When the 2010s began, LeBron James was still on his first stint with the Cavs. Steph Curry was a rookie playing for a plummeting Warriors organization. Kevin Durant (third season), Russell Westbrook (second season) and James Harden (rookie season) played for the Baby Thunder. Kawhi Leonard was a marginal NBA prospect playing at San Diego State. Giannis Antetokounmpo was playing in a YMCA league in Greece. And Luka Doncic hadn’t hit puberty yet.
Think about how much has happened over 10 years. Who could have foreseen LeBron “taking his talents to South Beach” and ushering in the era of player empowerment? Could anyone have forecast that the Splash Brothers-led, three-point revolution would change basketball? And how could anyone predict that two kids from Europe would be taking the NBA by storm by the end of the decade?
Who will define the 2020s? Here’s an unabashed championship forecast for the next 10 NBA seasons. Plausible? You be the judge.
2020: Lakers over Bucks
LeBron continues his trend of winning a title in the second year of his tenure with a new team, taking down Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a hard-fought Finals. As entertaining as the Finals are, it feels like the epilogue to the Western Conference Finals between the Clippers and Lakers, a seven-game, kick-ass battle royale. We’ll never see Michael Jordan take on LeBron, but Leonard stands in as a worthy proxy in this series as the two go mono y mono to a near draw. Fortunately for James, Anthony Davis has a greater two-way impact than Paul George, and the Lakers win the Battle for L.A.
2021: Lakers over 76ers
The Lake Show makes it back-to-back championships, as L.A. disposes of the Joel Embiid-led 76ers. Much like the previous season, the Western Conference Finals are more of a climax to the season than the Finals — this time because the new-look Warriors are as explosive as ever with Simmons running the break and playing a more natural Lamar Odom-type role. The Lakers hold off the Warriors mostly due to Davis’ elite defensive play. He outplays Embiid in the Finals, winning his first Finals MVP Award in the process.
2022: Bucks over Clippers
Giannis wins his first ring and third MVP Award in what will later be known as the Year of Giannis. In the Finals, Antetokounmpo exacts his revenge over Leonard from the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals and becomes the second player in Finals history to lead both teams in all five major statistical categories (as LeBron did in 2016). CP3 caps off his Hall of Fame career with a championship and promptly retires after the game.
2023: Warriors over Bucks
With their final “light years ahead” move of the Steph Curry era in Golden State, the Warriors convince Jokic to join an already lethal offense. With two of the league’s best passers (Jokic and Simmons) and the greatest shooting backcourt in league history (Curry and Klay Thompson), the Warriors average over 120 points per game and deny Giannis in his first title defense. We’ll remember 2022-23 as the season when none of the three Hall of Fame forwards who had dominated the previous decade — LeBron, Durant and Kawhi — was in the discussion as best player on the planet.
2024: Pelicans over Celtics
Though his athleticism has waned significantly, 39-year-old LeBron can still distribute the ball as well as any player in the league. His passing ignites the scoring abilities of the Pelicans’ prime trio of Zion Williamson, Bradley Beal and Brandon Ingram as New Orleans rolls to its first title. LeBron’s sixth and final title not only ties him with MJ, but fittingly comes against Boston, the franchise that first broke him, forced him to dig deep on so many occasions, and made him take control of his NBA destiny.
2025: Bucks over Mavs
In his final season with Milwaukee, Giannis delivers a second title in four Finals appearances during the decade. The Finals will take the league to a whole new level in terms of worldwide popularity, as it will feature the league’s two best players, Giannis (Greece) and Doncic (Slovenia), both of whom were born outside the U.S. and are still playing for the respective franchises that drafted them. At age 30, Giannis will enter the back half of his prime in a similar position as LeBron was at that age in terms of championships, accolades and accomplishments.
2026: Mavericks over Hawks
Doncic earns his first ring, getting the better of an offensive dynamo in the Atlanta Hawks, led by the impossible-to-guard, pick-and-pop combo of Towns and Trae Young and the versatile wing duo of Siakam and Cunningham. Doncic is in his mid-20s and resembles a cross between James Harden and Larry Bird on offense. The core of Doncic, George, Kristaps Porzingis and a less athletic, Dirk Nowitzki-like Durant draws comparisons to the ’86 Celtics that dominated the NBA 40 years earlier. When the confetti on the court settles, the “Who’s the best player on the planet?” debate will have a lot more Luka supporters than ever.
2027: Mavericks over Heat
Doncic solidifies his “all-time great” status by repeating as regular-season MVP and Finals MVP, upsetting the heavily favored Heat. The Finals is one of the most competitive of the decade as Miami’s core of Giannis, Mitchell, Bam Adebayo and an aging Jimmy Butler have the best defensive rating of the decade. Unfortunately for the Heat, the Mavericks, who shoot more than 50 three-pointers per game, spread the court and catch fire enough times to steal the series.
2028: Knicks over Grizzlies
At long last, the Knicks win a title with a team loaded with talent — much akin to the last Knicks team to win (1973). Sick of losing in Phoenix his entire career, Devin Booker -- who signed a team-friendly deal -- helps take the Knicks over the top alongside Zion, Mikey Williams and a late-career Embiid. The Williams-Williamson pick-and-roll combo is unstoppable as they blitz their way through the playoffs and take down Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the Finals. After beating a loaded Heat team in the conference finals and the new-age Grit-n-Grind Grizzlies, Williamson is firmly in the mix for the Best Player in the World Belt.
2029: Heat over Thunder
Just as this decade will have begun with LeBron fending off Giannis as the face of the NBA, it will conclude with Giannis doing the same to Bates. Giannis gets his third ring after winning a tough series with the superstar, whose performance in a loss was the stuff of legends. The league will enter the 2030s in a great place, with Giannis approaching various career milestones and records and the likes of Luka, Zion and Morant all in their respective primes and Bates poised to become the player of the 2030s.