I don't know about you, but with all the things that have transpired in the last 10 months, I've had a few revelations about the NBA.
Based on that knowledge, I can make a pretty accurate prediction about where the NBA is heading and the mindsets and habits of its players (and coaches). I can make a legitimate contrast between the NBA today and what it was in years past.
As always, enjoy and discuss.
In 2008. it was Paul Pierce claiming he was the best player in the NBA. (Insert laugh track here.)
In 2009, it was Paul Pierce, again, claiming that the only reason the Lakers won the title was that Kevin Garnett’s injury kept him out of the playoffs.
In 2010, Pierce finally learned his lesson. But don’t worry, Doc Rivers picked up where Pierce left off.
“(The Lakers) still have not beaten our starting five. Our starting five against the Lakers' starting five has a ring.”
The Lakers' starting five in 2008 lacked both Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza and featured a player by the name of Vladimir Radmanovic – and can someone tell me where the hell Vlad even plays these days?
While you’re searching your Google engine, let me ask you something else: which team more closely resembled their exact starting lineups from 2008?
Lakers 2008 Lakers 2010 (Game 7)
D. Fisher D. Fisher
K. Bryant K. Bryant
V. Radmanovic R. Artest
L. Odom P. Gasol
P.Gasol A. Bynum
Celtics 2008 Celtics 2010 (Game 7)
R. Rondo R. Rondo
R. Allen R. Allen
P. Pierce P. Pierce
K. Garnett K. Garnett
K. Perkins R. Wallace
Well, I counted three discrepancies from the 2008 Lakers to their present form and just one for the Celtics.
We won’t even go into how Bynum is a better scorer and rebounder than Perkins. We won’t go into the fact that Bynum logged as many minutes in the 2008 Finals as Ann Coulter while Perkins played the whole damn thing, and we won’t even count how many more minutes Perkins logged in the 2010 Finals than Bynum was able to.
We’ll just chalk this up to more verbal Celtic stupidity. At least when Pierce was running his mouth, the things he was talking about were matters of (unsubstantiated) opinion. It seems his coach can’t even do that much, hell he can’t even get his facts straight.
Really, what’s up Doc?
One thing I’ve picked up on from the aforementioned legends’ comments about the newly formed Miami Heat is that none of them complained about how young the Heat’s core is.
One of the main arguments against the Miami Heat is that LeBron James and Chris Bosh were wrong for “ring chasing” so young in their careers. They should have tried to win it “on their own” first.
But that’s not what the legends are saying.
MJ, Magic, and Bird all pretty much said the same thing: that they would have never teamed up to increase their odds of winning, but that’s the end of their critique.
They make no mention of the ages of James, Wade, or Bosh.
My only question is that if the legends are so concerned about parity and competition why weren’t they as outspoken against the Celtics when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett jumped ship for greener pastures?
If you factor out the age gap, what’s the difference?
Are the legends so concerned because the Heat’s roster has the potential to match the achievements they accomplished “on their own?" It certainly seems that way.
In principle, the Heat did nearly the same thing the Celtics did, and no one was complaining.
Stars today don’t care about the stale, trite, sanctimonious platitudes offered by fan bases or even by their predecessors. They just want what’s best for them and contrary to popular belief, they still have to work hard to succeed, regardless of how talented their team is.
So if these stars are willing to work for what they feel is best for them who are we to judge? When did this stop being America?
I’ll be the first to admit that the NBA today isn’t quite as competitive as it was two decades ago, but that isn’t because players are willing to join forces. It's because the rules of the game are different and because with more teams, it's harder to bring in talent.
People didn’t hate the Bad Boy Pistons because they played great defense. People hated them because they’d maul you while doing it. They’d knock you to the floor as often as often as possible, they’d get in a shot whenever they could, and they were some of the meanest sons of *****es you’ll ever meet.
No team comes close to the matching the nastiness and physicality of those Pistons.
Before you vilify the Heat, remember that NBA history is littered with juggernaut teams. Most of those teams didn’t have to be built purely through free agency because with fewer teams there was less competition to bring in talent.
LeBron James doesn’t want your lectures. He’s laughing all the way to the bank while you look down on him, and he’s almost certain to be laughing to the Larry O’Brien at some point or another.
Yearn for the golden years all you want, but realize that those days are gone and that you cannot judge today’s players by yesterday’s standards.
Remember the days when you could draft a star player, and he would try as hard as he could to help the team win while a front office would put good-but-not-quite-good-enough talent around him?
Those are dead and gone.
Don’t just think about LeBron James. Think about Allen Iverson. Think about Carmelo Anthony (if he does wind up leaving Denver).
Championship teams are no longer built through the draft. They are no longer built through mid-level trades. They are built with a touch of luck but mainly with blockbuster trades to help a struggling star.
Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce can attest to that.
Players shouldn’t be the only ones taking note of the latest trend surrounding the NBA; front offices should too.
No longer do they have the luxury to sit back and hope their players develop.
The Trailblazers were supposed to be the team of the future for the last three years, but instead of moving forward, they’ve become increasingly irrelevant.
