Winners and Losers of the 2014 NBA Finals
One year after suffering one of the most gut-wrenching losses in NBA Finals history, the San Antonio Spurs officially exorcised the “Ghost of Game 6,” throttling the Miami Heat 104-87 to secure the franchise’s fifth title in 16 seasons.
For the Spurs, the win guarantees their place as one of the league’s most consistent and unique championship dynasties—a time-tested testament to the selflessness and teamwork that define basketball’s better nature.
Miami, meanwhile, must suffer through another summer of dire drama and doubts about the future of the franchise’s Superstar trio. In a Hell that hot, winter can’t come quickly enough.
As the dust settles on San Antonio’s legacy-sealing saga, a slew of players will find their fortunes forever altered by what transpired these past 10 days.
Today we’ll look at 10 winners and losers from this year’s Finals—five for whom the future bodes beautiful, and five who will be left picking up the pieces of defeat.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard
Entering the 2014 Finals, Kawhi-Leonard-as-Spurs-Heir-Apparent had become a pretty familiar trope in NBA circles. There was just one small problem: The proof had yet to be put to pudding.
But with one incendiary performance in Game 3, San Antonio’s 22-year-old wunderkind officially kicked off his rein-grabbing campaign. The final line: 29 points, four rebounds and two steals on 10-of-13 shooting and a slew of clutch buckets to help propel the Spurs to a home-court salvaging 111-92 win.
Whether or not Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire this summer almost seems irrelevant in this singular respect: This will be Kawhi’s team before we know it.
In terms of dutiful demeanor, Leonard fits San Antonio’s charmingly aloof aesthetic to a T. Like Duncan, he lets his game do the talking for him. More importantly, this 22-year-old phenom may have just inherited himself a basketball team.
Just like Duncan.
Loser: Mario Chalmers
Sixth-year point guard Mario Chalmers has long been something of a scapegoat beta on a team full of alpha dogs. So long as the Heat were winning, Chalmers’ defensive range and three-point prowess were enough to keep him squarely in the starting-five fold.
But after four straight games of increasingly spotty play and dour demeanor from his stopgap floor general, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra had no choice but to yank Chalmers from the starting lineup ahead of Game 5.
The implications are nothing if not profound: With Chalmers poised to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, it’s unclear how eager the Heat will be to bring him back—even in a reserve role.
Indeed, if you're Chalmers, LeBron's post-game comments, transcribed here by Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick, can't be sitting pretty: "Obviously, we need to get better at every position."
Well, if it's not small forward, power forward and shooting guard, that only leaves two positions to improve, right?
Regardless of where his near-future fortunes take him, Chalmers didn’t exactly play himself into an upper-echelon contract this summer. That might well mean he returns to the Heat at a discount. It might also mean a rotational leash so short Chalmers will think it’s a choke collar.
Winner: Gregg Popovich
I know what you’re all thinking: Since when is Gregg Popovich not a winner?
It’s a fair question, and one I have no problem answering unequivocally: Pop has been a winner since the day the delivery doctor slapped him.
Over the last few years, Pop has earned a reputation for being a kind of NBA folk hero—a caustic curmudgeon whose outward hostility masked not only a genuine genius, but a kindhearted character as well.
When the Spurs last captured NBA gold back in 2007, the internet had yet to reach a level of intelligence capable of capturing the idiosyncratic poetry that is a Popovich presser.
A fifth championship doesn’t merely mean Pop has carte blanche to do and say whatever he damn well pleases; it means his status as one of sport’s most iconic social media legends is as secure as his first-ballot Hall of Fame victory.
Loser: Dwyane Wade
Here’s an interesting thought experiment: If you’re an NBA superstar whose sheer basketball brilliance was the chief reason for Miami’s quasi-dynasty ever forming in the first place, how badly to you have to play before people start to call for you—the quintessential Heat—to take a pay cut?
Answer: Whatever this was? That badly.
Wade’s line in Miami’s four losses: 15.5 points and three rebounds on 42 percent shooting.
Terrible? No, it’s not terrible. Deserving of an extension starting in the neighborhood of $20 million? I think not.
The Heat have some serious decisions to make this offseason, the most pressing of which is whether and how to restructure the Big Three’s respective deals. If Miami has any hope of landing a fourth cornerstone—Carmelo Anthony, for instance—at least one of James, Wade and Bosh will need to take something of a financial bath.
After these Finals, expect the pressure to be on Wade to be the one to take the bullion bullet.
Winner: Tim Duncan
If there was one Spur for whom the 2013 Finals became a nightmare of what-ifs, it was San Antonio’s franchise stalwart.
Not only was Duncan on the bench when Chris Bosh snagged the rebound off a missed LeBron three and hit an open Ray Allen for his now-legendary game-tying corner triple in last year’s Game 6; he also missed a wide-open bunny in Game 7—a bounding baby hook a billion times made—that would’ve knotted things at 90.
So yeah, it’s safe to say that Duncan breathed a bit bigger sigh of relief than any of his teammates. Not just in recognition of last year’s blunders, mind you, but because, with five chips to his name, Timmy will doubtless go down as the greatest power forward ever.
