The first four games of the NBA Finals were fascinating, not necessarily works of art but vastly entertaining as the teams forged a 2-2 tie and ABC continually declared it a ratings bonanza.
Against the backdrop of two starving franchises, casual basketball followers gathered curiously to watch whether LeBron James could win the title while playing one-on-five.
The Golden State Warriors took care of that Tuesday night, winning it all for the first time in 40 years, with a first-year coach and a light, fun offense featuring enough free-flinging 20-somethings to spark a mini-revolution as to how the game is played.
Building upon a 67-win regular season and 16-5 playoff record, the Warriors seem set for another deep run next season. Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers will join them again, healthier at that.
Just don’t ask James yet.
“I haven’t thought about next season,” he said morosely after Game 6. “At all.”
The Warriors’ championship parade will be Friday, starting in downtown Oakland and winding along Lake Merritt before finishing with a rally at the convention center.
The Cavaliers could get their first parade next season, assuming they take care of some financial housekeeping over the next few weeks and don’t have plans to move out of the timid Eastern Conference.
All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving is under contract four more years. James has a player option for next year and is expected to decline it, then re-sign for another one-year deal. The key question is power forward Kevin Love. He had on-again, off-again continuity with James and could become a free agent this month by declining a player option for $16.7 million next season.
Love and the Cavaliers seem to have a mutual interest in his long-term return, and he can re-sign up to five more years. Or Love, 26, could opt in for next season only, see how everything goes and become a free agent as teams get flooded with cash when the league’s nine-year, $24-billion TV deal kicks in next summer.
Among the Cavaliers’ supporting cast, shooting guard J.R. Smith holds a player option for $6.4 million, the team owns an option on center Timofey Mozgov, which it probably will exercise for $4.95 million, and there are two restricted free agents — double-double big man threat Tristan Thompson and erratic guard Iman Shumpert. Injured rebounding machine Anderson Varejao has one more guaranteed year for $9.6 million.
Through a veil of melancholy, James seemed eager for another run with the same group.
“I think we put ourselves back where this franchise needs to be, being a contender,” he said. “Did I win? I didn’t win a championship, but I’ve done a lot of good things in this first year back, and hopefully I can continue it.”
There were only smiles as the Warriors stood on the celebratory podium at center court of Quicken Loans Arena.
They are young and in great financial shape for years to come. Stephen Curry, 27, has two more seasons at a very affordable $23.5 million total. Fellow All-Star Klay Thompson, 25, is under contract four more years. Finals MVP Andre Iguodala has two more years for almost $23 million.
Dependable starter Harrison Barnes, 23, has another year before becoming a restricted free agent, while important role player Shaun Livingston will be back next season, possibly with overpaid big men Andrew Bogut and David Lee.
The key is Draymond Green, who made a bargain-like $915,000 this season and now becomes a restricted free agent. Possibly the NBA’s most versatile player, Green, 25, can expect a generous five-year offer from the Warriors, if not a max deal. The 6-foot-7 forward, who started at center the last three Finals games, was also runner-up for NBA defensive player of the year.
“We found a recipe for success, and that’s the most important thing for us,” said Curry, the regular-season MVP. “Now that we have this under our belt, I think we can actually appreciate what we were able to do this year from start to finish. It’s hard in the moment to really understood what 67 [regular-season] wins means in the grand scheme of the history of the NBA, how hard that is. But then also to cap that off with a championship playoff run….”
After so many years between basketball ecstasy, the Warriors figure to be around a while despite lodging in the rocky terrain of the Western Conference. Steve Kerr will be back again, a champion already in his rookie season as a coach, as will player agent-turned-General Manager Bob Myers.
“Bob Myers and his staff have done an incredible job of putting together this roster,” Kerr said. “I was well aware of the versatility that the roster had, but as I got to know the players I realized they had what it took spiritually, emotionally.”
Then he added the most important trait.
“They wanted to win,” he said.