After three games of the NBA Finals, the Raptors lead the Warriors 2-1. Which team do you think will hoist the trophy in the end?
Ryan Blackburn: Given the injuries to the Warriors stars and the lack of depth behind them, I’m going with the Toronto Raptors to be 2019 NBA champions. That isn’t a sentence I would have predicted at the beginning of the season, but here we are, wondering when Kevin Durant will return to this series and whether Klay Thompson can gut out a leg injury that’s clearly bothering him. The Raptors have too many weapons for the Warriors to contend with right now, and even though Stephen Curry is clearly the best player in the series, he doesn’t have enough help without the other stars on the floor.
Adam Mares: I think it probably comes down to game 4. It sure sounds like KD will be back by game 5 and I’m pretty confident the Warriors can win at least 2 of 3 once he’s back but that means they need to find a way to get a win in game 4. If Klay isn’t 100%, that will be tough to do.
Brendan Vogt: I’m with Adam that Game 4 probably decides this thing, and if Kevin Durant is out, and Klay Thompson is less than 100%, then I like Toronto’s chances Friday night. The early Warriors were buoyed by the most complete roster in the league—but this version is top heavy. Without those top guys, Toronto is simply the better team.
Mike Olson: It’s weird to say that the Golden State Warriors may finally be facing too much adversity, but they do seem to have finally reached a tipping point. That said, we’ve all watched them overcome trial after trial, and it’s hard to picture a Warriors team, even one this decimated, losing two in a row at home in the Finals. Timing is crucial here, but I have a feeling we’ll be watching a Game 7 in Toronto, and then anything can happen. I’ll take the risk and say Warriors in seven.
Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson are all free agents in just under four weeks. Where does each player end up?
Blackburn: It’s long been rumored that Durant will wind up with the New York Knicks, and I think that’s a reasonable place for him. He spent three years in Golden State and became quite possibly the best player in the NBA there, but now, it at least feels like Durant is on his way out. Thompson will probably earn the max from the Warriors though. He has shown his importance as a second scorer and top defender behind Curry in these Finals. Leonard is an interesting case, and a lot rides on whether the Raptors win these Finals or not. For now, I will predict Leonard goes to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mares: Kawhi will be a Clipper, Klay will be a Warrior, and Durant... Durant is a wildcard. Everyone in the know seems to say the Knicks but, unless there is some other big surprise move, that just doesn’t make sense. A month ago everyone said Kyrie would be joining him but now it appears Kyrie is headed to Brooklyn. So is it a stretch to say that KD might still be up for grabs? Maybe. But maybe not...
Vogt: Kawhi seems Los Angeles bound, though I wouldn’t be floored if he chose to remain in Toronto, where he’s already cemented himself as the greatest Raptor of all time in less than one full season. Everyone seems eager to ship Klay out of Golden State, and I’m not sure why. If Durant leaves, Klay is definitely getting paid. He’s staying. As for Durant, what do I know that everyone else doesn’t? All signs point to New York. Only question is, which team? Don’t rule out the Brooklyn Nets.
Olson: Kawhi is the hardest to predict, in my opinion, as he plays his cards closest to the vest. If the Raptors win it all, I could see that being incentive enough for Kawhi to stay (not to mention all of the other ridiculous incentives he’s already being offered by Toronto businesses). I think KD lands in Brooklyn, and Klay stays put.
Steve Kerr recently spoke very highly of Jamal Murray as one of the guards that reminded him of Stephen Curry as an elite shooter. What do you think of the comparison?
Blackburn: Murray has often been compared to the top NBA guards during the first three years of his career. There are indicators that he may fall short of that, but also that he has another gear to reach if the shots start dropping more frequently. In the playoffs, Murray shot over 40% on his pull-up three pointers, a staple for scoring guards like Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and others that have had some playoff success. I think Murray will ultimately be his own player with more tendencies to drive the ball to the paint, but the indicators are there that the three-pointer could turn into an elite weapon in the future.
Mares: This is one of those moments when I sincerely hope that I am wrong and the real expert is right. If anyone is able to analyze that mold of shooter, Kerr is the guy. Murray can get hot but he’s a lot more streaky than Steph. Maybe there’s a breakout season ahead but so far, Murray looks about as close to Steph as a half dozen other shooting point guards. Still a great talent, but not in Steph’s zip code.
Vogt: It’s true that Steph Curry didn’t look like this version of himself at age 22, but you don’t need an advanced education in logic to recognize that Murray’s eventual development into the greatest shooter of all time doesn’t necessarily follow. There’s an ease and grace to Curry’s game that’s absent in Murray’s, as if the game doesn’t come as naturally to the latter. Murray’s ceiling is sky high. But Curry sits above the clouds.
Olson: Who am I to challenge the assessment of someone who has played with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and many more, GM’ed Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal, and many more, and coached Curry, KD, Klay, Draymond Green, and... well, I think you get the point. If the guy who was that sweet a shooter for the MJ Bulls says he sees some Steph in Murray? Hell yes, I want to drink that Kool Aid.