Monday, June 24, 2013

Wrap It All Up: The Finals, Next Season, and a Grand Hiatus

Jack: Well gentlemen, we've reached the end of the season. Already one of the best finals series in recent memory has been overshadowed by the trade talks between the Clippers and Celtics. But before we get to that, let's take a look back at that finals series.

Three of the games were remarkable. Four were...underwhelming? Games 6 and 7 were the greatest culmination of a Finals series we could have asked for. So many different questions could be asked - about what this means for Lebron, what it means for Ginobli and his bald spot, where the Spurs and Heat go from here - but let's start with this: This Finals series was _____?

Paul: It sounds cliche, but the only word that accurately characterizes that series is epic. Jack already mentioned games 6 and 7, which were without doubt the two best consecutive series-clinching finals games of my lifetime (cue the age jokes here), and each individually probably rank in the top 10 for finals games during that period, with game 6 possibly the best game ever. But beyond that, if you include coaches and executives, this series featured 10 SUREFIRE HALL-OF-FAMERS. Ten!!! (for those of you who are curious, that's R.C. Buford, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tracy McGrady, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen). And that doesn't even include guys for whom the jury is still out, like Bosh, Spoelstra, Kawhi Leonard, and Patty Mills's towel. I don't think we will ever see a series with that sort of star power again, at least until the NBA contracts and only has 4 teams each in Chicago, New York, LA and Miami.

Here's an interesting question though - how good will San Antonio be next year? People are already writing their obituaries, but last time I checked, that's become a yearly occurrence, and unless Ginobili retires, they should return almost the same roster they just won 60 games with. I think they are legitimate favorites again in the Western Conference. Do you guys agree?
Brian: Paul I was actually going to use epic,as well, but since that's taken i'll go with CLIMACTIC. I don't think anyone with an education level above GED would ever use that word, but the way the series ended was about as exciting as basketball gets. Jack is dead on about 4 of the games being underwhelming (remember the blogger that said none of the games would be blowouts? yeah, me neither) but games 6 and 7 were everything I could have asked for.

In answer to Paul's question, San Antonio will unquestionably contend next year. As long as Ginoboli takes a serious pay cut, Parker stops having bar fights with Chris Brown, Popovich finds another excellent role player from an obscure country that none of us could find on a map, and Tim Duncan continues to receive deer antler spray from Ray Lewis, they will win at least 50 games and likely close to 60.

I think the far bigger question is what Miami will do. Do they flip Bosh for a big man that can play tougher defense and hit the 16 footer (i.e. David West)? Do they amnesty Mike Miller even though he was a key part in their winning this finals series? Do they keep their nucleus together and roll the dice on a threepeat? I think they should keep it together and find one more competent big man, but I'm a little worried they will deal Bosh even though he's an important part of their style, and the world's biggest scapegoat other than Mark Sanchez. What do you guys think?

JackWELL-DESERVED. The fans deserved this kind of final (between two teams that basically had never played each other), both teams deserved to win this final, and (I'm afraid to even say this, but...) David Stern deserved it as well for bringing the NBA to its nationwide and international status as he prepares to step down. Lebron showed he deserves this ring, but I wouldn't hesitate to say that about Timmy (TIMMAY!) and Pop if they had won as well.

The Spurs will definitely contend. We'll see what the Thunder do this off-season - with a healthy Westbrook and maybe a better version of Sefolosha or Kevin Martin they're definitely up there. You certainly can't call the Clippers "favorites," even if they somehow acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Doc Rivers, until they've proven their worth. I think the best argument in favor of the Spurs is Kawhi Leonard and his massive double-doubles in games 6 and 7. He is going to be special, especially if he gets better at creating his own offense.

Miami. What to say about Miami? They won't blow things up. You don't mess with what works. If you're Pat Riley, you take your shot at a three peat, and if you don't get it, you retire when Bosh and Lebron leave and Wade, Battier, and Ray Allen all retire as well. If that happens I think I'll try out for the Heat. They're front-runners in the East as is, though the additions of Rose and Granger to the Bulls and Pacers makes things much more interesting. Do you guys think either of those teams make any off season moves? Who is going to make the biggest splash?

Paul: I'm inclined to agree with Jack when it comes to the Heat - you just won 2 titles in a row, and played one of the best series of all time to win the second one. You play in a garbage division in a garbage conference, with the only threats to your dominance likely to beat each other up for multiple series before having to face you in the postseason. Oh yeah, and you have the best player in the world. Three pretty good arguments for maintaining the status quo. At the same time, Stephen A. Smith, in a surprise move, made a good point when he pointed out that when you have Lebron James, things are going to work out for you almost regardless of what you do to the rest of the roster. Bosh has value as a spacing big man in their system, but when your toughest competition in the East comes from teams with elite big men (Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, and the ghost of Carlos Boozer), you have to think about moving him for somebody like West or Pau Gasol. If the Heat got Pau know what, let's not think about that. It will give me nightmares.

