The road to the NBA finals is different for every team. For example, Golden State’s road is much like a superhighway, where they are a tank, and an envoy of cop cars (*cough*Refs*cough*) are clearing a path for them. Brooklyn’s road is like they’re a bus trying to jump a 50-foot gap over a bridge; it’s not happening, and it will probably result in a fiery wreck.
But every team has a path, and every superstar has the challenge to face. Some are crucial to the season, while others may just be integral to the future. Let’s take a look.
10. DeMarcus Cousins – Integrate Into The Warriors System
The question with Cousins has never been skill, it’s been the mental consistency. He seemed to make great strides in New Orleans, but then he left the guy who wore his Jersey in the All-Star Game as a sign of solidarity for a team with 4 All-stars. Will he be able to integrate into the Warriors team-first offense, or will he be the final piece in a dynasty that seems ready to implode?
9. Kyrie Irving – Prove It’s Still His Team
An embarrassment of riches is the Celtics only real problem, but leadership could be an issue as well. By all accounts Kyrie is a complete Alpha Wolf, but with Tatum and Brown having free reign last season could there be a shift in team dynamics?
8. Russell Westbrook – Prove He Can Win
If Russell Westbrook doesn’t change his tune soon, he could forever be remembered as Mr. Stat-Chaser. We may never be able to tell whether he actually chases stats or if it’s more of a subconscious distrust in his teammates, but the Brodie hasn’t won anything major despite being on solid teams. This season could be his last shot if he doesn't play in the Western Conference Finals (minimum).
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Win The MVP Award
The Bucks organization has been a tire fire the last few seasons. They seem to have an abundance of young talent – including the Greek Freak himself – but continue to underperform in the playoffs. Giannis is still young, but until the sinking ship that is Milwaukee rights itself, he needs to focus on himself. Win a few MVPs, take the reins from LeBron, and other stars will come to you.
6. Kawhi Leonard - To Prove He’s Worth It
Toronto gave up their most beloved player in franchise history for you. The best bromance in the NBA was broken up for you. All Kyle Lowry does is cry frozen tears in the frigid north without Demar. So, you better be worth it. If you want to earn the NBA's respect and be one of the best players in the NBA, remind everyone this season why you were considered the second-best player in the NBA two seasons ago.
5. Steph Curry – Win Finals MVP
Although the addition of Kevin Durant may add to Steph Curry’s total ring count, it has probably tarnished his individual career. He has won three championships, but Durant has won two Finals MVPs and Andre “LeBron Stopper” (LOL) Iguodala won the other. Curry needs to prove he can step up and truly lead a team in the NBA Finals.
4. James Harden – Beat The Warriors
Last season must have lit a fire under Harden. He won MVP, but being so close to an NBA championship and then having it ripped away by an awfully-timed injury must have really hurt. Harden can be the Warriors Killer. He has the scoring an playmaking ability to sneak a team past them, but he cannot have mental lapses like he did in last seasons playoffs.
3. Anthony Davis – Request A Trade
Anthony. It’s time to move on. Give it this season, and if the Pelicans aren’t winning, request a trade. New Orleans has not done a good enough job building around what could be the future of the NBA. They brought in DeMarcus Cousins and all appeared to be going smoothly, but then the whole Cousins-to-Warriors fiasco happened. Go join a contender. Go join Giannis.
2. Kevin Durant – Redemption
What I said about Durant joining the Warriors hurting Curry’s career is doubly true for Durant himself. He went from being a beloved superstar to joining a 73-9 team that blew the Finals. If he wants to redeem himself, he will bring balance back to the NBA. Join some young East up-and-comer and lead them to victory.
1. LeBron James – Lead The Young Guns
Pretty crazy that 15 years into his career, LeBron has never had a team like this. He’s had young teams before, and he’s had good teams before, but he’s never had a young good team. This could be a lot of fun; LeBron running an athletic, high-octane offense. This year a championship shouldn’t be a goal; rather, it should be to grow the young team and to attract some free-agent stars.