A couple of questions I had going into the MLK Day extravaganza between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers got answered quickly.
With Kyrie Irving gone, one of the greatest rivalries in NBA history appears to be no more.
The sizzle that Irving brought to the matchup dissipated the moment he was traded to Boston. I get it, nothing lasts forever in pro sports. And the Cavs got old and expensive real quick.
LeBron James isn’t giving hints on where he intends to play next season, so Cleveland is about six months away from needing to undergo a massive overhaul of its roster.
Let’s rank some NBA teams on their potential to become the Warriors’ biggest rival, because they’ll need someone to challenge them:
5. Houston Rockets
A potential Western Conference showdown may be on the horizon, but these frauds really shouldn’t be considered rivals — simply because they won’t be around long enough to be true contenders. I love how the Rockets beat on their chest and claim to be obsessed with the Warriors, but anybody with a brain understands that the Rockets don’t have the moxie and toughness to topple Golden State.
Even if James was to bolt to H-town, it wouldn’t make a difference. James Harden and Chris Paul will always fold when it matters most. But for now, the games between the two are entertaining. And that’ll have to do.
4. Denver Nuggets
Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are two young dynamic guards, Nikola Jokic is one of the most talented young bigs in the game, and Paul Millsap has to get healthy at some point. My point: The Nuggets is not a team to sleep on.
Will Barton and Jameer Nelson are set to become unrestricted free agents after this season, while Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Darrell Arthur are all on expiring contracts. The Nuggets can’t keep everyone and offer a max contract to Jokic — who is playing for a little more than $3 million over the next two seasons. They’ll have to be savvy in the coming offseasons, but they have a foundation to be great.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
They are no longer the Baby-Wolves. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have them on track to make the postseason for the first time since 2004 — which would end the longest current playoff drought in the NBA. The Timberwolves have the right amount of veteran leadership and young talent to wreak havoc on the league for years.
You do have to worry about head coach Tom Thibodeau’s stubbornness as he plays his stars 35-plus minutes in meaningless regular season games in December. Just look at Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Their engines are burnt out. But we may see the seeds of this potential rivalry with the Warriors planted this spring with a second-round matchup.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
It’s only natural for California’s two biggest profile teams to carry some animosity. The Lakers are 0-3 against the Warriors this season, sure, but two of those games were decided in overtime with the other coming down to the last two minutes.
The Lakers boast plenty of young ballers with size and athleticism, and with an abundance of cap space that could land them a superstar or two, they’re a couple moves away from being a factor out west. This rivalry has the potential to stick around for some years.
1. Boston Celtics
With Killa Kyrie now handling the rock in Boston flanked by two young, athletic wings in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics — coached by one of the brightest minds in the NBA in Brad Stevens — are going to be an absolute problem now and in the future.
This team — which is currently the best in the Eastern Conference — is ballin’ without Gordon Hayward, who will be back sooner than many originally thought despite fracturing his tibia and dislocating his ankle in the opening game of the season. If there’s a group in the NBA that can halt the Dubs’ plans for another championship parades, it’s going to be wearing green.
With Marcus Smart antagonizing opposing guards and Al Horford maturing into the perfect complementary big, the Celtics are a poised to be a team Warriors fans will grow to hate for years to come.
Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from 12-3 on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner, and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.