While on the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, four-time MVP LeBron James has made an unprecedented seven straight NBA Finals. Today, LeBron eyes the Kyrie Irving-led Boston Celtics, and the Milwaukee Bucks, featuring up-and-comer Giannis Antetokounmpo, as major threats to his Eastern Conference crown.
The King has faced a myriad of different opponents throughout each deep playoff run, most of whom have not had the storybook endings we’re accustomed to seeing. Looking back at some of his forgotten challengers, we see teams that once had great amounts of promise.
Atlanta Hawks (2014-15)
Led by All-stars Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver, the Atlanta Hawks won a franchise record 60 wins. Their team depth, ball movement, and selflessness were all major factors as the team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, before getting swept by the Cavaliers.
The next season, the Hawks only won 48 games and were once again swept by the Cavs, but this time in the second round of the playoffs. Eventually, they lost Horford and Millsap through free agency, and traded away Teague to the Indiana Pacers and Korver to the Cavs. Now that the core from their ECF team is gone, the Hawks find themselves in rebuild mode and at the bottom of the NBA standings.
Brooklyn Nets (2013-14)
When the infamous Celtics-Nets trade of 2013 allowed Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to join forces with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, many believed that Brooklyn would contend with the Heat. After bouncing back from a slow start to the season and winning the season series 4-0 against the Heat, those aspirations seemed real.
However, a season-ending injury to Lopez saw the Nets lose in five games to the Heat in the second round of the 2014 NBA playoffs. They would lose Pierce in the offseason, and traded Garnett to Minnesota in early 2015 when any hopes of being able to contend were over.
In 2017, Brooklyn finished with the worst record in the league at 20-62.
Indiana Pacers (2012-14)
Paul George led the Indiana Pacers to back-to-back ECFs in 2013 and 2014 against LeBron and the Heat, in which they lost in seven and six games, respectively. With a team that starred George Hill, David West, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert, it seemed that the Pacers were one move away from taking the next step and reaching the NBA Finals.
However the following off-season, George suffered a horrific compound fracture in his lower right leg during a team USA scrimmage that would sideline him for the a majority of the season. This along with Stephenson signing with the Charlotte Hornets, West getting older, and Hibbert no longer being the player he used to be, caused Indiana to trade much of their core.
Even with the return of George, the Pacers would never get past the first round of the playoffs again, and traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017.
Chicago Bulls (2010–11)
In May 2011, Derrick Rose became the youngest player ever to win the MVP award at 22 years and 6 months old, as he carried the Chicago Bulls to the first seed with 60 wins and the ECF. That was also the last season Rose had played more than 70 games, before injuries to Rose the following postseason and beyond ruined what would have been another Bulls dynasty.
Even with Joakim Noah winning the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award and turning in an MVP-caliber season and Jimmy Butler transforming himself into a top two-way player in the league, it wasn’t enough. Without Rose regaining his MVP form, the Bulls would never get passed the second round of the playoffs again, and would part ways with every member of that ECF team.
By: Adam Tayabali