2012 NBA Finals - Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat: The Blueprint
Looks like we’re finally getting the Finals matchup we as fans have hoped we would get ever since this lockout shortened season started. And with this particular pairing, we are given a variety of narratives to follow. The top two MVP vote-getters in Lebron James and Kevin Durant will be going head-to-head. The “Good Guy” Thunder team will go up against the “Bad Guy” Heat team (a terrible story line if you think about it). The narrative that interests me the most, though, is how these two teams represent two different (and essentially polarizing) ways to build a contending team.
Let’s start with the Miami Heat. We all know how this story begins: some of the top NBA players of their positions headline an incredibly stacked 2010 free agent class, led by big names like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Wade ultimately decided to resign with the team who drafted him, the Miami Heat, while recruiting Bosh in the process. Then on July 8th, 2010, Lebron made one of the worst PR moves with a television broadcasted decision to join Wade and Bosh in Miami. Thus, the super team, Big Three Miami Heat was actualized.
Of course, this was only possible because of the Heat’s player contract situation. The team made it so that every players’ salary, with the exception of Mario Chalmers’ and Michael Beasley’s, would only go up until 2010, in anticipation for the high profile free agent class. Beasley’s contract was ended up being traded for two second round picks and cash considerations, thus freeing even more cap space for the team. These moves allowed for the signings of three top free agents, being able to resign key role players for less money (Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, James Jones), and signed cheaper free agents as well (Mike Miller, Mike Bibby, Juwan Howard, to name a few).
As for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they were able to accomplish what every terrible, lottery bound team attempts to do: rebuild through drafting great players that hopefully develop into stars. In 2007, the Sonics had the 5th worst record (31-51) and was awarded the 2nd pick which became Kevin Durant (they also had the Boston Celtics’ 5th pick through the Ray Allen trade, which became Jeff Green). In 2008, the Sonics had the 2nd worst record (20-62), was awarded the 4th pick, and drafted Russell Westbrook. In the same year, they obtained the 24th pick via a trade with the Phoenix Suns, and drafted Serge Ibaka. In 2009, the now relocated Thunder had the 4th worst record (23-59) and were awarded the 3rd pick, drafting James Harden. From this point on, the Thunder would only see improvement.
In the 2009-10 season, the Thunder would improve their record by 27 wins to 50-32, clinching the 8th seed in the West. They would take the eventual champion Lakers to 6 games before being eliminated from the playoffs. In the 2010-11 season, the Thunder would improve by 5 games, solidifying the 4th seed in the West, and would reach the Western Conference Finals where they would fall in 5 games to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Now in the 2011-12 season, the Thunder earned the 2nd seed in the West, won 4 games in a row against a San Antonio Spurs team that previously was on a 20 game win streak, and now face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.
And in that span, Kevin Durant was Rookie of the Year, made 3 All-Star appearances, made 3 All-NBA first team appearances, was awarded the 2012 All-Star MVP, won 3 scoring titles in a row, and came in 2nd in MVP votes in 2012 behind Lebron James. Russell Westbrook also has two All-Star appearances and two All-NBA second team appearances. Also, don’t forget that James Harden is the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year and that Serge Ibaka came in 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting behind Tyson Chandler.
Though both the Heat and the Thunder present two different blueprints as to how a team can be built into contenders, I doubt any other team can replicate what either of these Finalists have done.
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (you know, the whole reason why a lockout occurred in the first place), it will be tougher for teams to hold onto so many max contracts (the Thunder will have to deal with this problem once contract negotiations begin with Harden and Ibaka). Also, not only does a team need a ton of cap space in order to make signings like this work, but the city needs to be a destination in which high profile players would like to go. In 2010, teams like New Jersey and the LA Clippers had enough cap space for at least one max contract, but (at least at that time) neither team had a history of enough success that would garner interest.
And if teams wishing to rebuild through the draft are essentially gambling. Even if a team gets high draft picks a few years straight, those picks mean nothing if the players chosen don’t pan out into star players. The Thunder just happened to hit home runs three years in a row, none of which happened to be #1 draft picks in the first place.
The only exceptions I can think of either situation came years before: The Celtics gathering their Big 3, and the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Celtics had to trade for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo happened to pan out at that season, thus leading to a Championship. The Spurs on the other hand, didn’t have a plethora of high draft picks. After drafting Tim Duncan with the #1 pick in 1997, they have always had success year after year, winning 4 total Championships. In that span, they were able to draft value picks: Manu Ginobili at #57 in 1999 and Tony Parker at #28 in 2001. Either way, these scenarios are still very unique and will be difficult to replicate.
