Changing Faces And Artest Praising (Part 1 of 3/NBA Wrap Up)
"But Len, why just Part 1 now?"
Well, in case ya haven't heard, Free Agency starts on Thursday morning at 12:01 AM EST. For the first time since I've really taken up writing this stuff, Free Agency will account for a LOT of how this year concludes and how next season will look as teams get into position to chase the Los Angeles Lakers. So let's start there shall we?
For the 16th Time...With Feeling...
- The Lakers are your NBA Champions. Oh and before I go on, I don't want to hear any "Len jinxed the Celts by picking them in 6" garbage. Anytime a team does the following things in a Game 7...
A) Blow a 13 point lead they've established in the 3rd quarter.
B) Hold the opposing team's best shooter to UNDER 50% from the floor for the game in a game in which said player admits he basically blew it...
C) Go absolutely hack happy putting the struggling Lakers on the line giving them freebies from about the 9 minute mark of the 4th on, making the solid D they've played all game all but irrelevant...
YOU DESERVE TO LOSE!!! For Boston, this loss is triply bad because of the ramifications that could come down the pike within the next two weeks.
A) Possibly losing Ray Allen.
B) Possibly losing "The Fact" Paul Pierce who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent, but is unlikely at best.
C) Having Doc Rivers forego the final year of his contract to watch his youngins play ball.
Many can and probably will debate that with a healthy Kendrick Perkins, Boston wouldn't have lost Game 7. There are those who will state what Doc stated after Game 7, that when healthy, that starting 5 of Perk, KG, Pierce, Ray Ray and Double R are unbeaten in the playoffs. They'd be right on that account. However, the fact still remains that for three and a half quarters, the Celtics had this game and an 18th title in their hands. But for reasons we're still unclear on, they let it go. Kobe did not help his case for being even a Jordan equal in this game, for if not for the performances of Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and my peoples Ron Artest...
Kobe would've suffered the indignity of watching Boston celebrate on their floor. So now, he stands atop the mountain as the undisputed "Best Player in the Association". Sorry LeBron, ya got a lot of work to do to close this gap and if you're set on staying at home, you may NEVER close that gap. (Just a word to the wise.) Ron Artest has effectively put to rest any and all grumblings about being involved in the Brawl at Auburn Hills, unless of course you're a Pacers fan in which you have my undying empathy because your franchise still hasn't recovered. Phil Jackson gets himself an 11th ring and as you've heard and will continue to hear, this guy wins titles in clusters of THREE. Did it twice in Chicago during the 90s, will be deliberating on whether or not his body can take the grind of trying for it one more time next season. At the moment, at the sake of sounding like the talking heads...the Lakers are your preeminent favorites going into next season. The nucleus is in place for next season and I'm lead to believe short of (and this might be the ONLY scenario out there I see putting a dent in a threepeat) Bosh, Wade and James in South Beach with Pat Armani coaching these three...the Lakers will threepeat.
Whole Lot of Shufflin' Goins On.
- There have been a slew of coaching moves made. Some were justified, others, not so much.
Mike Brown and Danny Ferry Out, ??? and Chris Grant In.
- Well, I guess leading the Cavs back from the abyss it resided in for the early part of the Double 0's just doesn't account for what it should does it? Mike Brown had the great fortune/luck/whatever of coaching the 2nd best player in the league and in doing so, coached the Cavs to its best season ever in 2007. (Even if nobody truly appreciated it for what it was and a week from Thursday when contracts can become official, it might be too late for the Cleveland faithful.) There are those who would rather do a stint in Leavenworth before agreeing to sign on to coach the Cavs, especially if there's no LeBron here. With LeBron, you're looking at easily a 50 win team. Without...I see many Springs spent in Secaucus counting ping pong balls in the Cavs' future.
At the end of the day though, while I can lay a little blame at the doorstep of Mike Brown for not doing ANYTHING to get more out of his players in the clutch, I blame Ferry for assembling this PuPu Platter of a roster. For making the move to get Shaq a year too late. For settling for the third best piece in the Washington fire sale this past season, rather than Butler or even going for the gusto and getting Arenas. For settling on Mo Williams rather than pushing for Michael Redd. A whole lot of #3s and no clear cut #2 will be etched on Ferry's epitaph and Gilbert's too if he's unsuccessful in playing the "Loyalty" card over the next 9 days or so. I do believe Brown will find another job in the NBA or he should, a helluva lot sooner than Ferry does.
Mike Woodson out, Larry Drew in.
