Another NBA season is in the books, and it’s as bittersweet as can be. I’m thrilled by the result of the beatdown that the Spurs gave the Heat in those five games, but these playoffs were so great that I’m left wanting more. I’m genuinely saddened by the lack of basketball in my life now, but thankfully this summer I have the World Cup to cheer me up, and later on we’ll even get the FIBA world championships (which would have been an awesome time to bust out my “3-headed monster”, by the way). So with these other distractions, there’s no reason to worry about me. I’ll soldier on. But before I start worrying about the upcoming free agency period and draft that should get pretty interesting, let’s reflect back on this season, and more importantly, these playoffs and determine what exactly we learned.
LeBron James is still everybody’s favorite punching bag
One night of him milking his cramps a little too much and everyone got to unload two years’ worth of vitriol they had to shut up about while he was busy winning titles. He deserves criticism for the way his team played in these finals, no doubt, but folks, you can’t take away his titles just because he wanted you to know how much pain he was in with those cramps. And while he did go all drama queen on us, if he was cramping, there’s nothing he could have done. Yeah, stop making the faces and have people carry you off, but good gosh, you can’t blame him for not playing through cramps. If your muscles lock up, you’re only hurting your team by being out there. But yeah, it’s still kind of funny.
I mean, that’s just plain funny
The West was historically good this season, and the East was historically bad
Let’s be honest here, you don’t read my stuff for hard-hitting statistics so let’s keep this simple. I’m not backing up all my claims with numbers, but just with the eye test and the teams’ regular season records, the disparity between the conferences was astounding. To top it off, San Antonio, after slugging it out with OKC in a war of a 6 game conference finals, dismantled the best the East could offer up in 5 games. And despite going 6 with Indiana, nobody was truly even close to the Heat. The East was putrid this year, and these playoffs exposed that even more so. Meanwhile, the West’s first round alone was like a buffet of basketball gourmet. Each night we got another helping of highly contested games that went late into the night, which caused me to be an absolute zombie back in late April/early May. Well worth it.
Adam Silver already seems like a much more reasonable guy than David Stern
I’m no Stern fan, but I can still acknowledge what he did for my favorite league (although, I’d say Magic, Larry, and Michael deserve a lot more of the credit than him). That being said, he carried himself like a vindictive twerp on a power trip sometimes, and his biggest flaw, in my opinion, was being far too much in the owners’ corner all the time and not standing up for the players enough. Adam Silver got his opportunity immediately to do the right thing and back his players when this Donald Sterling controversy came out, and he passed every test with flying colors. Silver learned all of Stern’s business savvy as deputy commissioner underneath the little man, and now that he’s in charge, he hasn’t let the power go to his head. It’s early, but I like the humility with which he conducts his business and I hope he continues to stand up for both the players and the owners in the future. I think the NBA got the right guy for this job.
Beal (age 20) and Wall (age 23) have a bright future ahead of them
The Wizards have the best young backcourt in the League
Yes, even over Thompson and Curry in Golden State, you have to choose John Wall and Bradley Beal as your backcourt of the future if you were starting a franchise tomorrow. Sure, I’d love to still have my guys Rose and Butler in Chicago, but at this point you’d be insane to trust Derrick’s knees. But back to comparing Washington to Golden State, the Warriors are better at this moment, but you can see that Wall (23) and Beal (20) are just beginning their ascension into NBA stardom, whereas Curry (26) and Thompson (24) appear closer to their primes already. The Wizards proved that they are becoming contenders in the East with their showing in these playoffs, and their tandem of young guards hold the keys to their success going forward.
Lance Stephenson is a sociopath and Roy Hibbert just plain stinks
The Pacers are going to outlast this Heat team most likely, but eventually the Bulls will recover, especially if they get Melo or Love, and like I just covered, the Wizards are rising fast. I wish I knew what the right move for them was but I do know this much, they can’t just keep bringing back the same group of guys and just hope they’ll be good enough next year. Trade Stephenson for something less volatile or ditch Hibbert for something that has a pulse. Hill, George, and West all showed a lot of heart, but I don’t trust those other guys one bit.
Brooklyn setting themselves back as a franchise by a solid five years was not worth it for two over-the-hill hall of famers
Who didn’t see that coming? I was impressed that they got out of the first round, but you gotta think Prokhorov had higher hopes than that when he mortgaged the future for Garnett and Pierce. Ouch.