After the 76ers pushed the Detroit Pistons to 6 games in 2008, they were supposed to be moving on up into the Eastern Conference’s mid-level echelon, but aside from winning the number two pick in the NBA draft, what was the last thing the Sixers did worth noting?
The Denver Nuggets seriously challenged the eventual NBA Champion Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Finals yet failed to even make it past the Utah Jazz in the first round. The Jazz were swept by the Lakers immediately afterwards.
Teams should be taking note of all of this.
If a front office is seriously committed to winning championships, then it needs to operate in win now mode. It’s what the Lakers and Celtics have done and their all or nothing philosophy enabled them to combine for five Finals appearances and three rings in the last three seasons.
I’ve heard people argue that Wilt contributed more to the Lakers' organization than Kobe Bryant did, but that’s just ridiculous. Wilt brought one championship and one Finals MVP award to L.A.
Kobe Bryant surpassed that in the last two years alone.
Kareem helped the Lakers to five rings and is the NBA’s all time leader in career points, but he won only a single Finals MVP award as a Laker and spent several years in Milwaukee before even arriving in L.A.
Jerry West has only one ring and the Finals MVP award he did win actually came in a loss. He remains the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award in a loss.
Since West was the first player to ever win the award in the first place and the requirements of winning the award weren’t firmly established, he will undoubtedly remain the only player to do so.
Shaq is… well… a multitude of things, but there are hardly enough negative adjectives in the English language to detail all of them so we’ll just point out that he’s a Celtic and leave it at that.
Who does that leave?
Only the most recognizable, successful point guard in NBA history: Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Unlike Kobe, Magic’s on court decisions were virtually always in the best interest of his team. He took shots in the flow of the offense, was an excellent rebounder, and gave his team whatever they needed to win.
As great as Kobe is – and he’s among the very best to ever play the game – he’s no Magic.
Magic would not have hurt his team with a 6-24 shooting performance the way Kobe did in Game 7. Magic would not take the other worldly shot attempts Kobe does on a routine basis.
And let’s face it, Magic would not have refused to adjust his game or the amount of shots he takes if his body wasn’t cooperating the way Kobe’s wasn’t in the first round of the playoffs.
That said, Kobe is a five time NBA Champion, easily the most clutch player in the NBA today, the most complete guard the game has seen since Jordan, and one of the most dynamic scorers of all time.
From a purist’s standpoint, Kobe’s legacy should be nearly equal to Magic’s as he’s helped bring the Lakers an equal amount of championships (on fewer attempts).
When he retires, I’m all for Kobe getting a statue right next to Magic, but none of this is to say that Kobe and Magic were equal in what they brought to their respective teams.
As of today, August 29, 2010, Kobe Bryant is NOT the greatest Laker of all time.
However, should Kobe lead the Lakers to a third consecutive championship, surpassing Magic in rings and tying him in Finals MVP awards then this topic can be revisited.
Even though that should be enough for Kobe to surpass Magic’s legacy, he still lacks the virtually infallible decision making and diversity Magic displayed throughout his entire career and that should not be forgotten.
“There will never be another Michael Jordan.” That’s a quote from the goat’s mouth and, well, he’s right.
There simply cannot be another Michael Jordan—ever—for a multitude of reasons. The first is the unparalleled combination of talent and athleticism Jordan boasted. The second was his insane work ethic and killer instinct.
The third (and this may be the most important) was luck.
Was Jordan lucky when he led his Bulls to an NBA record 72 wins in ’96? No.
Was Jordan lucky when he became the only player in NBA history to claim both an NBA scoring championship and a Defensive Player of the Year award on his career resume? No.
Was Jordan lucky in ’87 when he earned a 37.1 ppg average, the highest average since Wilt Chamberlain’s 44.8 ppg in ’63? No.
But Jordan was still lucky.
He was lucky that the Bulls organization got their hands on Phil Jackson, who would eventually become the most successful coach in NBA history. He was lucky to have played with Scottie Pippen, one of the greatest sidekicks of all time.
And yeah, Jordan was somewhat lucky that he entered his prime just as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were exiting the game.
But again, luck isn't the only thing separating Jordan from everyone else.
The final nail in the coffin is that no player in the NBA today has a shot in hell of winning six Finals MVP awards, especially on only six attempts.
All of the teams currently in the NBA with a realistic shot of winning the Finals have more than one player capable of stepping up and being the alpha dog. Think about it: if you remove Paul Pierce’s back-to-back three pointers in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals, couldn’t Kevin Garnett have been named Finals MVP just as easily?
Weren’t there stretches of the 2010 playoffs where Pau Gasol was the Lakers’ best player?
Tim Duncan is the only player in the NBA with four or more rings to remain undefeated in the Finals, and Tony Parker won the MVP in Duncan’s most recent title.
There really aren’t anymore true sidekicks. There aren’t anymore Scottie Pippens.
You may or may not believe that LeBron James turned down an opportunity to be the next Jordan, but as we’ve seen in the last few years, the only teams capable of winning titles are those with more than one alpha dog.
James just wasn’t lucky enough to have that—before now.
No matter how many rings James wins, he won't be another Michael Jordan. No one is. He's just trying to be the best he can be.
Can anyone fault him for that?