The art of raising the bar

Unlike Major League Baseball — where I have the Texas Rangers — or the NFL — where I have the Kansas City Chiefs — when it comes to the NBA I don’t claim a team to be mine. I do follow some closer than others, but to call myself a “fan” of any one of them wouldn’t do justice to the label.

As a result, I’ve found it easier to be objective about the NBA. And since it’s easier to be objective it, I think, makes me better at gambling on it. We are dealing with a smaller sample size — at least compared to the underwhelming returns I’ve had betting on football or baseball — but I think it’s worth saying, anyway.

During the recent NBA Playoffs I was steadfast in thinking the Warriors were the best team, and bound to winning the title. I know, I know, that takes a lot of courage to admit. But I think somewhere, some people were probably convinced of the Houston Rockets as the team who could have knocked them off. Somewhere, some people are still saying that if Chris Paul was healthy in Game 6 and Game 7 of the Conference Finals, that the Rockets would have won the series.

Personally, I don’t believe it would have mattered. To me the Warriors’ best was better than the Rockets’ best. If Paul was healthy the Rockets would no doubt have been a tougher team to beat. But, again, if he was healthy, and if the Rockets were tougher with him, it only would have made the Warriors a better team, because they, too, would have upped their game. (We don’t know this for a fact, because spacetime continuum and all that, but I find it reasonable.)

For betting purposes, my concern is less with what has already happened and more with what is going to happen. The Warriors won the 2018 NBA Title, and even if they had done absolutely nothing during the offseason they would have entered 2019 as the favorite to do it again.

That was, of course, before they signed four-time All Star big man, DeMarcus Cousins, to a one-year, $5.3 million deal. Yes, the Golden State Warriors, owners of 3 NBA Titles in the last 4 years, with a starting lineup already featuring at minimum two Hall of Famers (but probably three or four), just picked up one of the five-best post players in the league. Cousins is coming off an achilles injury, so he probably won’t be ready to play until January or so, but if (when healthy) he can contribute valuable playoff minutes, the Warriors will have far and away the most decorated starting five in the sport. Probably all-time.

As proof that they are in a different league than the rest of the NBA, 5Dimes updated their odds of which team will win the 2019 NBA Championship:

Golden State -170
Field +150

Yes, you could literally take every other team in the sport — 29 in total — to win the 2019 title and get paid a blackjack if just one of them comes through. Every $2 bet pays you $3, every $10 pays you $15, and every $100 pays you $150.

Or, you could roll with the favorite and bet more to win less. At -170, you would have to lay $170 just to win $100, a figure that only seems outrageous because of how much time must elapse for that bet to become realized. I’m not averse to the idea of laying as much as -170, but in that range I prefer it to be part of a parlay, and I prefer not to wait 11 months to cash it in.

The skinny is that the Golden State Warriors are fucking deadly. Even in spite of the Lakers getting LeBron James, or the Rockets returning their solid nucleus, or the powerhouse programs that the Celtics and 76ers are building in the East, the Warriors are head and shoulders above the whole lot.

Many diehard NBA fans aren’t fond of the idea of Golden State. That a team that set an NBA record with 73 wins in 2016 should have been able to add a world-class talent like Kevin Durant. That a team which won back-to-back championships could get their hands on a player the caliber of DeMarcus Cousins. To some, it just doesn’t feel right that a team with an abundance of riches should be allowed to get even richer.

In politics, I consistently rail against the system that exploits the poor in favor of the rich. But I only do it because it isn’t fair that billionaires and large corporations are given tax cuts, and provided subsidies, while the poor continually get beaten down by anti-worker policies that ensure their stagnation in society.

In sports, though, I don’t mind the imbalance. In sports, teams are on a more level playing field. So if the Warriors draft Steph Curry and Clay Thompson, draft Draymond Green in the 2nd round, and have enough money to afford Kevin Durant in free agency, to me that’s completely fair. They didn’t rig the system in their favor. They didn’t have to cheat to accomplish any of those feats. The front office did the work, and so they should be rewarded for that work.

I love competition, but I also love the idea that the Warriors have set the standard.

Oftentimes when I read, whether it’s a fictional story or some obscure American History book, there are words I don’t understand and references I don’t get. The writer is ahead of me and my ignorance. So when I come across those situations, those words and references, I have a choice. I can either ignore or reject them, or I can put in the work to understand the words and investigate the references. The writer didn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs simply to be esoteric; he or she did so because they expected the reader to catch up.

That is what the Warriors have done. They built an organization a half-decade ahead the rest of the league. Now every team, regardless which market they are in, or what roster they possess, is playing catch up. They are building for three years down the road, trying to turn what they have into a reasonable facsimile of the Warriors’ success.

Some, as I mentioned, don’t appreciate this idea. But it’s really not all that foreign of a concept. Before the Warriors were the Heat, the super team everyone wanted to knock off; before the Heat were the great Lakers’ teams; before the great Lakers’ teams were Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty; before the Bulls dynasty were the Bad Boys Pistons, and before them were the Celtics, and so on.

The NBA is an arms-race league, and it just happens that right now Golden State have the most guns. The Warriors present greatness is what is driving the rest of the league to get better, and smarter, until the point where the Warriors inevitably get knocked off and another team ascends to the top.

That time is not coming anytime soon, if you ask me, and I actually think it would be pretty awesome to see the Warriors win two or three more titles before another team defeats them. I know it’s probably boring for people who love their team, but for someone that has no team, I can just sit back and appreciate the greatness. And hopefully make some money off of them along the way.

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