Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
As the NBA Finals came to a close Thursday night, two of the game's greatest players stood at opposite ends of the spectrum of human emotions.
Miami's LeBron James jumped up and down in a state of unbridled jubilation, staking a realistic claim to the title of "happiest man on the planet," while Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant fell into his family's embrace with a tear in his eye.
So what does this mean for the future of basketball and for the next season of fantasy hoops? Will our two biggest stars regress, one into lethargy, content to get old and fat, the other crumbling under the poignancy of his greatest professional failure?
Don't count on it.
Each of these men is more likely to go in the other direction.
I see career years on the horizon for both men. That's right, a three-time MVP and a three-time scoring champion haven't yet reached the peak of their efficiency.
Well, LeBron did in these Finals and over the course of the playoffs, finally learning how to maximize his unmatched abilities and attacking opponents with a relentless vigor, but he hasn't put that to use for a full regular season since he joined the Heat.
Often in the past two seasons, Miami's offense was stagnated by James' and Wade's seeming incapability of playing efficient basketball together. Instead of working together and letting the offense flow, James and Wade would take turns controlling the ball. This postseason, Wade deferred to James publicly for the first time and James was able to fully take the reigns of the Heat's offense.
As a result, Miami averaged 111.1 points per 100 possessions in the Finals and 106.9 for the playoffs. In the regular season, that number was at 104.3, sixth in the league, but more a result of the Heat's fantastic talent rather than any semblance of offensive togetherness.
The Heat played 23 games in the postseason, 35-percent of the lockout-shortened 66-game regular season we just witnessed. In those 23 games, James averaged 30.3 points on 50-percent shooting, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
If you combine that with the 62 games James played in the regular season, he averaged 28 points on 52.2-percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game in 85 contests, three more than a full NBA regular season.
He did all of that while facing more criticism and public bashing than any athlete has ever had to deal with due to an untiring 24-hour news cycle. He was constantly called out by media pundits for lacking the "clutch gene" players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird had, for being selfish off the court and for taking the easy way out.
James certainly deserved some of that criticism last year, but this season it went too far. It is time to just appreciate the grace and beauty of James' game instead of trying to pinpoint what is wrong with him.
Now that he has a title, much of that criticism should die down or at least be quieted by people with common sense, especially considering the individual impact he had on these playoffs.
James can now focus what he's learned about himself and his game in these playoffs on next year's regular season without having to handle the outside noise or a draining condensed schedule. Like he said during his post game interview last night, he was "playing the game with hate" during his first season in Miami instead of "a lot of love and passion." Next year, James can continue playing the game with love without the basketball viewing public spewing vitriol at him on a daily basis.
Plus, he still owes Miami some championships, as this was just the first of "... not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" titles that he promised the night after the Decision.
As for Durant, he won't turn 24 until late September. The Thunder forward still has a lot of room to grow as a basketball player and I expect him to work all summer long to erase any weaknesses he has in his game.
The sadness he displayed after the game showed that he badly wants this, but don't expect him to spend much time wallowing in self-pity. He may already be out pinpointing the areas of his game he needs to hone this offseason.
I think he'll work on his core strength this summer so that defenders like Shane Battier won't be able to push him out on the perimeter. Durant will catch the ball where he wants it more often next year, and that will lead to easier scoring chances for the player who is already the best in the game at putting the ball in the basket.
Which player you take first in fantasy drafts is a matter of personal opinion -- I'm partial to James because of his all-around contributions -- but make no mistake about it, the best is yet to come for these two. And that is scary for the rest of the league and for the eight or 10 other fantasy teams who don't get to snag one of these two.