The career of LeBron James has been cluttered with obstacles that have had to be overcome to truly earn the title of The King. In the beginning, it was the Washington Wizards, armed with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Deshawn Stevenson, LeBron’s first true nemesis in the league. Once the Wizards were cast away a few times, the unity and toughness of the Detroit Pistons and their savvy veteran group gave James all he could chew. With all respect to the Wizards and Pistons, there has never been quite a roadblock that has terrorized James as much as the Boston Celtics. More specifically, no one has thwarted him in the way that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have done in his career. Just when LeBron thought that the future Hall of Fame duo was out of his life, entering the twilight of their careers when they just could no longer keep up with his antics, Mikhail Prokhorov made a call.
Entering the 2013-14 NBA season, there were a number of teams pegged to give the Miami Heat and their suddenly injury plagued roster a run for their money in the Eastern Conference. There are the Indiana Pacers, basically taking on the persona and swagger that David West’s goliath physique would all but guarantee as a nightclub bouncer. In the Atlantic division, we have the New York Knicks who are a few Patron free nights from J.R. Smith and a breakout season from Andrea Bargnani away from being on par with the Heat. Finally, let’s not forget about the Chicago Bulls, who possess as close to a James kryptonite with their style of play and talent as there is in the association. That aside, there is one test that has risen up in the league that now threatens to take all that James has worked so hard to establish as an empire these past three seasons and a few familiar faces are a big part of it. Simply put, in Long Beach, it isn’t hurricane season or the inevitable full time residency of Justin Bieber that are putting a scare into the city, it’s five simple names: Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Although weathered through their share of years in the league, the starting five of the Brooklyn Nets is about as good as we’ve ever seen in league history. With Williams, you have a player that’s a healthy year away from being right alongside Chris Paul for the title of the league’s best point guard. Although he rarely gets off the ground enough to clear a small stack of phone books, Lopez is a legitimate old school post player whose craftiness and offensive talent is undeniable. If we created an “NBA Hero Ball” video game, there would be no one more deserving at grazing the cover than Johnson who makes for a regular in regards to heroic late game antics. Next, you add arguably James’ biggest nemesis in Pierce, the player he’s seen in front of him and in his nightmares more than any other in his career. Finally, you inject in the intensity of Garnett to create the NBA’s hottest red habanero pepper. While the pepper that was the Boston Celtics became mild and not truly eye watering, the question this upcoming season is not whether the King could once again conquer the mild but instead whether he can take on this new habanero fire in the East, a test as mighty as he’s ever faced.
There is no love lost between the members of this former rivalry. Over the past week, we’ve seen re-emergence of the Ray Allen betrayal conversation in addition to James’ insulting notion that no one in the East stands as a serious threat to the Heat. If this rivalry needed any more fuel to the fire, there is enough board worthy material already present to inspire Andrew Bynum to rejuvenate his career. At that point, the only question is whether Bynum would go the rehab route or attempt to build himself some Tony Stark mechanical legs that inevitably would somehow tear their robotic Achilles tendon during a bowling game. The two will meet four times this upcoming season, the first meeting taking place on November 1 in Brooklyn. As fans of the game, all we can hope for is that there will be no love lost between these two juggernauts and that the battle continues into the summer of next year