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The Warriors and Cavaliers Are Making the Playoffs Boring, but We Can Fix It

Golden State and Cleveland are on another collision course for the NBA Finals. Yawn. Here’s one creative proposal to make the postseason exciting again.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Haul anchor, raise the mizzenmast, jib the topsail, and prepare the take cannons, full heat. Question: Are the Warriors and the Cavaliers bad for the NBA? Reload take cannons at one-quarter heat, and rephrase: Is the air of inevitability blowing from the mountain peaks from which the Warriors and the Cavaliers look down on other teams bad for the NBA? Does the sense of certainty surrounding the Finals dull the excitement that should make the playoffs … what’s the word … good?

The Warriors just got done flicking one of the best defensive teams in the league off their shorts like a ball of lint. The most entertaining thing about the Cavaliers’ four-game "EXPOSE HIM" guillotining of the Raptors was DeMar DeRozan marveling at how LeBron James "seems a lot faster and quicker this year from last year. … It’s incredible for somebody with that amount of mileage on him, to come back seeming faster and quicker." Wink wink wink.

The Spurs and the Rockets, with the exception of Tuesday’s thriller, are trading body blows and some blowouts, the boredom of which is amplified by Pop’s penchant for pulling the plug early in the fourth quarter when down double digits. The Wizards-Celtics series is fascinating primarily because the players could start throwing hands at any moment. And none of that matters because, barring an act of god, it’s going to be the Warriors and the Cavaliers in the Finals again.

NBA legends are based, in no small part, on dominance. Eighteen teams have won the NBA title. Among that elite group are a handful of golden teams: the Bill Russell Celtics, the 1980s Celtics, the Showtime Lakers, and the Michael Jordan Bulls. Year after year, these squads ruthlessly boxed their rivals out of the spotlight of history. Those old-time Celtics won 11 championships between 1957 and 1969. Magic and Bird won eight of the 10 titles up for grabs in the ’80s. Jordan’s Bulls kept Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and Reggie Miller from completing their résumés. This is why we never stop talking about these teams.

But hegemony kind of sucks in real time, and more so now than in previous eras. In the ’80s and ’90s, the dearth of broadcast options preserved a dominant team’s mystique. Out-of-market audiences and casual fans might catch Magic and MJ on television only a few times a year, mostly in the postseason. Today, the NBA competes against video games, television, and the myriad distractions on the internet. If a game is a rout, it might be more fun to watch it unfold on social media while doing something else entirely. The greatness of the Warriors and Cavaliers is undeniable, but finding a reason to watch them blow out team after team after team can be a chore.

The various rule changes that freed up the perimeter and helped create the modern game also neutralized the best shield against overwhelming talent: grime. The 1990s Knicks were never the favorite against the airborne Jordan Bulls. They made their series competitive because of physicality. It’s hard to see that happening now.

Talent wins in basketball, more so than in any other team sport. Between them, Golden State and Cleveland have four players in the league’s top 10 and six in the top 20. The defending champ Cavaliers have LeBron, the greatest basketball player on earth, and have surrounded him with enough floor spacers to populate two NBA teams. The Warriors won 73 games last season and were within one Draymond Green crotch swipe of a second consecutive NBA title. Then they replaced the consistently inconsistent Harrison Barnes with all-universe reaper Kevin Durant. Steve Kerr has sat out most of the postseason with issues related to back surgery and the Dubs have yet to drop a playoff game! No shots at Kerr, but A STYROFOAM COFFEE CUP BLOWING DOWN THE STREET COULD COACH THEM TO THE CONFERENCE FINALS.

It’s been obvious all season that the Warriors and the Cavs would meet in the Finals. I hope that series will be every bit as entertaining as four of the seven games in the 2016 Finals were. But getting there has been a brutal slog through stretches of boring, blowout ball. Only the Jazz-Clippers series went seven games.

So, what can be done? I have a modest proposal that I call "Playoff Snake," named after the snake style of drafting for fantasy sports. Under this new system, when a team wins a playoff series, it may then select one of the vanquished team’s players and drop one of its own. Imagine the Jazz with Chris Paul against the Warriors with C.J. McCollum. The Dubs still win, but tell me you wouldn’t be fascinated. Or the Raptors with Giannis Antetokounmpo against LeBron’s Cavaliers plus Paul George.