Just, whatever you do, don’t call him a center. He hates that.
Loser: Pat Riley
That’s right, a guy who has eight championships to his name—six as a coach and two as an executive—gets a big, fat L for 2014.
Why? It has little to do with Riley’s approach to roster construction, although Miami could certainly use a few tweaks and tune-ups before the start of next season.
Rather, Riles won’t be eligible to rake in the millions in potential profits from having once again trademarked the 3-Peat moniker, as explained by ESPN's Darren Rovell:
Riley first filed for "Three-Peat" at the start of the 1988-89 season, months after the Los Angeles Lakers won their second title. The Lakers fell to the Detroit Pistons the following year, but Riley cashed in in 1993, when the Bulls three-peated and did it again in 1998. The trademark was also used when the New York Yankees did it from 1998 to 2000, and the Lakers won three in a row from 2000 to '02.
Riley has continued to add to his 'Three-Peat' empire over the years by registering the phrase in various versions, including '3Peat' and 'ThreePeat.' Meanwhile, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has protected the phrase by making initial rulings against filings by other individuals that refer to three-peat and the Heat such as 'Heat3Peat' and 'Big3Peat.'
Excuse us while we go cry crocodile tears. Dead crocodile tears.
Winner: Carmelo Anthony
Just bear with us for a second.
First, if you think the Heat’s three cowboys are moving on to find their own rodeos, stop watching terrible spaghetti westerns—it ain’t happening. Miami’s Big Three will be back. The question is, at what price?
James, Wade and Bosh will most certainly be looking to bolster the roster as dramatically and quickly as possible. Why? Because each has a very real interest in protecting—and, in terms of championships, propagating—his legacy.
If Melo meant what he said back in March, when he told ESPN New York’s Ian Begley that he’d take a pay cut “without a doubt” if it means a better chance of nabbing his first ring, then coming to Miami—starting at, say, $15 million a year—should be a more-than-agreeable situation.
If Miami paid each of its Big Four $15 million to start (meaning the other three opt out of their own deals to sign a fresh extension), they’d have enough left under the $77 million luxury-tax threshold to round out the roster.
Would this mean an automatic championship for the Heat’s new core? Not necessarily. But if Anthony proved anything at the 2012 Olympics, it’s that he has no problem whatsoever taking a secondary role, so long as the guys in front of him are peers he respects.
Loser: Your Basketball-Hating Friend
You know the type: laments the league’s reliance on “one-on-one street-ball crap,” constantly brings up Tim Donaghy, thinks there’s a conspiracy to fix the championship for whomever happens to be the game’s preeminent superstar.
Well, that’s five championships and counting for the Spurs, by my count. So who, exactly, is Adam Silver serving by rigging the Finals for Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan?
“Well the last two finals were so obviously fixed they had to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction!”
These people have read too many Tom Clancy novels. Do not listen to them. The Spurs played a beautiful brand of basketball and beat the snot out of everybody and won their fifth title by outsmarting, outpassing and outshooting their opponents.
That’s it. Enjoy it.
Loser: Every Other Team in the NBA
Want to hear something scary? The Spurs could conceivably return their entire title-winning roster next season.
Not scary enough for you? With a payroll of $53 million (assuming Duncan opts in for the final year of his contract), they could—granting owner Peter Holt’s willingness to double-down on his five-timing coach—get even better.
How many ring-less free agents do you think would be willing to come to San Antonio at a discount? Elton Brand? Kris Humphries? Trevor Ariza? The list goes on.
San Antonio has established itself as the unquestioned center of today’s NBA universe—the selflessly powered sun around which all other franchises orbit in Copernican fealty.
Even LeBron James, wounds of defeat still fresh, couldn't help but give the enemy its due, telling Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick, "They were the much better team. That's how team basketball should be played."
Riding off into the South Texas sunset makes for a nice Western ending and all, but if Pop, Timmy, Parker and the rest of the Spurs stalwarts have any kind of competitive fiber left in them, they’ll understand very quickly how poised they are to bring an even more potent product to bear next year.
Winner/Loser: LeBron James
If there’s ever been a more polarizing, politically toxic basketball subject than LeBron James, we haven’t met him yet.
For those motivated by little more than designs to dethrone the King, there will certainly be plenty of fodder to lob: three finals losses in five attempts (including two to the Spurs); a seeming unwillingness to strap his brothers to back and bring home the bacon himself; four years as part of a Hall-of-Fame trio with only a pair of rings to show for it.
And then you look at the box score and realize that, for all the Heat’s weaknesses, James sure ain’t one of them.
LeBron’s final line: 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and four assists on 57 percent shooting, including a ludicrous 51 percent from three-point range.
“Why the drop-off in assists?” a cynic might ask.
Because his supporting cast was, for the most part, pretty terrible? Maybe?
At this point you either love LeBron James or you don’t. There’s really no in between. But if these finals taught us anything about these Heat—however long their reign may last—it’s that, even with the best basketball player on the planet, sometimes there just is no substitute for a sound system.