Saturday, June 19, 2010

Q&A: Wrapping up the NBA Finals

After perhaps the most memorable finals of the last 10 years, I just couldn't sit still. Had to hash out all the details before we start preparing for the Summer of LeBro....err whoops the NBA offseason - please don't fine me David Stern.

Q: Did the best team in the NBA win the title?

A: Yes. Definitely. The Lakers had the best combination of overall talent and requisite toughness. They deserved it. Even if Perkins had played you have to think they would have figured out a way to win – besides, Rasheed played so well that you can’t just chalk up game 7 to Perkins not being there.

Q: Historically, where do these teams, this series, and this game 7 rank?

A: The first one is easy: not high. The Celtics were an aging team with lived and died with Rondo pushing it in transition and Pierce carrying their half court offense on isolations and post ups. They turned back the clock, clawed past two very flawed Cleveland and Orlando teams to get here, but that certainly doesn’t make them a team for the ages. The Lakers are probably one of the better teams of this decade, but still it’s hard to rank them too high considering their non-existent bench and major holes at point guard and small forward.

As for the other two, I was pleased by how they turned out. Right now people are probably disappointed because coming in to both the series and the seventh game our expectations were all impossibly high. Games two and seven will be living on ESPN classic years from now, and overall I’d say that even if this wasn’t exactly ’84 Lakers-Celtics, or even ’69 Lakers-Celtics, this was a competitive series with several memorable moments. Isn’t that all that we ask for?

Q: Are these teams happy with their offseason decisions?

A: First we’ll start with the Lakers. The short answer: No. The long answer: Hell no. Right now everyone is fixated on Ron Artest’s huge three at the end of game 7 and of course believes that he was totally worth all the trouble. Sure, let’s just ignore all his other missed shots, poor offensive decisions, and defensive lapses; all is forgiven since he hit that miracle shot right?!! Good thing I’m here to sort thing out. Yes, Artest came through at certain spots in the finals. But how does that excuse the fact that throughout the year he was missing shots that Trevor Ariza would have made easily? Or the fact that he’s clearly lost a step on defense, epitomized by the way Pierce abused him from game 4 onwards? For goodness by the end of the season the Staples crowd would have a collective heart attack every time he launched a shot. I’m pretty sure that in private the Lakers front office regrets replacing Ariza with Artest, especially considering that they basically spent 25 million to have Artest from years 29-34 instead of paying Ariza the same price for years 24-29. I hope the Lakers are happy with their decision when they’re paying a 34-year old Artest 7 million in 2014.

As for the Celtics, as frustrating as Rasheed was during the regular season, they’re probably glad they got him. He simply knows all the post moves of the Dwight Howards and Pau Gasols of the world; there aren’t too many guys that can swallow up Pau like Rasheed did in this series (I can’t even count the number of times that Pau would go for a post move, turn into his shot, only to have ‘Sheed standing right in front of him ready to swat it away). While Boston probably would prefer that he had actually given a shit in the regular season, ultimately they really needed him to deliver in the playoffs, which he did.

Q: So if this is truly the end for Rasheed Wallace, how do we evaluate his career?

A: Equally fascinating and disappointing. Basically he could have been the best forward of his era, but Duncan and Garnett wanted it more. This is a guy with not only the skills necessary to be the best player in the league (textbook post game, perfect footwork, impressive shooting touch, amazing length on defense, a turnaround jumper that ranks up as one of the most beautiful and perfect shots in the history of the game along with Hal Greer’s jumper, Mike Miller’s stop and pop, Kareem’s sky hook, Havlicek’s running bank shot, McHale’s up and under, and above all Gervin’s finger roll), but also he actually had the necessary smarts and basketball IQ. Amid all the fury, rage, and technical fouls was one of the most cerebral players in the league. Here’s the most interesting part: he was like the bizarro Karl Malone in that he lacked the motivation and drive to play up to potential every night, but he had the requisite fortitude, balls, and toughness to dominate and raise his game when it truly mattered. Malone probably had the better career, but if you’re building a team for a championship it’s a legitimate question to wonder whom you would rather have. Hmmmm?

Q: How good can Rondo be?

A: Good. Really really good. Just you watch – he’ll develop a jump shot (or at least a free throw shot) over the summer and immediately become one of the top 10-15 guys in the league.

Q: Is it time to stick a fork in Kevin Garnett’s career?

A: Sadly, yes. Admittedly he did turn back the time machine and really rise to the occasion, even outplaying Gasol on more than a few occasions. That being said, it’s never a good sign when we actually notice that a future hall of famer is playing well. This season KG really dropped off a lot, and while I still think he can be an above average role player and top-4 guy, he’s not an all-star at this point.

