Recency bias described the common trap of thinking what has just happened is the best or worst or most important because it is foremost on our minds. But sometimes the things that just happened actually are worth qualifying in these ways.
And, without a doubt, 2016 will go down as a watershed year for the NBA. It had it all: the career exits of three all-time greats (Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant); the Golden State Warriors setting the all-time record for regular season wins; LeBron James powering the Cleveland Cavaliers past the Warriors in the NBA Finals to end Cleveland's half-century title drought; Durant's decision to join the Warriors as a free agent this summer, an act that turned Russell Westbrook into a human supernova; and the league and its players coming to an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement last month to ensure labor peace for years to come.
Still, for as memorable as 2016 was in the NBA, don't think that's going to stop now that the calendar has flipped to 2017. There are still plenty of story lines worth following that will shape the league this year and beyond. Here are The Washington Post's top things to watch for in the NBA in 2017:
1. The next clash of the titans
Anyone who argued that the creation of super teams in Cleveland and Golden State was bad for basketball - and, by extension, made the sport a boring one - lost it just by watching the Christmas Day battle between the two archrivals in Cleveland. The Cavaliers storming back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter was the latest example that this has become an all-time-great matchup, and made clear why most fans are so excited at the prospect of a third straight faceoff in the NBA Finals matchup.
That game showed what was widely suspected about the two teams: If both play to their optimum level, Golden State is the more talented team, and should win. But Cleveland is the one team that isn't scared of the Warriors and their incredible array of stars. Whether that mental edge is enough to lead the Cavaliers to a second straight title remains to be seen. The guess here, though, is that Golden State will get its championship, and Durant's decision will be vindicated.
2. Can Russell Westbrook average a triple-double?
While Durant's decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join Golden State decimated what would've been a title contender, it did something else: allow Westbrook to become the version of himself we were curious to see. Throughout Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City, there was always a creative tension - at least from the outside looking in - between the two superstars, with a steady debate about how much they shared the scoring and shooting load and whose team it was.
Those questions are now gone. Oklahoma City is now Westbrook Country, and he has exploded out of the gate with one of the most amazing stretches of individual play in league history. Through 34 games, Westbrook has 16 triple-doubles and is averaging 30.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.7 assists. Only Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double for a full season, an accomplishment many assumed would never be matched. Westbrook will likely wind up falling short of doing so as Oklahoma City's schedule gets tougher in the second half, but he has unquestionably been remarkable.
3. Possible last looks at legends
Few seasons will ever see three players as great as Duncan, Bryant and Garnett all leaving the stage at the same time, but this could be the final one for a few more legends. Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce has already said he will retire at the end of this season, while San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginóbili and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki could call it quits, too.
Pierce, of course, will be best remembered for his days in Boston, where he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title, while Ginobili and Nowitzki are the rare stars to have spent their entire careers with one team. Both Ginobili and Nowitzki - two of the greatest international talents to ever play the sport - seem likely to return next season. But given their respective ages, an exit is possible at any time, which is why every chance to see them should be cherished.
4. What comes next in Los Angeles?
Both tenants at Staples Center - the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers - are headed for a summer of uncertainty. The Lakers are headed for another season at the bottom of the Western Conference, which could bring about the moment of truth for owner Jeanie Buss and her brother Jim, the team's head of basketball operations. Jim Buss has said previously he'll resign if the Lakers aren't contending after this season (and they won't be). Will the owner hold him to that, as she has claimed in the past? No one has a good handle on this, but it's a critical moment for one of the league's flagship franchises.
Then there are the Clippers, who seem headed toward a six straight playoff appearance - two more than the franchise managed in its previous 33 years of existence in San Diego and Los Angeles since moving from Buffalo in the late 1970s. But with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick all set to be free agents, and with the Clippers seemingly headed for a sixth straight exit in the first or second round, there will be no team with more intrigue around it this summer. The most likely path is everyone comes back for another go-round, but that's by no means a sure thing.
5. Coaches and executives on the hot seat
One of the annual rites of any sports season is the churn of coaches and front office executives getting hired and fired. This year the NBA has a few potential candidates for the ax.
The list of coaches in trouble is pretty short, given the number of recent hires. The leading candidates at the moment: Brett Brown with the Philadelphia 76ers, who has seen management change and the team remain in rebuilding mode; Fred Hoiberg with the Chicago Bulls, whom ESPN reported last week is under fire with his team struggling; the New Orleans Pelicans' Alvin Gentry, who has long been rumored to be in trouble despite basically never having a healthy roster since taking over before last season; and Terry Stotts, whose Portland Trail Blazers are struggling mightily of late. All of them are more likely than not to return next season, but chances are at least one will be gone - if not someone else - by season's end.
The same situation applies to several executives. Rob Hennigan with the Orlando Magic, Ernie Grunfeld with the Washington Wizards, Dell Demps with the Pelicans, Gar Forman with the Bulls and Buss are all in varying degrees of job insecurity. Of those, Hennigan and Demps are the ones thought to be in the most trouble . . . but both also are on teams within shouting distance of a playoff spot. All of this makes trying to handicap the futures of all involved difficult, but it'll be something to monitor over the next few months.
6. What will Ben Simmons look like?
There have been few prospects hyped as much as Ben Simmons in recent seasons, as a 6-foot-10 forward with point guard vision and ballhandling skills. Then Simmons fractured his foot during the first week of training camp, robbing the 76ers of one of their brightest young lights. In his absence, Joel Embiid has looked fantastic, but the Sixers have still missed having a distributor like Simmons on the court.
That opening should be closed soon, as Simmons is expected to return sometime in January, allowing Philadelphia to spend half a season looking at him and Embiid. The potential for the two of them to grow together is why Philadelphia has one of the most exciting futures in the league - even if it came after years of losing.
7. How will the new CBA begin to impact the league?
For everything that happened on the court over the past year, the league's off-court activity has been equally impactful. Between the massive influx of television money - which helped grease the wheels for Durant's departure - and the new collective bargaining agreement going into effect this summer, it remains to be seen how the league will be shaped by both events moving forward.
The new "Designated Player" rule could keep Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins - two players expected to leave the Thunder and Sacramento Kings, respectively, in search of better chances to win - to stick around. Meanwhile, the ramifications of other parts of the CBA will impact how teams build their rosters moving forward. Given how much fans focus on the moves their teams potentially could make, this is a story line that might not get a lot of attention now in the middle of the season, but will become something everyone is talking about in June and July.
8. Who will reap the benefits of the star-studded 2017 draft?
It's a little early to talk about college basketball, but executives around the league are salivating at what looks to be an excellent draft class - especially given how disappointing the 2016 class has been overall thus far.
The 2017 draft is expected to be dominated by point guards, with DraftExpress.com currently featuring four of them - Washington's Markelle Fultz, North Carolina State's Dennis Smith, UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Kentucky's Malik Monk - in the top five and two more, Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox and Belgian Frank Ntilikina, inside the lottery. But there are plenty of toolsy forwards available at the top of the draft as well, including Kansas' Josh Jackson, Duke's Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles and Indiana's OG Anunoby.
With so many players concentrated among high majors this year, the NCAA tournament could feature some classic matchups, and it'll be fascinating to see how these picks all shake out - and where these players all wind up. Two additional things to watch on this front: where the Boston Celtics wind up with their latest unprotected pick from the Brooklyn Nets, and whether the Lakers can once again land in the top three in the lottery and keep their draft pick this season.