Meanwhile, the other teams in the East can make powerful arguments for staying put as well. Obviously the return of Rose is big for Chicago, who should take their place amongst the elite teams once again. For Indiana, however, I don't think Granger actually does that much for them now that Paul George has broken out. They could move George back to his natural position of SG, and just play a ridiculously tall lineup...but they still have minimal depth and will need to get a few more guys on the back end of the rotation to put them over the top. Really a tough position for them. I'd try and go after a competent backup PG, like Jameer Nelson (gulp) or Andre Miller (double gulp), and see what they can do with the core that they have.

In the West, other than OKC and San Antonio, the pecking order seems to be changing to a much greater degree. The 3-5 playoff seeds (DEN, LAC and MEM) all fired their coaches and have huge uncertainty going forward. Golden State and Houston have young superstars and appear to be on the rise. Nobody knows what's going on with the Lakers. The Wolves appear to be under some sort of satanic curse, but when healthy they have a crazy good lineup. Portland has a dynamite starting 5 and another high draft pick. Which team do you guys think will make the biggest moves up or down the standings in the West next year?

Jack: I would be just baffled if the Heat somehow ended up with David West. If I was Indiana I would pay David West somewhere between $15mil and $400mil to not go to Miami. Likewise, if I'm Chicago and it looks like Pau is headed towards Miami, I trade the Lakers my entire team. Ok maybe that's drastic. But besides Bosh (who the Lakers would probably actually like to have), Miami really doesn't have any trade pieces. Mario Chalmers alternated between border-line all-star and Dogus Balbay in the Finals (Paul would probably still take him for his intramural team). Everyone else is either a role player or old or both. Their available draft picks are garbage, especially if they expect to continue contending for titles.

Paul George's emergence makes me at least pause when thinking about Indiana. But they have always needed offense, and Granger provides that. The backup point guard slot is a real concern, but they could also get creative (a-la Miami?) and go with some point-guard-less line-ups instead of trotting out me/DJ Augustin for 20 minutes a game.

Out West the basketball is just way more fun. I would love to say I expect the Warriors to move up, banking on the solidification of their explosive back court and Andrew Bogut being in good enough shape to make it up and down the court more than three times before having to take a break. On the other hand, I'm just so worried about injuries on that team, and Jarrett Jack may depart (would he take a pay-cut to put Indiana or OKC over the top??). I would love to see a healthy Timberwolves team be a top 6 team in the West. Ok ok check this out - Granger to OKC for Reggie Jackson, Sefolosha/Martin, and a pick. Yeah? Or Granger to Golden State for Jack? Or Granger to the Lakers for a second round pick (since David Stern feels bad for torpedoing the Lakers' trade for Chris Paul in order to help out the franchise he was in control of)?  Whatever happened to Eric Gordon?  Is he still good?

Paul: Granger to OKC really doesn't make a lot of sense, as he's basically the homeless man's version of Durant and doesn't really fill a need for the Thunder. They have also showed they will take drastic measures to avoid paying the luxury tax, so its unlikely they would trade for Granger and his $14 million dollar contract, even if they could.

That being said, Bleacher Report informs me that the Pacers would be stupid to hang on to Granger - so if they say it, it must be true! Granger to Golden State makes a bit more sense, but they are probably not a title contender for another 2 years, so I feel like its a better move for them to keep developing Harrison Barnes rather than have Granger take his place. The Lakers are an interesting option as well, except for the fact that they have the worst bench in the league, no young assets, and will pay about as much in luxury tax as the Rockets will pay in salary in 2013-2014. So where should he end up? What about Houston? They've got solidified starters at 3 of their 5 positions, but could push the 6'9" Chandler Parsons to the 4 spot and play their preferred small ball all season, or make some trade like Parsons/Thomas Robinson/half their army of D-league power forwards for Granger and a draft pick.

Brian, other than Bosh, do you see any potential trades swinging the NBA landscape next year?

