Trivia Night, Road Trips and the New NBA Title Favorite
This Woj guy doesn’t sleep much, huh? Last night he reported that the Los Angeles Clippers are not only signing Kawhi Leonard but, trading for Paul George as well. Next season the Clippers will be headlined by Leonard and George while also rolling out a supporting cast that features a 6th man extraordinaire, an All-Defensive team bulldog and an All-Rookie performer.
So, the question now becomes: Did the Clippers surpass the Lakers and Sixers as title favorites? Or, will the combination of Anthony Davis and LeBron James overcome their depth problems? The Sixers are talented across the board but, do they have enough top-tier talent to get the job done?
Although some will be stronger than others, an argument could be made for any of these teams. That isn’t the point of this piece, however. Whichever team you pick to be the favorite for the title will reveal your philosophical approach to creating a championship club. Get ready, we are going to do some basketball soul-searching.
Approach #1: Road Tripping
My uncle is the uncle everyone wants. He has a story for everything. During my senior year of college he told me about a road trip he took when he graduated from Western Connecticut. His friends and him emptied their wallets and pockets, counted their money, and piled into a car headed for Florida. Simple as that.
Naturally, my roommates and myself did something similar except, we replaced Florida with Nashville. But in what way possible does this help reveal anything about how to pick a title favorite? Hang in there, folks.
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine each team goes on this road trip but substitute the road trip for an NBA championship. Every team must huddle together, put all of their money on some dorm room futon, then add it all up to see how far they can go on this trip.
Each player will have money correlating to their respective talent. For example, Kawhi Leonard would whip out a $100 bill from his Tim Duncan socks not only because he is weird like that but, because he is one of the top three players in the game right now. End-of-the-bench players may only have a couple quarters, some lint and an expired coupon to Chili’s to contribute.
Do this exercise with the current top contenders. Obviously, LeBron and Davis are dropping a Benjamin. But how much pocket change can DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and others contribute? The Clippers got one hundred from Kawhi. Paul George was a fringe MVP candidate for much of last year but he isn’t matching that. Yet, Pat Beverley, Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams are ponying up a decent amount.
Philadelphia may have the most crumpled up cash piled up on our hypothetical futon. Would it surprise you in Joel Embiid won both MVP and DPOY in the same season? He’s dropping a Benji. Speaking of Bens…along with Al Horford, Tobias Harris, and Josh Richardson, Ben Simmons has some considerable dough to give up. Plus, this Sixers roster now runs deeper beyond their starting five.
You can make a case that Philly has the most money and therefore could take the longest road trip. Perhaps you argue for the Clippers. This exercise determines which team has the best blend of talent and depth. It argues in favor of the contenders who don’t wear purple and gold, prioritizing the quantity of talent more than the quality of it. Ask yourself: is this my approach? If not, you may be leaning towards this next one.
Approach #2: Trivia Night
I live near Yale University. Occasionally, my friends and I will traverse downtown and find a local watering hole to post up at during Trivia Night. Do we ever win? No. There’s a reason for that. The Yale students tend to have one or two brainacs in the mold of Will Hunting.
I like to believe my friends and I – a couple of teachers, a financial adviser, a lawyer and business manager – have a deep knowledge pool between us. We won’t win research grants from Brown University, but we can hold our own.
Still, winning Trivia Night is not about the depth of your squad. You need those one or two geniuses to anchor your team. If you have them your chances of winning skyrocket. You need the guy who can tell you the number of President Kennedy’s PT boat during World War II and do so with confidence.
How does this apply to hoops? On our true contending teams, who can play the Gloria Clemente role? (See, even White Men Can’t Jump knew to intertwine basketball and trivia – maybe I’m onto something here…)
The Lakers are the only team in the NBA that, in my opinion, possess two of the top five players in the game. It is completely rationale to envision either LeBron or AD winning an MVP next year. With apologies to Mr. George, who may have just played his best season, only Kawhi on the Clippers could win that award. Embiid would be the only reasonable Sixers candidate to do so.
In other words, LeBron and Davis are the ones who know that Leonardo da Vinci used sign language to hide his initials in his paintings. Tobias Harris may still think that Leonardo was one of the Ninja Turtles. While I am being too harsh on Harris, the point is clear. This approach leans toward favoring quality of talent over quantity of talent.
If you find yourself saying, “Ya but the Lakers have LeBron and AD. PG13 is great but he is still only Robin to Kawhi’s Batman” then you may be in this camp. There is a sensible case that claims neither LeBron nor Davis are currently as good as Kawhi. Fair enough. But, they are in the same realm of talent and each of these dudes are transcendent hoopers who can be the best players on a title winning team.
The gap between Kawhi and LeBron or Davis is not terribly large. The gap between the Laker costars and George, however, is a little bigger. For what it’s worth, I consider a healthy Embiid to be in the same tier as LeBron, Kawhi and Davis. Yet, his Sixers teammates are not as talented as Leonard’s second man, Paul George.
Did I just use 1200+ words to not give you an answer to this question? It looks like it. Truth be told, there is no definitive answer. Personally, I now believe the Clippers to be the favorite. Let me explain why.
The Sixers won our road trip test. The Lakers took home the Trivia Night championship. Fine. But they each have flaws. It should could be Embiid, but I am not sure who closes playoff games for Philadelphia. The Lakers are the top-heaviest team in the game and what does their seven-man playoff rotation look like? LeBron, Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, JaVale McGee, Green, Kuzma, KCP and Troy Daniels? That doesn’t inspire much confidence.
What does choosing the Clippers say about my own philosophy? It says that I like a middle road. They may not go as far on their road trip as the Sixers, but the Clippers are not far behind them on I-95. There is also a chance that Kawhi entrenches himself as the best player in the NBA next year. The duo of him and George isn’t a supreme as the Lakers’ combo but, it may not be as far off as we think.
Consider the options. It is okay to leave a team off your list of true contenders. For instance, I thought that the Bucks took a step back this season and don’t have the firepower to win a title. Be confident. Be a little bold. Answer this question by going with your gut and see what it says about your own approach to winning titles.