The other night, I flipped on the Kings game, and proceeded to have an absolute freaking blast watching Boogie Cousins taking the leap into superstardom. He put up 56 points, and it felt like it could have been more if not for a few foul calls and a classic Boogie lack of composure. Performances like Cousins' are a nice reminder that even in a year where the title-winner feels preordained, basketball, in a micro instead of macro scale, is so very much worth your time.
People seem to need reminders of that fact from time to time. The 76ers, for example, are one of the most hot take-inducing teams in basketball. People hate that Sam Hinkie and Co. have punted on season after season of competitiveness in search of a title, fielding rosters featuring nearly no NBA players while hiding behind a mythical and proper-noun'd Process. It may very well be bad for the league, but my beef isn't with competitive balance, or that it pisses off agents or that there's a significant chance it doesn't work. My beef is what the mentality of what "title or bust" can do to a fanbase, or specifically, me.
Mediocrity was never going to be embraced by organizations around the league, but it's a little stunning to see that being just short of great is looked on with such derision. Better to be the lowly Wolves, brimming with future superstars, than to be, say, the Hawks, a team that passes the ball, plays together and wins a significant amount of games. Hell, the Clippers, who are comfortably in the most successful extended stretch they've had as a franchise, are going to be looked at as a failure if they don't win a title in this stretch. It's gotten to the point where some have suggested they deal Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, because what's the point if they can't stack up to the Warriors, Spurs, or Thunder? I get the rationale behind the mentality, and from a front office perspective, it makes a fair amount of sense.
The goal as a general manager is to build a championship team. If you can do it in the short term, then more power to you, but if that's not practical, it's no sin to consider the long game. The problem: the same title or bust mentality the NBA's front offices have adopted has bled into the way their fans watch the game.
If the Warriors are going to win everything for three years, should we just shut things down, maybe? Are we just here for the vines?— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 26, 2016
Matt Moore of CBSSports is joking here, obviously. But it does beg the question: what's the point of all this?
Let's circle back to The Process. Yes, the dreaded Process. The banner phrase of the Title or Bust team-building era.
In all of the handwringing about who can beat the Warriors or Spurs, whether LeBron spent his best four years in Miami and won't ever win one in Cleveland, if Kevin Love can stay on the floor against an offense that isn't awful and much more, I find myself forgetting to just enjoy the dance.
If you strip The Process of its proper noun status, it's just a process. And the process can be pretty fun.
While we were all fretting about the hopelessness of a championship, we might have missed that the Cavaliers are fascinating. LeBron James is trying to establish a culture from scratch and he's trying to do it his way, which is mostly unprecedented. The Cavaliers still haven't figured out how to use Kevin Love in a way that maximizes his skill set while also keeping the rest of the offense where it needs to be.
The challenge of implementing a new coach's system on a game-to-game basis is, in its own way, a fun thing. We're going to get to see Tyronn Lue grow into being a head coach before our eyes. There's no preseason or training camp to buffer the process. It's all out there.
If we can, just for a minute, forget the long view and appreciate the process of seeing this team grow, regress and change over the second half of the season, we might have a chance to actually appreciate them. This fanbase is only two years separated from an absolutely brutal four-year stretch. The teams didn't fit together, they got worked over regularly and they weren't fun.
This might sound like I'm rationalizing because I don't think the Cavaliers can win the title, but that's not really the point. They've got Love, LeBron and Kyrie Irving. They're really, really good at their best, and can run teams off the floor with relative ease. This Cavaliers team absolutely could win a title, but that can't be the only reason we watch. If a title run comes, it won't be any less fun because we didn't freak out about a missed open three in January.
This team is fun, and even better, it's interesting. Not every play needs to be a referendum on their ability to win a title. The chemistry of how each team in the NBA functions together and around each other will always be fascinating.
The Process might not ever be popular, but we can absolutely take the time to re-embrace the process. It'll keep us all a bit more sane.