Brian: You mean other than Jason Collins to Golden State? Here's how I see the "contenders" changing in the off season:

-Miami: stands pat with Bosh, resigns Ray Allen/Chris Anderson/Chalmers, asks Wade to take a significant pay cut...and pursues Josh Smith. Couldn't he get 25-30 minutes off the bench and basically be a better version of Anderson? As long as Lebron can convince him to stop taking stupid 18 footers, I think he gives Miami the defense/rebounding/athleticism at the 4 it's been missing
-Indiana: ships DJ Augustin to Tahiti (where he could likely start for their national soccer team), pursues Nate Robinson as a backup point guard. Wasn't having a competent backup PG the one thing between them and the finals this year? Nate would provide instant scoring and energy off the bench for the Pacers.
-Chicago: Hope that Rose returns to at least 90% of his former self, grabs another shooter to help their atrocious shooting percentages. Wouldn't Kyle Korver make a lot of sense for them? Oh wait, they let him go last year? Well this is awkward.
-New York: Resign every player over 35 and tell JR Smith he isn't partying hard enough. Translation: the Knicks are screwed no matter what.
-San Antonio: In the words of Kunu from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, "Do less." They were 30 seconds away from winning the title this year - why change anything? If they can convince Ginobili to take a major pay cut, maybe they pursue a young, athletic big like Al Horford to take the reigns from Duncan in a couple years. Because Tiago Splitter blows (sorry Skip Bayless!!!).
-OKC: They need another shooter as well to take the weight off Durant's back. Think they could pry JJ Redick from the Bucks? Hmmmm. It would also help to have another big to take some minutes from Sergeballu LaMu Sayonga Loom DeerInHeadlights Walahas Jonas Hugo Ibaka. But maybe they can find a sleeper late in the draft for that.
-Denver: Resign Iguodala, bury George Karl's cadaver, sign Bob McKillop to a 35 year contract.
-Golden State: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs collude to sign Phoenix's training staff, and Mark Jackson actually watches game film this offseason. This team will be EXTREMELY dangerous in two years - no need to rush anything.
-Memphis: Set aside 30 minutes per practice for offensive drills. Jesus was the Western Conference final painful to watch. Jokes aside, nab a cheap shooter in the draft or free agency and they will contend yet again.

So I guess it's bold prediction time from us. Want to pick next year's champ, along with MVP/Defense PoY/Most Improved/etc etc? And for fun, let's make one ludicrous prediction each, like "Kyrie Irving will win the scoring title" level of ridiculous.

Jack: Out of all of that, Nate Robinson to Indiana makes the most sense and the biggest difference. Imagine if his playoff performance had been during the Indiana-Miami series instead of the Miami-Chicago's D League team series? DJ Augustin playing for Tahiti also makes a lot of sense, so I think that trade is one Indiana should recklessly pursue.

Side note: I think Jason Collins may be one of the more interesting story lines this off-season. Some teams could a gain massive publicity boost by bringing him on - I would expect Golden State and Washington to be front runners here as two of the most gay-friendly cities in the country. The NBA has basically fully supported Collins thus far - so don't be surprised if other teams try and get into the mix (Minnesota, Toronto, Chicago, and maybe even Utah? Lols just kidding).

As much as I would love to see San Antonio back on this stage, barring a move that brings them both youth and talent inside, I just can't picture it happening. Let's start at the top and work our way backwards:

Champion: OKC. It's Durant's time. He'll be even more efficient, put on 5 more pounds, get better on defense, and have Westbrook at his side. They'll combine for 80 points a game in the playoffs, over-coming the #1 seeded Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Oh wait, crazy predictions come later.
In the finals they will beat: The Indi-cago Bull-cers. The Heat are the favorite, and the Pacers and Bulls may well beat each other up. But I don't see Wade's health making it another full season, and the injury bug struck basically everyone else this season. If Miami doesn't change things up, their helter-skelter, high-flying attack will wear down too many of their bodies. (Am I picking against Lebron? Yes. Is that probably a terribly dumb idea? Yes.)
MVP/Defensive POY/Coach of the Year/Most Improved: Probably Lebron...although voter fatigue could lead to Durant winning this title, especially if he puts up 55-45-92 shooting splits. Boris Diaw probably wins Defensive POY, and if that somehow falls through, then I'll go with Paul George, who will be in the MVP conversation and win the defensive award as a type of consolation prize over his teammate Hibbert. Mark Jackson, after watching game film, will lead Golden State to a 5 seed and win Coach of the Year. Most improved will be Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard or someone else who fits that "wing-stopper" role and also breaks out on offense.
Crazy Prediction: Someone will pay Marco Bellineli $8 million next season. Oh wait that might actually happen. Ok how about this: Despite picking Durant for the MVP less than 4 sentences ago, James Harden will actually win this award, along with the scoring title, and Houston, after making another serious move this off-season, (Dwight? Josh Smith? Bosh?) will be a top 4 seed in the West (along with OKC, the Spurs, and the Clippers). Harden's 33-7-6 averages will have people remember when Jordan averaged those kind of numbers.