By no means do I think that one way to build a contender is better than the other. Obviously, both teams are great (the best in each conference at this moment) and I honestly believe that the Finals this year are a complete toss-up as to who will win it all. Each team has a trio of incredible talent, each with a player than can be the greatest player on the court for an entire game. The Thunder have an outstanding offense with a great defense. The Heat have an outstanding defense with a great offense. Both teams are playing better than how they were in the regular season. It’s the 1st, 4th, and 5th picks of the 2003 draft against the 2nd, 4th, and 3rd picks of the 2007-2009 drafts. When it comes down to it, I’m going with my gut:
Oklahoma City Thunder in 6.
Quick post: Good Job, Good Effort
I’m currently in Phoenix waiting for my next flight to Minnesota, so I’m not able to write nearly as much as I would like, but I thought this was definitely worth noting and writing on my phone.
Today, May 11th, marks the 5 year anniversary (yes, half a decade!) of Baron Davis completely annihilating Andrei Kirilenko during the Warriors’ only win vs the Jazz in the 2007 NBA Playoffs. This is definitely a special moment for all Warriors fans, putting an exclamation point to an already loud and unforgettable season. Yes, it was the Warriors’ only playoff appearance in the past 18 years, and there was no way they would’ve gotten past the Jazz, but this moment in time definitely made its impact not only in Warriors history, but in the entire league.
Greatest Playoff dunk of the 2000’s? I think so.
NBA Playoffs Round 1 Round-Up: Miami Heat (2) defeat the New York Knicks (7) 4-1
And so the peculiar case of the New York Knicks’ season ends.
I thought that the Knicks would at least push the series to two games, one win coming from Melo singlehandedly throwing up some hero ball and the other coming from Novak and JR Smith shooting lights out, but I guess we have to settle for only one. Hey, at least they snapped that 13 game playoff losing streak!
This 5 game series has been as ridiculous, confusing, and heartbreaking for the Knicks as their regular season has. First, Iman Shumpert (one of my favorite rookies) tears his ACL in Game 1. Then after a Game 2 loss, Amar’e inexplicably pushes a fire extinguisher, cutting his hand badly and goes out for Game 3. Game 4 saw the Knicks breaking their losing streak as well as staving off elimination… but at the loss of veteran guard Baron Davis (one of my favorite players in the past 10 years). Plus, JR Smith had gone cold all series and Steve Novak never got enough touches.
Was this series indicative of what the Miami Heat will do in the rest of the playoffs? Well, I wouldn’t say so just yet. This Knicks squad has been incredibly inconsistent all year with roster changes, coaching changes, injuries, etc, and these 5 games alone have been no different. The Heat’s defense will be there, but it’s always there, but they will be going up against a team with a more cohesive identity that has a great frontline (the Pacers). Granted, the Heat’s overall talent can overcome any team, but I expect to see some closer battles than we are used to. I never think the regular season is indicative of anything that will happen in the post season (example: did anyone see the Mavs coming last year?).
So with a farewell to the Knicks, I’ll leave you with this amazing moment from STAT himself:
NBA Playoffs Round 1 Round-Up: Indiana Pacers (3) defeat the Orlando Magic (6) 4-1
Finally, the series nobody really wanted to see is over. No offense to either team, but unless you’re a Pacer fan or a Magic fan, no way you really had any desire to watch this series.
After a somewhat peculiar first game upset where Orlando won 81-77, the Pacers finally came to play, taking the next four games for the gentleman’s sweep. The Pacers decidedly took all but one win with blowouts, and the only close win (101-99 OT) came with a big game from their big offseason acquisition of David West.
Orlando was without their superstar Dwight Howard, who was giving the team problems with his horrible PR decisions anyway. His absence prompted Stan Van Gundy to put Glen Big Baby Davis alongside Ryan Anderson as the starting big men. So basically, David West and Roy Hibbert were able to get whatever they wanted. Coming this summer, we might finally get some questions answered regarding SVG’s coaching job or Dwight Howard’s trade request (in my opinion? Keep Van Gundy, trade Howard). All I can say is that I wouldn’t want to be a Magic fan right now (sorry, y’all).