Kevin, if you’re reading this, you shouldn’t be ashamed at all. You’ve had a splendid career up to this point: By any measure you’re one of the top-20 players of all time; you revolutionized your position, and were so successful that you caused GM’s to roll the dice on high school guys like Jermaine O’Neal, Tyson Chandler, and Andray Blatche; you’re the greatest power forward in history (I consider Duncan a center) and the best defensive player of you’re generation; the way you carried those putrid Minnesota teams was downright heroic, and the way you completely resurrected the Celtics was admirable; your manic intensity, competitive desire, and drive are legendary. Unfortunately every player is victimized by age, and you’re no exception, but you should be proud of what you’ve done; you really should.

Q: Has Pau Gasol become a little overrated?

A: Probably. To be clear Pau had a fantastic series; he held his own on the boards, played passable defense on KG, and was at times unstoppable in the post. At the same time, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he didn’t have as much success as we probably thought he was capable of against KG. Apparently we’re not allowed to have the opinion that he’s soft; but isn’t it fair to say that a lot of times he can be disrupted by more physical players and as a result not play as well as he’s capable of playing? At this point Gasol is so much more physically skilled than Garnett, yet there were many times when Garnett outplayed Gasol with authority. Maybe Pau isn’t soft, but at the very least he’s not as tough as the ESPN hype machine wants us to believe.

Q: After having a magical game 2 sandwiched between six certifiable terrible games, is there even a little bit of credibility left to Bill Simmons’s “Ray Allen has passed Reggie Miller historically” argument?

A: Nope. None at all. Listen up Sports Guy: I love your work, but just because Ray plays for your Celtics that doesn’t make him better than Reggie.

Q: Hey, did you guys know that “Grown Ups” is coming out on the 25th?

A: Whoops, sorry about that, it’s just that anyone talking about the Finals is obligated to make a shameless and annoying pitch for the movie. Sorry guys.

(But honestly though, was there a worse development to this years Finals than the incessant “Grown Ups” ads? To be perfectly honest, if anything those ads completely turned me off from the movie. If the film is so great, then why do they need such shameless over-promotion? Shouldn’t Adam Sandler and Chris Rock be able to sell themselves for any half-decent movie? Contrast that with Toy Story 3; Pixar barely had to run a couple of promos that advertised the movie in conjunction with some other product, and I don’t think there were any ads specifically for the movie; Pixar knew that its product was good enough that anyone and everyone would go see it, so no need for any over the top marketing campaign. Apparently the makers of Grown Ups didn’t feel quite the same)

Q: Where does this leave Kobe’s legacy?

A: I have to get into this before the lunatic Lakers bandwagon fans start convincing everyone that Kobe is the greatest ever. Look, Jordan, Russell, Magic/Bird, and Chamberlain are the top five greatest players ever in that order (I have Larry and Magic tied at number 3), and that isn’t changing. Sorry, but those guys are on another level. Kobe falls into the next group of all time greats with Kareem, West, Robertson, Shaq, Duncan, Hakeem, and Moses (and possibly Lebron and Wade at some point). Personally I’d put him at number 7, just behind Duncan and ahead of Kareem. Regardless, Kobe is one of the top ten players ever without question, just not top five.

That’s not to say that Kobe doesn’t deserve mad props and admiration. He’s one of the greatest and most competitive players ever; he can beat you in so many different ways, he can take over the game at any time, he’s unbelievably well-conditioned and skilled, his basketball IQ, passion, and work ethic are as good as anyone’s. In game 7 it was heroic how he recognized that his shot wasn’t going in and subsequently started crashing the boards, defending like a mad man, taking the responsibility of handling the ball and running the offense, and doing other things so he could impact the game in other ways besides scoring. That being said, he did just go 6-24 in the biggest game of his life, making it a little hard understand why people are using this game as a reason to elevate him into Jordan-Russell territory. I think the media, ever a prisoner of the moment, is getting caught up in the hype and emotion of Kobe winning his fifth title and elevating him a little higher than necessary. Yes, I get it that he’s extremely skilled, smart, and dedicated, but you can say that about all the other guys I mentioned in the previous paragraph (except for maybe Shaq), and I think it’s rather unfair the way people act like Kobe is just on a completely different level from any other current player in terms of his work ethic and clutch ability. I’m not trying to demean Kobe, but rather point out that Jordan, Russell, Bird, Magic, and Wilt are just on a separate plateau of greatness; The first four simply elevated their teams in ways that not even Kobe and Duncan do, while Wilt achieved an unheard of level of individual dominance of which few others in any other field could ever dream. Let’s appreciate Kobe, but let’s also keep everything in perspective.