- Ya know, it dawns on me that the NBA might be the only sport where players you don't know and barely even heard of get coaching gigs faster than the known names do. Or as history will show, your successful ones are the guys at the end of the bench who get to break down the game from every angle imaginable. Or not. :P Woodson basically improved the Hawks exponentially and much like Lenny Wilkens way before him in the late 90s, couldn't get the roster where it needed to be in order to advance past the 2nd round. Oh, laying the unforgivable egg they laid this past Spring, really didn't help matters much.
Yet another instance of the coach falling on the grenade that's reserved for management, which gave him a really good team, with no legitimate center to speak of. I honestly don't know a single thing about Larry Drew, but maybe Atlanta knows more than I do. What I am certain of is that without a legitimate big man to man the 5 spot so Horford and Smith can man their regular positions and without a returning Joe Johnson, these birds will be flying south in the East next year.
Kevin Pritchard out, ??? in
- Normally, I'm not giving much to a GM...but in this instance, I'm on his side.
Let me take everyone here back to about five, maybe six years ago. Anyone tell me where the Trail Blazers were at that stage of the game? Short of being in the Pacific Northwest, I doubt it. They were a laughingstock, a team comprised of more nutjobs than your local looney bin would allow. There were even some who believed that Portland's team got hijacked by a group of looney tunes who could actually play basketball, but that hasn't been confirmed nor denied for certain. What is certain is that perhaps the second or third best GM in the Association has been future endeavored by Paul Allen (man, this guy's really batting a grand in the bad decisions hiring/firing department ain't he? First he hires the guy who while successfully winning a National Title at Sanctioned California, also got them hit with heavy sanctions and jumped ship before the ship hit the iceberg. Now, he fires the guy who got the Trail Blazers back on a relevant level.) and well, how would you like to step into this job, hmm?
I haven't really read or heard much as to the "why" behind it and even if I have, maybe what I've heard isn't enough to justify it. Because all told, short of Pritchard channeling his inner Daniel Bryan and choking Allen with his own tie before spitting on him...this can't be justified. Short of Presti in the Oh Kay Cee, no other GM has his team built for the future the way Pritchard has. Pritchard's savvy manuevering has put Portland in a position where all they have to do is coach up the pieces they have in place and wait for the Lakers to wither and fade. (Or something to that effect.) Prokhorov, if you're listening, here's the guy you may want to hire if Jerry Colangelo doesn't come on board in three weeks when Thorn steps down.
Vinny Del Negro out, Tom Thibodeau in.
- If ever there was a coach I really felt got a serious raw deal, it's Vinny this past season. I think short of how Girardi got done in Florida a few years back, I really can't recall another coach getting the heave-ho in such a fashion. I think every day was a battle for him, from going at it with Paxson (who was probably lashing out after being the whipping boy for MJ once upon a time, only it came at the worst possible time) to having to control 12 to 14 different egos on the sidelines...oy.
Now, they've hired the basketball equivalent of Belichick (for the sake of this analogy, we'll call Doc Bill Parcells) in the hopes of completing their climb back to the top of the Eastern Conference. Oh and in my Free Agent Primer, I'll tell ya why this spot isn't as attractive as most believe it to be. One huge reason is something that MJ touched on during his Hall of Fame speech.
Bad Coaches out, Avery Johnson in.
- For the second time in my existence, one of my favorite teams didn't wait on Phil Jackson. Okay, the first time the Knicks basically played on enabling Jackson to go to Los Angeles, but still. Avery Johnson...isn't a bad guy, I don't think. He's definitely a modern day Mike Brown, coach who had an insane amount of talent he translated into one Finals appearance, but did nothing but underachieve after that. (Only in Avery's case, his underachievements were the stuff of LEGEND. Blowing a 2-0 lead to put him alongside the 1977 Sixers and then becoming the first team since the NBA went to a 7 game format to lose to an eighth seed the year after.) Now, the Nets fan in me wants to believe that his failures came from having Dirk Diggler as his best player and nothing great can come from that equation. Just ask Rick Carlisle who saw the Mavs (who were supposed to be the most formidable opposition for the Lakers in the West before the playoffs started) go down in the first round to an angry Spurs team almost meekly.
The only player he's actually familiar with is Devin Harris, but beyond that, I think there's much here in place that he can win and win FAST depending on how the next two weeks unfold.
Now for the Draft...well, it was boring. My God in Heaven, it...was...BORING. But I'll cover that as part of my Free Agent Primer, coming up NEXT.