Paul: Nate Robinson to Indiana! Now you guys are thinking! I could see the penny-pinching Bulls doing that deal for a draft pick or two, and I think it makes sense for both sides. But that is pure speculation, whereas the following paragraphs can basically be regarded as fact:

Champion: Looking back at the list of NBA title-winning teams that had a chance to three-peat, the results are surprisingly mixed. Successful three-peats (among teams that had won the last 2 titles): 2002 Lakers, 1998 Bulls, 1993 Bulls, 1961-1966 Celtics, 1954 Lakers. Unsuccessful three-peats: 2011 Lakers, 1996 Rockets, 1991 Pistons, 1989 Lakers, 1970 Celtics, 1967 Celtics. In some of these cases, though, the back-to-back champs were clearly not the best team in the league the following year - in 1996 Jordan returned, in 1970 Russell retired. Removing those two from the equation, and taking Russell's teams as just one team that successfully three-peated 6 straight seasons, you see a pretty darn good success rate for teams defending back-to-back titles when they come in as the favorites. And make no mistake: no matter what Indiana does (short of picking up Kobe Bryant if LA were to amnesty him), Miami will still be the favorites. I'm still taking the Heat to win the title.

In the Finals they will beat: Now here's a much tougher question to answer, because the West is, and continues to be, ridiculously stacked. I think you can safely eliminate all non-playoff teams from last year (too tough to rebuild in one year), the Lakers (too much drama/not enough bench), Memphis (not sure why they fired Hollins), and, as much as it pains me, the Nuggets (too much change from a successful season). GSW and Houston are still a bit too young. The Clippers might be the sexy choice, but until they start hitting some free throws and playing any defense, I can't take them seriously. That leaves OKC and San Antonio left standing, and assuming Westbrook is back from injury with no problem, I predict Durant morphs into the Ubermensch and carries them to the finals.

MVP/Defensive POY/Coach of the Year/Most Improved: As Jack said, MVP is really Lebron vs. voter fatigue/absurdly high expectations for Miami next year. I'll say Lebron pulls off a nearly unprecedented feat and wins his 5th MVP in 6 years, narrowly edging out Durant, Tony Parker, and a surprise German league newcomer, Mobe Tryant-Stein. DPOY is a total crapshoot, but its going to be Roy Hibbert. Coach of the Year will be Kevin McHale once the Rockets figure out how to best utilize Harden. And most improved? If the Nuggets fail to resign Andre Igoudala, I'm going with the French Mamba, Evan Fournier!!! At least I'll have that to look forward to.

Bold Prediction: Kyrie Irving will lead the league in scoring. #haters.

Brian: Alright, time to wrap it up! Here we go:

Champion: Man, it's hard to go against the Heat here. But with the NBA as loaded as it is in the West, a legitimate emerging contender in the East (Indiana), and the difficulty of staying championship-hungry 3 years in a row...I just can't see it. I'll take the Spurs pending Duncan's health - if he cannot stay on the court, then it'll be Oklahoma City.

In the finals they will beat: Why not a rematch of this year? The Heat and Spurs were FAR and away the best two teams at the end of this season. I think the Heat get here, but limping badly after a gritty 7 game conference finals with Indiana/Chicago. I'll take Spurs in 6.

MVP/DPOY/Coach of the Year/Most Improved: That Lebron James feller is pretty good. And he's going to win the MVP every season until he gets hurt, which actually might be never because his bones are made of adamantium. So yeah. Paul is right that DPOY is a crapshoot, but there's a very good chance that Marc Gasol takes it again - his knowledge of the game is unbelievably impressive, and he doesn't need to rely on his athleticism. Coach of the year? Why not Tom Thibodeau, the best defensive coach in the league who nearly reached the conference finals with Jimmy Butler as his best player? With a healthy Rose, Thibs will get his due. Look out for Kawhi Leonard as the most improved - he looked like the best player on the court multiple times this postseason. I think he makes the leap.

Bold prediction: The Wizards claim the 5 seed and win a round in the playoffs. You heard me.


If you're still with us at this point, congrats. You have the patience of a nursing home bingo caller. It's been very fun writing for the past 6 months, but with the NBA season officially over we had a decision to make. After some deliberation we decided to go on a hiatus of sorts for a few months, partly because there's nothing but baseball to write about, partly because work schedules are catching up with us, and partly just to alleviate the pressure of having to churn out a new article or two every week. We will be writing periodically, so stop by every week just to see what we've put out (potential column idea that Jack may already be writing: Nadal losing in the first round to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon?!?). But thanks for reading us and be ready for another round of shameless social media spamming as we get closer to NFL season.

Peace, Love, and Danny Green,

Jack, Paul, and Brian

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