The Thunder made the Western Conference Finals with only four guys who can play
We all know Westbrook and Durant are killers. They’re two of the top ten players in the league and either one can single-handedly win playoff games. To compliment the superstars, Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka both showed how much heart they had in these playoffs. Obviously, you want to go to war with guys like them on your team, too. The rest of that squad is a bunch of scrubs, although I’ll give a tip of the cap to Steven Adams because he’s definitely on the rise. Everybody else should be considered expendable. Nick Collison has been a solid vet for them for years, but he can’t be trusted to get a lousy five points when called upon. Kendrick Perkins hasn’t had a meaningful basketball moment since the 2010 Finals. Thabo Sefolosha fell off the face of the earth. What I’m really trying to say is, the rest of the West needs to watch out, because if they ever surround those four guys with a bench half as good as San Antonio’s it’s over. They’ll win the title every year. Unless, of course, LeBron signs with the Spurs or something.
Comparing the stats won’t really do either player justice, and in theory LeBron has plenty of time left to turn this argument around, but it’s not looking too good for him at the moment. Duncan just won the Finals rubber match, and need I remind everyone of just how close this was to a 3-0 sweep? If Pop doesn’t over-coach and put in Boobs Diaw for Duncan on those two rebounds this isn’t even a debate. Obviously both men’s teams have a lot to do with their successes/failures but we will always judge basketball greats by their rings first and foremost. Simply put, there’s a reason why Duncan’s teams always are a threat in the playoffs, and why LeBron’s teams have been disappointing in the playoffs far too much for how talented a player he is. Quickly, if we just compare some career accomplishments:
LeBron has time to make this closer than it currently is, but I don’t think even he can turn this around. And mind you Duncan led his team to dominate LeBron’s team at the age of 38! He’s still playing at a very high level, but this isn’t even close to how good he was back in the early 2000’s.
“Laugh it up, Kobe, but I’m leaving you in my wake”
Tim Duncan has to be remembered as a greater player all time than Kobe
Sorry, Kobe. I know you had nothing to do with all of this, but that’s part of what’s counted against you. Duncan is outlasting you. That matters. He also never missed the playoffs. You both played with all-time great centers early in your careers, but Shaq is easily a notch above Robinson (and that was Shaq in his absolute prime, versus the declining Robinson that Duncan played with), and even from the first title Duncan was the best player on his team. You can only say you were the best player on your team for two titles, and that second MVP award should have went to Pau anyhow (or Ron Ron, if you believe this blog). Hey, this argument is way closer than the LeBron one, but the career accomplishments are too much to deny. Duncan is the greater player.
This Spurs team has to be remembered as one of the all time great teams
That Heat team went out like chumps in this series, but let’s not just dismiss them. First team to make four straight Finals appearances since the Celtics in ’84-’87 and they won back to back titles. And that’s the team San Antonio just picked apart like varsity picking on the JV in practice. And as I mentioned before, let’s not forget how much of a meat grinder they came through in the Western Conference just to make the Finals. This team combined a top 10 player of all time in the twilight of his career, with two other future hall of famers, a young star on the rise, and a collection of specifically talented and supremely dedicated role players to fill in all the gaps, all coached by one of the game’s greatest. I’m not about to start ranking the greatest teams ever, but I think we’re saying the 2014 Spurs are easily top 10 all time.
Team basketball is so hot right now
Everyone is geeking out over the Spurs’ beautiful teamwork and passing, which they should, and I’m one of those people. My only issue with it is that there’s been a false narrative that they’re the only ones who share the basketball in the entire league. Miami actually plays some of the best team basketball in the NBA thanks to the example set by LeBron. They’re whole offense revolves around LeBron and Wade driving and kicking to open shooters and team defense leading to quick easy buckets in transition. The Bulls have been playing awesome team basketball the entire Tom Thibodeaux era, thanks largely to their awesome “point-center” Joakim Noah. If you’re paying attention, you’ll find that a lot of successful teams in this league are great at sharing the basketball, but yes, the Spurs absolutely do it better than everybody else. I’ll leave you with this video to celebrate their play one last time. Now, let’s start counting down the days until next season.