When the 2014-2015 NBA season began, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, in their deepest phase of REM sleep, couldn’t have dreamed of being in the Finals as a teammate of the wondrous LeBron James. But when the league’s championship series tips off tonight in Oakland between the Eastern Conference title holder, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Western Conference representative, the Golden State Warriors, the ex-Knicks will be significant supporting actors to James’ starring role.
The enigmatic Smith and the heretofore underachieving Shumpert have maximized their talents this postseason under the leadership and unmatched basketball gifts of James. He has compelled the duo to make an unwavering commitment to winning, sacrificing self-serving actions for the greater good of the team.
It was a combination of their lack of maturity, erratic self-control, disdain for the triangle offense and injuries that were the impetus for Knicks President Phil Jackson virtually giving them away to the Cavaliers in a three-team trade in January.
In defense of Jackson, few teams were willing to give up equal assets for either Smith or Shumpert, who weren’t helping to improve the Knicks. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were desperate to move their well-endowed but then unhappy young shooting guard Dion Waiters, who landed with the Thunder.
Now Smith and Shumpert are at the doorstep of winning it all. Unfortunately for them, there will be no fairytale ending. The Warriors are a different animal than the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers’ three previous playoff opponents.
Assuming Kyire Irving will still have knee issues, the Cavaliers are little more than James and a few good role players. The Warriors, the NBA’s best team all season, are deeper and more versatile on both ends of the floor, led by the remarkable Stephen Curry. As a result, they will win the series 4-2.