The NBA playoffs, a mere formality after one of the greatest teams ever added one of the greatest players ever, are finally over. Kevin Durant won NBA Finals MVP after winning his first title and leading Golden State to its second in three years. The other good players were also pretty good—guys like Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Stephen Curry to name a few.
The playoffs are about more than just the Finals, however. And for that very reason, let’s name our biggest winners and losers for the entire 2017 postseason.
Winner: Draymond Green
A year after his suspension more or less cost the Warriors a championship, Green redeemed himself by keeping his emotions in check and playing spectacular defense throughout Golden State’s title run. Hate or love Draymond—I think he’s awesome for the NBA—there is no denying his talent. He can credibly guard all five positions on a basketball court, and his energy is infectious. You could argue he’s more indispensable to the Warriors than Kevin Durant.
As for all his trash talk and bravado, at least he keeps things interesting! I beg for athletes to be as honest as Green, so I’m not going to complain about him providing great soundbite after great soundbite. Green feeds off the hate in a way that’s authentic, and hopefully he continues to antagonize the NBA for years to come.
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Loser: Paul George
If you think hard enough, you’ll remember that Paul George actually participated in the 2017 playoffs. His Pacers were swept in the first round by the Cavs, but not before George called out his teammates on multiple occasions. Most hilariously, George publicly complained about C.J. Miles shooting a potential game-winner instead of himself in Game 1, only to absolutely brick a potential game-tying shot later in the series. To add to George’s embarrassment, Gatorade kept running a commercial of George hitting a (fake) game-winner throughout the playoffs, an ad that’s since been artfully spliced with his demoralizing brick from Game 4.
And Gatorade, why can’t we stick to one Gatorade? Gatorade Flow, Gatorade Rain, G2? There only needs to be two types of Gatorade: Orange and Lemon Lime.
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Winner: Kevin Love
Love played great throughout the playoffs. He was spectacular in the conference finals, and he acquitted himself well in the Finals, holding up on defense and making himself a factor on the offensive end as well. In the constant mythologizing of “The Stop” from last year’s Game 7, most people have been too quick to forget Love was awful in the 2016 Finals. He was unimportant for most of the series, and even his defensive play in Game 7 never happens if Stephen Curry wasn’t obviously desperate to shoot a three. So this year, let’s not forget that Love was awesome even though the Cavs lost. He doesn’t deserve a pity party, but he deserves at least a polite clap for holding up his end of the star bargain. And now, after his best playoff run in a Cleveland uniform, Love can treat himself to a summer of trade rumors.
Loser: LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge struggled throughout the postseason, and much like Love, could find himself on the trade block in the coming months. Against the Grizzlies, Aldridge looked like he couldn’t bang with physical players on the block. Against the Rockets, Aldridge couldn’t take advantage of smaller players not exactly known for their defensive skills in the post. And against the Warriors, Aldridge couldn’t step up in a meaningful way in the absence of Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge looked like a role player at best in the postseason, but he’s being paid like a superstar and is supposed to be the second banana to Leonard in San Antonio. His rough playoff campaign means the Spurs are looking for a new No. 2 in the pecking order (Chris Paul?), and he’s going to have to re-prove himself if he wants to sign one more big contract during his career.
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Winner: Gordon Hayward
Hayward is a free agent to be, and while he couldn’t help the Jazz steal a game from the Warriors, he improved his game during the postseason, which means teams will be lining up to give him a max contract in July. Hayward was always going to be a max guy this off-season, but the slight uptick in his production in his second postseason appearance should help organizations breathe a little bit easier when handing him a big check. Hayward has always looked very comfortable with the ball in his hands, and his shooting ability makes him a fairly tough cover in pick-and-rolls. Whoever ends up with Hayward—the Jazz? Celtics? Heat?—will not regret the signing.
Loser: Masai Ujiri
The Raptors went all-in to topple LeBron this year, acquiring P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka mid-season to bolster their roster for a deep playoff run. The result was a step backward, as Toronto was swept by Cleveland in the second round a year after taking two games off the Cavs in the conference finals. And now, general manager Masai Ujiri has to decide what to do with a team whose ceiling is pseudo-contender—with new threats looming in Washington and Boston.
Tucker, Ibaka, Patrick Patterson and Kyle Lowry will all be free agents, and all of them are in line for big raises, thanks in part to the recent cap boom. Lowry is Toronto’s best player but he’s consistently struggled in the postseason and is on the wrong side of 30. Tucker is an upgrade over DeMarre Carroll but he’ll be costly, and it likely makes sense to bring back only one of Ibaka and Patterson, two rangy forwards who are probably better fits at center.
Good luck to Ujiri in deciding if he should spend a lot of money on a non-Finals contender or blow up the most successful core in franchise history.
Winner: Kevin Durant
I guess I should say something about Durant, who vindicated his decision to join Golden State by winning a championship and earning a Finals MVP award. Durant finally beat LeBron, though the situation is obviously a lot more nuanced than that. Ultimately, it will take years to see if Durant’s first title is judged harshly because of his decision to join a 73-win team. While Durant was certainly the engine for much of the Warriors’ success, Golden State probably would have been a title favorite without him. Still, Durant has a ring, plenty of money coming in, and an extremely bright future ahead in the Bay.
Loser: Rest of the NBA
As Durant’s future shines brightly, the rest of the NBA is grasping for air. How will teams compete with the Warriors—especially if Durant takes less money to help keep the role players in place? Golden State has two MVPs in the prime of their careers and two All-Star supporting players who are building strong Hall-of-Fame cases themselves. Unless another mega-superteam emerges sometime soon, Golden State’s reign could just be beginning.
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Winner: LeBron James
James couldn’t pull off a second straight massive upset, but he made a legitimate case for Finals MVP as he put up a string of brilliant performances against the Warriors. James had arguably the best postseason of his life in 2017, despite being a 32-year-old making his seventh straight run through the championship round. A win over the Dubs would have simply been gravy. James’s legacy is unassailable, and I think we’re finally in the part of his career in which people can actually appreciate watching him play.
Woof, those playoffs were boring. I hope everyone is ready for four more years of Warriors vs. Cavs in the Finals and no one else putting up a fight during the regular season or first three rounds of the playoffs.
Bonus Loser: Sports Illustrated
Before the playoffs, four SI writers picked an East team other than the Cavs to make the Finals. Oops. I would have been the fifth, but I artfully avoided making a prediction for this exact reason. I’ve made/written plenty of wrong predictions throughout the season, but I feel comfortable criticizing my co-workers here, because there is no chance they read this far down this story.
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