakers (Paul George) or still hopes will come to La La land (Kawhi Leonard).
And, in spite of the six he suggested, James feels only one squad is likely to win the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.
To that end, the King selected the defending champion Golden State Warriors are the team all others are chasing (true). Like most pundits he picked the Houston Rockets who finished with the best record in the NBA last season and pushed the Warriors to seven games before bowing out, some say based on one wonky hamstring. It probably doesn’t hurt two of his closest friends are on the Rockets (Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony) or that Houston were aggressive in their pursuit of James.
Despite the West being jam packed with talent and copious All-Star laden teams LeBron mentions just one more Western team – the OKC Thunder. This troika of clubs were his Western Conference selections. Sometimes statements like these from the associations top player produce a rollover effect. If the league’s best player believes the OKC Thunder are in the mix it may resonate with others.
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In the Eastern Conference James also appeared to offer a bit of a political answer selecting the two squads he’s gone to war with over the past few seasons while in Cleveland. That is of course the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. Completing James trifecta in his old conference are the Philadelphia 76ers.
These selections aren’t much different than my own (although I’m not as high on the Rockets or 76ers). Notably, Philly and Houston were said to be the other clubs aggressively pursing James in free agency and he has friends on both teams.
As for the Celtics, Raptors and OKC Thunder selections are they simply the teams James believes can win or believes in or is this a ploy to cozy up to Kawhi Leonard who’ll be a free agent next summer?
Or, James may simply be letting everyone know since he’s no longer in the east the Raptors don’t have to get past what is easily defined as their nemesis.
As for the Thunder with Paul George and Russell Westbrook locked in for the long term there doesn’t seem to be any side angle involved, other than he recognizes the overall talent on this iteration of the OKC Thunder.
Thunderous Intentions won’t let the cat out of the bag on our predictions (at least not quite yet) as there are player previews and team previews coming prior to season start so we’ll wait and keep you in suspense for the time being.