Playoff Snake wouldn’t be all puppies, fireworks, and wacky 2K lineups. A coach would need to figure out how to best work a new player into the team with no practice time, no familiarity with the sets, and no idea how it might impact chemistry.

Would Steph Curry get pissed if the Warriors picked up Damian Lillard? How would Dame take having to come off the bench or being relegated to garbage time? What does it do to the Cavs locker room if Kyle Lowry plays more minutes than Kyrie Irving? The differences in coaching quality would become more stark under the Playoff Snake. No more set-it, forget-it, and let Mike Brown go-get-it. Playoff Snake: It’s the tweak we need in these utterly predictable times.

Let’s re-run the playoffs to date using Playoff Snake rules.

First Round

East

  • Boston selects Jimmy Butler and drops Amir Johnson
  • Cleveland selects Paul George and drops Dahntay Jones
  • Toronto selects Giannis Antetokounmpo and drops Jakob Poeltl
  • Washington selects Dennis Schröder and drops Sheldon McClellan

West

  • Golden State selects Jusuf Nurkic and drops James Michael McAdoo
  • San Antonio selects Mike Conley and drops Davis Bertans
  • Houston selects Steven Adams and drops Montrezl Harrell
  • Utah selects Chris Paul and drops Raul Neto

Second Round

East

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Washington Wizards

Projected starting lineups:

Boston

Isaiah Thomas
Avery Bradley
Jae Crowder
Jimmy Butler
Al Horford

Washington

John Wall
Bradley Beal
Markieff Morris
Otto Porter Jr.
Marcin Gortat

Celtics in six. Boston selects Marcin Gortat and drops Tyler Zeller.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Toronto Raptors

Projected starting lineups:

Cleveland

Kyrie Irving
J.R. Smith
Paul George
LeBron James
Tristan Thompson

Raptors

Kyle Lowry
DeMar DeRozan
Giannis Antetokounmpo
P.J. Tucker
Jonas Valanciunas

Cavaliers in six. Cleveland selects Giannis Antetokounmpo and drops Derrick Williams.

West

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (4) Utah Jazz

Projected starting lineups:

Warriors

Steph Curry
Klay Thompson
Kevin Durant
Draymond Green
Zaza Pachulia

Jazz

Chris Paul
George Hill
Joe Ingles
Gordon Hayward
Rudy Gobert

Warriors sweep. Golden State selects Rudy Gobert and drops Nurkic.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (3) Houston Rockets

Projected starting lineups:

Spurs

Mike Conley
Danny Green
Kawhi Leonard
LaMarcus Aldridge
Pau Gasol

Rockets

James Harden
Patrick Beverley
Trevor Ariza
Ryan Anderson
Steven Adams

Spurs in six. San Antonio selects James Harden and drops Bryn Forbes.

Conference Finals

East

(1) Boston Celtics vs. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers

Projected starting lineups:

Boston

Isaiah Thomas
Avery Bradley
Jae Crowder
Jimmy Butler
Al Horford

Cleveland

Kyrie Irving
J.R. Smith
Giannis Antetokounmpo
LeBron James
Tristan Thompson

Cavaliers in five. Cleveland selects Al Horford and drops James Jones.

West

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs

Projected starting lineups:

Golden State

Steph Curry
Klay Thompson
Kevin Durant
Draymond Green
Rudy Gobert

San Antonio

Mike Conley
James Harden
Kawhi Leonard
LaMarcus Aldridge
Pau Gasol

Warriors in six. Golden State selects Kawhi Leonard and drops Matt Barnes.

Finals

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors

Projected starting lineups:

Cleveland

Kyrie Irving
J.R. Smith
Giannis Antetokounmpo
LeBron James
Al Horford

Golden State

Steph Curry
Klay Thompson
Kevin Durant
Kawhi Leonard
Draymond Green

Warriors in six.

OK, maybe this wouldn’t work.