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- Can The Raptors Contend Without Tanking?
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Posted on June 13, 2011 | 5 Comments
So the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks have defeated the evil empire, AKA the Miami Heat, and whenever a new champion is crowned, everyone loves to figure out what it all means. It happens every year and every year it usually ends up meaning about as much as an apology from a celebrity. Not much.
No, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to be combing through Europe to find the next Dirk, just as it wasn’t a good idea to start stacking your team with two centers, after Houston miraculously made it to the Finals, in 1986, with Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, or to start trying to convert shooting guards and small forwards into point guards, simply because Magic Johnson was 6’9 and could pass and handle the ball like a guy a foot shorter.
You see, the main reason it’s not a good idea to start copying teams that have just won Championships is because you can’t duplicate someone else’s success. There’s not blueprint you can follow. Every Champion has been completely unique. Look back at all the teams that have won and you can’t really say that any team was like any other one that ended up winning it all.
The teams that end up winning it all are usually teams that don’t try and be like another team, or even build itself to beat another team (talk about a bad idea). The real contenders are the ones who are trailblazers (no pun intended) and make everyone else adjust to them, not the other way around.
In the end, THAT’S what we may have learned this season. Well, if you hadn’t been paying attention the last 50 or so years the NBA has been around.
Now, I’m not saying the playoffs weren’t entertaining, because they most definitely were. Close games and unexpected results are always entertaining. But watching the playoffs, something kept gnawing at my brain.
When my beloved Spurs were knocked out in the first round, I realized that these playoffs were going to be a little different. The big problem was not that the #8 seeded Grizzlies knocking off the #1 seeded Spurs was a huge upset. It was, but not to the degree it seemed. The problem was that despite winning 61 games, second in the NBA, the Spurs were simply not that good a team. And neither were any of the other teams out there. I never once thought to myself, “Wow, THAT’S a Championship team”, while watching ANY team play. A few teams looked great in spurts, but in many ways, this year looks a lot like the 2004 season when the Larry Brown coached Detroit Pistons won their Championship.
2004 was, in many ways, a hiccup year. The two top teams were the Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves, two teams that had not made it out of the first round of the playoffs in at least the previous three years and had only won 51 and 48 games respectively the previous season. And both teams only won 44 games the next season. This was a weird year, to say the least.
And the Detroit Pistons took advantage. Despite winning only 54 games in a very weak East, the Pistons were able to make it to the Finals just in time to play a collapsing Laker team that was on the verge of being broken up and Phil Jackson retiring (the first time, having learned from Jordan that only sissies retire once). The Pistons would become one of the least talented Championship teams in the last few decades, becoming the first team since 1979 to win a Championship without a current or former All-NBA player (Chauncey Billups would later make the All-NBA 2nd team, but not until after the team had won their Championship) on the roster.
So what does all that have to do with these playoffs? Well, as I said, no team really jumped out at me as being great this year, or in these playoffs, not even the NBA Champion Mavericks.
The Celtics completely screwed themselves when they traded Kendrick Perkins and, with him, the only advantage they had over Miami. Ironically, they made the trade in order to try and be able to defend Miami better, proving they were apparently one of the people not paying attention the last 50 years. Instead of making Miami adjust to their size, Boston blinked first and adjusted their roster to beat Miami. And lost.
Orlando went from contender to pretender when they tried to turn back the clock and sacrificed defense for offense in trading for Hedo Turkoglu. Orlando also hadn’t been paying attention the last 50 years when nearly every single NBA Champion consisted of one of the best defensive teams in the league. I find it amazing that Otis Smith, who until he got his job in Orlando was noteworthy only because he competed in a dunk contest against Michael Jordan while he was at Golden State, still has his job after trying to beat the record for killing a team’s title chances the fastest.
The Lakers won 57 games, but never once looked like the dominant team that marched to the Championship the last two years. And the Spurs, despite having one of the worst defensive seasons in over a decade, won 61 games, yet never seemed to be a real threat to win the title.
And then there’s Miami. Well, I do find it funny that there is so much discussion on the internet that the Miami experiment is now considered a failure and that the big 3 needs to be broken up. This from a team that came within 2 wins of winning the title. If Miami needs to be broken up, I’d hate to think what needs to be done in Chicago or Boston, both of whom could only take a game from Miami in their march to the Finals.
Miami was never the dominant team that some expected, but neither are they the disaster that people are making them out to be, now. On a related note, LeBron is being completely maligned after coming up short in the deciding game, yet until just a few games ago, people were talking about LeBron being better than Michael Jordan. Even Jordan’s wingman, Scottie Pippen, uttered such unbelievable thoughts. But just as they tried to anoint (and then tarnish and then anoint etc) Kobe Bryant as the air apparent, the media and fans try and jump to conclusions far too quickly.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means that Dallas is the best team this year, but that might not be saying much. It means that LeBron isn’t Jordan, but that’s not necessarily an insult. It means that everything will start over again in October, if we’re lucky.
As one of the main focuses of this blog is on the Raptors, does it mean anything to the Raptors? Well it doesn’t mean at all what PhdSteve, over at Raptors Republic, seems to think it does. I don’t see Miami’s defeat as somehow a “referendum” on just how valuable Andrea Bargnani is. The one thing we learned from these playoffs (again, for those who weren’t paying attention the previous 50 years) is that defense wins and bad defensive players Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic all are players that were never the greatest defensive players, but have simply become bad as they’ve gotten older. And all three watched their minutes plummet as the playoffs progressed.
It wasn’t just the teams in the Finals, though. On Boston, the former starter at center for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nenad Krstic, watched his playing time disappear because, while a good offensive player, was a weak link on a good defensive team.
Now, astute readers will point to Zach Randolph, a player who’s never been accused of taking defense too seriously, came within a game of leading his team to the Conference Finals. Well, all I can say is that Memphis might have ended up beating the Thunder of Randolph was a better defender. Or if that doesn’t work, I could just say they’re the exception that proves the rule, whatever that means.
Getting back to the Raptors, I find myself unable to get too excited about the coaching search. Dwayne Casey, Lawrence Frank and now Maurice Cheeks are are perfectly adequate choices. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I think they are adequate. Only a desperate coach is going to want to take over a 22 win team with mediocre talent, so the chance of hiring a great coach is pretty slim. It’s one of the reasons I thought the letting go of Triano was a little premature. First of all, I don’t think he did that bad of a job. No, he didn’t do a good one, either, but given what he was given, I don’t think anyone would have done much better. And I don’t know if there would have been much harm in giving him one more year. After that, the team might have more talent to attract a better coach.
GETTING TOO GREEDY
In my last post, I discussed how Golden State might be on the right track when rumours surfaced about a possible trade of Monta Ellis for Andre Iguodala. I’ve always thought that Ellis, while a fantastic scorer, is basically like a model with a drug habit. Sure, she looks great, but the relationship is never going to go anywhere. Iguodala isn’t the scorer that Ellis is, but he’s better at virtually every other aspect of the game. But now news is that Golden State wants more than Iguodala. Maybe that’s why I’m not a GM (well, that and I’m not exactly qualified). I’d take the offer and run. With Jerry West advising the Warriors, I wouldn’t be surprised if they now end up with Philly’s first round pick, or something.
Join the discussion: 5 Comments
- Latest column on #Raptors Republic: Lessons From The Playoffs (So Far) http://t.co/57bgLknFbi #, 2013/05/09
- On one hand, Seattle not getting team means I can't go to games there, on the other hand, it means a better chance #Raptors get Phil. #, 2013/04/30
- @DocNaismith True. I guess I hope I never write it, then. #, 2013/04/28
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