Monday, June 15

The NBA Finals: What We Learned

Hello? Is this thing on? The trophy has barely touched down in LA and already Kobe fans are clamoring that this proves Kobe's better than LeBron and even His Airness. Phil Jackson is being discussed as the best coach ever, Trevor Ariza's contract demands are on the rise, and somehow people forgot that Pau Gasol's good. All this and more after the break...

Kobe v. LeBron
It's easy to point and say Kobe's better than LeBron right now. Kobe's brand new ring serves to mute any and all debate, but not for long. It wasn't that long ago (think Sasha Vujacic bricking threes in last year's Finals) that Kobe apologists were saying, "He can't do it alone, he has to have help." A statement that they conveniently forgotten now that LeBron is the one lacking help from his teammates. With Phil likely to retire after this championship, Kobe fans may need to recognize that this could be Kobe's last trip to the promised land. While Kobe has four rings, he only has one as the Alpha Dog. Is there anyone alive that thinks the King won't get more than one ring in his playing career? Comparing the seasons the two had at age 24, LeBron leads in FG%, 3PFG%, Rebounds, Assists, and Blocks. Kobe leads in FT% and Steals. Stats can be misleading, but it's hard to deny the dominant performance that was LeBron this past season. While the window is beginning to slide shut for Kobe, it's only getting bigger for the Chosen One.

Also, this notion that the Lakers grew from a lottery team to champions due to Kobe's maturation is absurd. The Lakers team that was in the lottery had Chucky Atkins and Chris Mihm starting and the only starter remaining from that team is Kobe, himself. Two of the starters (Atkins and Caron Butler) were traded for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit! That team featured Jumaine Jones, Tierre Brown, and Brian Cook playing significant minutes and Rudy T at the helm shortly after surviving a bout with bladder cancer. Rudy's a great coach, but it was clear he no longer had the drive by the time he landed on the bench of the Lakers. That lottery was five seasons ago and the only two holdovers other than Kobe are Luke Walton and Sasha.

Kobe v. MJ
Oh Kobe fans, you only serve to embarrass yourselves when you dare try to put Kobe's name in the discussion with Jordan. Some fans come armed with the argument that Kobe has more rings at 30 than MJ did. Let's take a more accurate look at how many each after 13 years in the league. Kobe has four and MJ... six! How about the Kobe didn't have a Hall of Famer playing next to him each time argument? How many Hall of Famers did Kobe beat in this series, Dwight Howard certainly has the potential to be one, but at only 23, he's far from the player he can become. He's the only legitimate shot at the Hall that the Magic have and he didn't attempt more than a dozen shots in any of the five Finals games, hardly worthy of Cooperstown Springfield. When MJ won his first title he went through Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boys and finally Magic and James Worthy. This Laker team won in the most bogus year in the NBA since the Spurs won their first title in lockout season in 1999. I already compared LeBron and Kobe's stats, so let's take a look at MJ too. For their careers (this includes the Johnny Kilroy and the Wiz seasons for Michael) Kobe leads in only two statistical categories: FT% and 3P%, but only by a combined .19. Jordan, however, leads in scoring average, FG%, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Jordan was a better scorer, defender, and was better at distributing than Kobe... oh, I found something else Kobe does more of... turn the ball over. So Jordan takes care of the ball better too. I understand the euphoria of winning a championship, but the facts simply do not support the Kobe argument.

Phil as the greatest coach of all-time

He's undoubtedly a great coach, but having horses is a big part of successful coaching and he's had 4 of the NBA's 50 best in the last twenty years. No one else in the league can say that. Could he have won with the Lakers had he not won in Chicago? I don't know, because it was those six rings that gave him the credibility that his predecessors lacked. He'd been where Shaq and Kobe wanted to go and they respected him for that. It's not important, but with the egos of both players, it's hard to imagine them respecting the bad suit-wearing, goofy mustache-having Phil that first won in Chicago. I digress, I love basketball, but it's not the hardest sport to coach. Football has far more moving parts and egos and with an actual salary cap and so many injuries, it's much more difficult to navigate to the Super Bowl multiple times. Phil may have surpassed Red Auerbach for the most titles, but he's not the greatest coach of all-time, it's one of the coaches with multiple Super Bowl rings.

People forgot about Pau

When Pau got to the Lakers he was supposed to be the missing piece, but somewhere along the line people viewed him as a softie, instead of one of the top five big men in the league. When the Grizzlies traded him, everyone scoffed at how little they got... because he was damn good then. If I had to bet money on who would get another ring Pau or Kobe, I would take Pau.

The Lakers will regret re-signing Trevor Ariza
So this is a What I think instead of a what we learned, but it needs to be said. Ariza's benefited from playing with a veteran point guard, one of the top two players in the league, and two adept passing big men. He's been so far down on the opponent's priority list that he's had countless open looks and favorable matchups that his value has become artificially inflated. Add in the post-Finals loosening of the purse strings and if the Lakers aren't careful they end up with $115 million locked up in the tandem of Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza. He's a very good player and fun to watch, but he's an energy guy not someone that's going to take the mantle from Kobe. Overpaying here and with the departure of Phil possibly spelling the end of the triangle offense in LA, the team may find themselves with two albatrosses around their neck. Note: I would re-sign Ariza if I was the GM, but not at the price tag that so many believe he will command on the market.

Stan van Gundy screwed up
Just want everyone to know I'm onboard with every other writer out there on this topic. The irony is, however, that Phil could've faced the exact same criticisms if the series had swung the other way.

1 comment:

Cleet said...

So who bilks more out of their playoff hype: Ariza or Davis?