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It’s Thanksgiving time, and there are a lot of teams in the NBA that have a lot to be thankful for (the Nets are not one of them, which is saying a lot for a team that has Kevin Durant). But we’re going to split some hairs here. Every team that has a superstar is thankful for that superstar, but I’ve attempted to narrow it down to the five teams that have the most to be thankful for, and what, exactly, they are thankful for. Here it goes.
When five teams passed on Curry in the 2009 draft, including the Timberwolves twice, the Warriors had no idea what they were getting. Curry has transformed Golden State’s franchise in ways that would’ve been unimaginable even a decade ago when Curry first became an All-Star. Four championships. Six Finals appearances. An NBA record 73-win season. Literally billions in franchise value. None of it happens without Curry, whose combination of ability and humility comes along maybe once in a generation as the face of a franchise, if that.
I would argue there isn’t a single other player in the world, for various reasons, who would’ve led last year’s Warriors to a title, and yet again this season, Curry is the reason an aging and flawed Warriors team is still considered a legitimate contender. If you have Curry, you have a chance, and the Warriors are awfully thankful they have him.
If the Lakers were, say, still in Minneapolis, or Memphis, or Salt Lake City, or pretty much anywhere other than L.A., with the way they are running things at the moment, they’d be a laughingstock. You might argue they are anyway. But because they occupy prime NBA real estate, their margin for error is so great that they can essentially mess everything up and still have a pretty direct path out of the darkness and into the light of title contention.
You might say the Lakers are most thankful that they have LeBron James, but the only reason they have LeBron in the first place is that they’re in L.A. The only reason they have Anthony Davis is that they have LeBron. And the only reason they have a title within the last decade is that they have both of those guys.
Since that title (bubble title, I should say), this franchise has done basically nothing to make itself attractive to players with options. Other than location and that iconic name across their chest, they have made one disastrous decision after another — empowering Rob Pelinka to run around in a So-Cal sandbox with, seemingly, little idea of what he’s doing. Pelinka is like a trust-fund kid. He can screw up over and over, in ways that would bury just about any other GM, and still be within a few basic moves of competence of coming out ahead.
Every organization in the league with a superstar player is thankful for that player. Damian Lillard has been a godsend in Portland for a decade. Nikola Jokic in Denver, Jayson Tatum in Boston, Ja Morant in Memphis, Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland, Devin Booker in Phoenix, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in Oklahoma City, Jimmy Butler in Miami, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers; Brooklyn would be a dumpster fire if not for Kevin Durant.
But none of those guys have brought a championship to their current franchise. Other than Tatum, none of them have delivered even a Finals appearance. Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, has lifted Milwaukee to the top of the basketball world. He could’ve left in the summer of 2021, right after winning the championship for the Bucks, the way Leonard did with the Raptors, but Giannis signed a five-year extension in the middle of a season.
Giannis could’ve at least listened to what other teams had to say in the summer. Done the dance. Been wooed. But his ego didn’t need that kind of celebration. He didn’t want to become a distraction for a Bucks team trying to win a title, which they did a little more than six months after he extended relatively quietly. Other than Stephen Curry, there’s not a player in the league that means more to their franchise than Antetokounmpo does to the Bucks.
Ainge is doing his thing in Utah now, but the Celtics are going to be indebted to him for a long time; he is the No. 1 reason they are in a position to compete for championships for the next decade. The trades that Ainge executed with the Nets, which landed the Celtics Jaylen Brown, and the Sixers, which landed them Jayson Tatum, have provided Boston with arguably the best duo in the league, and they are just now starting to enter their prime.
There was pressure on Ainge to trade Brown specifically for years. He never did. He allowed that duo to grow together, all the while drafting Robert Williams and Grant Williams to go with them. Ainge drafted Marcus Smart. He brought in Al Horford. He hired Brad Stevens, who was a very good coach and is proving to be a very good GM. He hired Joe Mazzulla, who looks like he could be the coach for the next decade.
Everything that has the Celtics set up for this long run of contention is owed to Ainge. He put it all together. He wasn’t always popular with Celtics fans who wanted more aggressive moves, but his stubborn ways and refusal to concede in any shortsighted trade is the reason Boston is in this position now. Ainge built this team to last. Boston should be very thankful.
It will never not be astonishing that a team could trade Trae Young AND a second lottery pick and still somehow come out on the right side of the deal, but that’s exactly what the Mavericks pulled off in trading for the draft rights to Luka Doncic, who, barring a career-changing injury, is already a lock to go down as one of the greatest players ever.
I don’t know what number you want to put on it — top 20, top 10, whatever — but he’s going down as an all-timer. This guy has legit GOAT conversation potential, and he’s just 23 years old! I would argue, if there was an open draft for every player in the league right now, Doncic would go first. I don’t think it would even be close.
To have a guy this great, at this age, is the stuff that makes you get down on your knees and thank the basketball gods every night before you go to bed. A player like Doncic all but guarantees contention for the next 10-15 years if you do your part and surround him with proper pieces. Dallas might want to start thinking about doing that.
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