When you think of loyalty in the NBA, Kobe Bryant may come to mind. 20 seasons with the same organization and 5 rings to show for it. When Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers won those titles, the Black Mamba had a partner. The “Shaq and Kobe” era was from 1999-2002. Then the “Gasol and Kobe” lasted from 2008-2010. Loyalty comes with one requirement, building. Building on top of talent and building the talent you have.
Damian Lillard has been with the Portland Trail Blazers since 2012. He has yet to win a ring. The Trail Blazers attempted to build on top of their talented guards, Damian and CJ McCollum. Their 2018-2019 season was great as they made it to the Western Conference Finals with the help of Meyers Leonard, Rodney Hood, and Seth Curry. They were ultimately swept by the Golden State Warriors. The following season Leonard and Curry were gone, while they added Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside. This roster seemed like a winner but again the Blazers fell short to the Lakers in the first round. The Trail Blazers attempted to build but it wasn’t enough from the bench and other starters. Still, Damian Lillard continues to stay true to the state of Oregon without a ring.
Bradley Beal is also committed to the Washington Wizards. It has always been Beal and Wall since 2012. They were a dynamic duo but the rest of their squad did not play to their potential. In the 2018-2019 season, their roster was decent, featuring Austin Rivers, Trevor Ariza, Kelly Oubre, and Dwight Howard.
Even with this, they couldn’t get it done, the Wizards did not make the playoffs. At the end of the 2019-2020 season, the Wizards traded John Wall to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook. The prediction I have for the new Beal and Westbrook duo is that it will not overshadow Beal and Wall’s duo. Russell adds another element to Washington, but it will still not be enough to be playoff bound in the 2020-2021 season. The team hasn’t found a rhythm yet.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is similar to Lillard and Beal with his loyalty. The Greek Freak recently resigned with the Milwaukee Bucks for 5 years. Giannis has been with the Bucks since 2013. In 2015, Antetokounmpo began to shine. By the 2018-2019 season, Giannis became a superstar and this was his first MVP season. The Bucks reached the Eastern Conference Finals but lost to the Toronto Raptors.
Their roster included Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, Pau Gasol, George Hill, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon. A great lineup that failed to reach the NBA Finals. The following season the Bucks added the talents of Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez. Once again Milwaukee’s run ended in an Eastern Conference Finals lost to the Miami Heat.
For the 2020-2021 season George Hill, Eric Bledsoe, Kyle Korver, and Robin Lopez are gone, but of course they’ve added a couple rookies and Jrue Holiday in hopes of building a championship team. They attempted to build before without a championship, and here it goes again.
All three teams need consistent and productive bench players and additional starters to support their loyal superstars. Their starting lineups were all pretty decent, but it still wasn’t enough. Dame and CJ were sometimes left hanging and producing the majority of points together. Beal and Wall shined while others lagged and Giannis was the sole go-getter. The on and off games from other players does not provide enough contributions to be a championship team.
Now the question, does loyalty lead to an NBA Finals Championship? The answer, yes and no, because with the right bench, team connection, and development. You need those pieces to surround your duo or big 3. Miami did it, the Lakers, and the Mavericks, these were good teams with great team chemistry, developed players, and a hungry bench. A consistent pace off the bench takes some pressure off of the starting 5 and/or duo or big 3. If your stars are having a bad game and the rest of the team is unable to pick up the slack, changes, and development need to happen. Nothing is worse than an underperforming team that has potential.
Let’s see what the new NBA season will bring to these three franchises and if their draft picks and player changes work.