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YOUNG NBA TEAMS DON’T WIN TITLES (AND THAT’S OKAY)

@TheWillBaldwin

Listen, I love a good coming of age story as much as the next guy but, we need to stop trying to get these young NBA teams to follow a made for hollywood path every season. 

I get it. It’s super fun watching the Denver Nuggets run the LA Clippers off the floor. Jamal Murray looking like the potential perennial all-star consistently we’ve all seen in spurts. Nikola Jokic outplaying a guy with the playoff pedigree of Kawhi Leonard with seemingly relative ease.

It was beautiful. It was also a fantasy.

Before Nuggets fans come for my neck saying they rightfully took out the Clippers, I 100% agree with you. My pause comes the round after when they faced the veteran Los Angeles Lakers. 

As much as new faces like Murray and Jokic are fun and exciting, LeBron James is LeBron James for a reason. Playoff basketball is all about execution and no one in today’s game knows that better than him.

That importance of half-court execution come conference finals and finals time is always the undoing of young elite talents. The only way to truly know how to execute down the stretch of a game of that magnitude is sadly to of played in one before. 

Outside of Magic Johnson and Bill Russell, history gives us very few rookie best player champions (if any others). Even Larry Bird winning in his sophomore season was weird. For the vast, vast majority of this leagues all-timers, failure comes before success.

The cliche you have to taste the pain before the champagne didn’t come about to be for fun. It’s through a long and unforgiving league history that shows few survivors in their early year climbs.

Even as great as LeBron is, his 2007 Cavaliers couldn’t hold the jock of the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginóbili, peak Spurs. No matter LeBron’s incredible talents, he got exposed by the battle tested Spurs that forced him to shoot jumpers.

Veteran teams like those Spurs learn through hard earned lessons the importance of forcing your opponent to settle. LeBron and the Cavs being young and inexperienced obliged rather easily.

It isn’t those Cavs fault nor is the fault of this year’s Nuggets, Mavericks or even Celtics. As great as Luka Doncic or Jayson Tatum or Jokic and Murray may be, if you haven’t felt the phsyciality and pace of play at the game’s highest-levels, how can we ever ask you to be prepared for it? 

LeBron, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal whomever, they’ve all experienced what the young stars of today’s game experienced in the 2020 playoffs. 

Doncic is a generational talent who couldn’t match Kawhi. Jokic and Murray had no answer for James and a peak of his powers Anthony Davis. Tatum struggled against brilliantly coached Raptors and Heat teams full of savvy veterans. 

Guess what, it’s okay. The greatest players of this game are not defined by the losses of their early career but rather by the lessons they gained in those moments and how they applied them in the future. 

Being an all-time great, NBA champion level player is the long game. There’s no shame in something that takes time. In fact, it only makes the achievements more impressive.

Sadly for hollywood, it doesn’t fit their usual narrative. I’m sure they’ll survive. 

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