Dynasties rise and fall, but a legacy can endure forever. Here's a look at the NBA figures who effectively changed - for better or worse - the perception of their entire careers in the past year.
KD's impact on the Golden State Warriors' competitive outlook was laid bare in The Finals. What started as a silly bar-room debate about whether the Dubs could be better off without the former MVP in the lineup became heresy after the Toronto Raptors swept Game 3 and 4 in Oakland to go up 3-1 in the series. There's no doubt that Durant substantially raises his team's odds of winning any given quarter, game, or season.
And then Game 5 happened. Durant's ill-fated return to action silenced any armchair pundits suggesting he might be dogging it in his recovery, counting down the day to an offseason departure. In the wake of his devastating Achilles injury, Durant's commitment to his team and his desire to hoop became clear.
This time last year, Leonard was shrouded in uncertainty. Would he recover from the injuries that robbed him of all but nine games during the 2018-19 season? And would he do so as a member of the San Antonio Spurs?
Things move fast. Now, the 27-year-old has emphatically re-entered the conversation for being, perhaps, the best player in the league today. En route to his second career title, Leonard joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the third player in NBA history to capture Finals MVP for multiple franchises. Even if he leaves for California in the offseason, he'll go down in many corners as the best player to don a Raptors jersey.
When rumors circulated last week that the Washington Wizards were considering offering Ujiri $10 million per season plus an ownership stake to take over their basketball operations, few were shocked by that theoretical compensation package. That's a testament to the preeminent status of the Raptors architect. Is there anyone in basketball you'd rather have running your favorite team for the next five years?
Antetokounmpo will likely be named the league's Most Valuable Player later in June. He will still only be 24 years old when next season tips off, but if there was any doubt, 2018-19 has firmly put the Milwaukee Bucks juggernaut on the path to eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement.
After waiting eight seasons to make his playoff debut, an injury-hampered Cousins finally reached the promised land as a bit player on the two-time reigning champs. If Cousins never returns to his previous All-NBA form or doesn't land in the right situation, his 2019 Finals appearance could go down as the highlight of his professional resume. It's a sobering prospect for a player with career averages of 21.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
Depending on your perspective, the Klutch Sports super agent's Machiavellian reputation is either well deserved or completely overblown compared to the average cutthroat player rep. However, after playing a crucial role in the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of both LeBron James (via free agency) and Anthony Davis (via hostage situation) in the past 12 months, it's clear that no agent holds greater cultural capital.
LeBron's place in the GOAT debate is assured, but his 15-year reputation as an impossibly healthy ironman took its first hit this year. The 2018-19 season, his first with the Lakers, could go down as the year Father Time finally caught up with The King.
Jimmy Buckets took all the goodwill generated from helping end the Minnesota Timberwolves' playoff drought and set it on fire, forcing his way to the Philadelphia 76ers last November. Now he has the opportunity to bail on another promising young core in free agency this summer. As imposing as Butler is on the court, he's doing a great job of casting himself as the NBA's villain.
Thomas averaged 25.5 points and 6.1 assists per game as the face of the Boston Celtics from 2015-17, but he's played just 44 games over the past two seasons. With the effects of his infamous 2017 hip injury still evident, Thomas was unable to secure a rotation role with the Denver Nuggets last season, losing playing time to the previously unknown Monte Morris.
As he approaches age 31, Westbrook's prolific personal production has become increasingly linked with the Thunder's inability to succeed as a team. Despite averaging a triple-double during the past three regular seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder haven't advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Without a course correction soon, that will be his enduring legacy.
Davis isn't the first disgruntled superstar to angle for an exit from his team, but his departure from the New Orleans Pelicans unfolded with an uncommon degree of openness and in stark contrast to the stoic big man's public persona.
Of course, Davis' legacy will flip if he now goes on to win a title with the Lakers. In the interim, he has abdicated his opportunity to cement a legacy like Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki - those who opted to spend their entire Hall of Fame careers with one franchise.
That there is any debate about whether Anthony will make the Hall of Fame someday is a sign of how precipitously his status has declined since putting up 22.4 points per night with the New York Knicks in 2016-17. But for Pete's sake, of course he will make the Hall! He's a 10-time All-Star, NCAA champ, and national-team hero!
With time, Anthony's career accomplishments will come into clearer focus, but in the short term, no Hall of Fame lock's star wattage faded as quickly as Melo's upon his ouster from the Houston Rockets after just 10 games this season. Whether there is one more chapter left in his NBA story remains to be seen.
A generation of young basketball fans knows Magic Johnson for his ill-fated tenure as Lakers president, not for being the greatest point guard of all time. From rumors of a tyrannical leadership style to his shocking resignation on the final day of the season, Magic managed to receive zero credit for the Lakers signing LeBron while taking much of the flak for the organization's overarching failures.