In a perfect world, we'd appreciate that the NBA Finals are just one seven-game series over the long course of basketball history.
In reality, the next two weeks will shape the way we see the most important players on both the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Some will rise to the level of legendary heroes; others will go down as star-crossed scapegoats.
As our long wait between the conference finals and NBA Finals finally comes to a close, here's what's at stake for the biggest names in Cavaliers-Warriors III.
Getty ImagesJason Miller
Stephen Curry: Silencing the doubters with a Finals MVP
Curry's relative struggles in last year's Finals tarnished his meteoric rise to the top of the NBA and gave critics reason to doubt his standing as a top-three player in the world. This year, he's healthy and has multiple offensive weapons to help share the burden against the Cavaliers.
A superb showing from the two-time MVP could earn him his first NBA Finals MVP award, which would go a long way toward quieting those doubters.
LeBron James: His standing in the all-time NBA pantheon
Don't let all of the pundits picking the Cavaliers in six or seven games fool you. Las Vegas expects an absolute slaughter by the Golden State Warriors in this series.
But if LeBron somehow can lift this team past the supersquad built to take him down, he'll have earned every single "greatest of all time" conversation that includes him from now until the heat death of the universe.
No one has ever played the game better than the King is right now. For the sake of appreciating history, we hope he has at least one more legendary stretch in him this year.
Greg M. CooperGreg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Durant: Justification for his life-changing decision
If KD wins a title with the Warriors this season, then nothing else matters. Not the noise, not the criticism, not the icy relationship with Russell Westbrook — none of it compares to Durant taking his name off the list of the best players in NBA history without a championship.
Everyone else can argue about what his win means and whether it's tarnished. KD will be just fine with his ring.
And if Durant plays well enough in the Finals while the Warriors take care of business in decisive fashion, maybe he'll even start to re-open the conversation about who's the best player in the NBA.
I mean, probably not, but anything is possible when we overreact to the Finals.
Kelley L CoxKelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kyrie Irving: The title of best point guard in the NBA
Outplaying Curry for the second straight Finals would give Irving every right to claim he -- not his Warriors counterpart -- is the real best point guard in the Association.
Curry still might be a better regular-season player, when defenses are less intense and you can crush teams by just out-shooting and out-running them, but a second consecutive Cavaliers championship would prove that Irving's isolation-heavy style is what a team really needs on the grandest stage.
Ken BlazeKen Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Draymond Green: Rewriting conventional NBA wisdom
Every Draymond Green victory is a win for players who just want to play the game the right way (minus the groin kicks, of course). Green doesn't really care about statistics — except for those few times he wants to make sure he gets his triple-double — and he doesn't need to get buckets to stay happy.
He wants to win, period. Shouldn't we consider that an elite NBA skill? Shouldn't we recognize just how valuable Green is?
When we get down to the games that actually matter, his competitive fire, his work ethic and his versatility make this unconventional superstar a top 10 player in the NBA.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Klay Thompson: His tenure with the Warriors
What if Golden State doesn't need Klay Thompson to win championships?
There's no question Thompson's presence unlocks the Warriors' full potential on both ends of the court. Having such a fantastic scorer as your offensive safety valve is borderline unfair, and he remains one of the best wing defenders in the NBA.
If the Warriors can dominate the Cavaliers, and if Thompson has a quiet Finals, could this team decide that trying to replace him with a younger, cheaper version is the best long-term play? Or will Golden State keep its Big Four together regardless of the price?
Kevin Love: Not becoming the Cavaliers' Chris Bosh
Love is as crucial a part of Cleveland's success as anyone not named LeBron, yet he doesn't get nearly as much credit as he deserves — just like Bosh on LeBron's Miami Heat title teams.
That could change in these Finals. With the Cavaliers' defense still such a glaring issue, Cleveland might have to turn this series into a shootout to stand a chance. And the only way that scenario plays out in the Cavs' favor is if Love shows up and plays his very best.
Since Love hangs his hat on the offensive end, and because we care way more about getting buckets than playing defense, Love has a chance to prove his value to the average fan with a big series.