I actually really like this Pacers team. Paul George’s and Roy Hibbert’s improvements have helped them both offensively and defensively. Danny Granger can do less now on the offensive end with the additions of George Hill, Leandro Barbosa, and David West. Their bench is scrappy and they all work hard. And Frank Vogel has shown that he can be a really good coach. I honestly think that they are only a couple of steps away from being real contenders in future years (another year or two of Paul George’s growth and a consistent starting point guard) and that should be exciting.
The Pacers will face the winner of the Heat vs. Knicks series… which means they will be facing the Heat. Roy Hibbert should be getting whatever he wants, but the Lebron vs. Granger matchup should be a lot of fun to watch.
NBA Playoffs Round 1 Round-Up: San Antonio Spurs (1) defeat the Utah Jazz (8) 4-0
And here we have our second sweep of the year! I personally would have thought that this would have ended in a gentleman’s sweep (4-1) because Utah is unreal when they play at home, but this Spurs team is just too damn good.
But let me rant a little about the Jazz. I’ve never really liked the Utah Jazz. Even back with Malone and Stockton, then eventually the mix with Williams, AK47, and Boozer, I just found myself always rooting against them. Throw in that crazy home crowd, and the boos start rolling out from me. Nothing against each of those individual players — they’re all great and I love each of their games individually — but add the Jazz name and I cringe.
But this 2012 Utah Jazz team was a different story for me. They have a great starting frontline with Millsap and Jefferson. Devin Harris is good again. Gordon Hayward is a great wing player to watch — he shoots the ball well, is athletic, and plays defense by going for blocks. Derrick Favors is showing that he was a great pick (granted, by the Nets…) at #3 back in 2010. They have a great young core that can grow together. I just can’t see myself liking any of those older players like I do with this group, and it’s fun.
So why couldn’t the Jazz squeak out even a single win? The Spurs are just too damn good. It took until Game 4 for Ty Corbin to use the big lineup, starting Millsap at the 3 and Favors at the 4, and it worked… for the 1st quarter. Here’s why Greg Popovich won coach of the year. He adapts well in these situations and knows how to attack each team where it would hurt. Yes, the Jazz started playing well, but the Spurs just played better when Pop countered their bigs with a small lineup.
Quick rant about the Spurs too: I’ve always thought they were an incredibly boring team. Especially as a casual fan, I could never put my finger on as to why I hated watching them. As this shortened season went on and I started watching basketball more closely, the Spurs have actually become one the more fun teams to watch, and now I regret blowing them off as boring in seasons past. Their ball movement and the players feel for each other is actually quite amazing; I don’t think there’s any other team that plays to the same page as these Spurs do. And that’s why they’re favorite to make it to the Finals out of nowhere.
And here I leave you with a quote from Jazz Center Al Jefferson, before Game 4 (via_):
“I just think we’re playing against a team that is at its peak, I don’t see nobody beating them.”
And now the Spurs have somewhere between 3-7 days to rest and get ready for either the Clippers or Grizzlies. Let’s see if Big Al is right.
NBA Playoffs Round 1 Round-Up: OKC Thunder (2) defeat the Dallas Mavericks (7) 4-0
I’ve been fairly busy these past couple weeks, so sadly I haven’t been able to catch many of the Playoff games, let alone from this series, and these posts may be short.
The defending champion Mavericks have been the first victims in the NBA playoffs in what was probably the most entertaining (though quickest) series in the first round. In a first round filled with injuries and blowouts, the Mavericks and Thunder were able to keep three out of their four games close, with a total margin of victory of 10 in those three games.
Though most (if not all) people predicted the Thunder to win the series, I doubt many (if anyone) saw a full sweep, but Dirk Nowitzki was carrying the offensive load for the Mavericks in all four games, which isn’t enough against the three headed monster of Durant-Westbrook-Harden. Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle pretty much nailed the Thunder with this quote after the game 4 loss on Saturday:
They have a certain look in their eyeright now, not only that they belong but that this could be their time
Whether the Lakers close out the series at home at Game 5 or if the Nuggets can win 3 in a row, expect the next Thunder series to be a great one to watch.
Penny Hardaway Dunks on the Indiana Pacers - Game 4 of1995 Eastern Conference Finals
One advantage of the NBA lockout? NBATV is playing a lot more Hardwood Classic games. Of course, they can’t play any games with current NBA players, so most are from before 1994 (when Grant Hill and Jason Kidd were drafted). Sometimes you’ll get some really nice late-90’s games with the Bulls, Jazz, and Sonics.
Oh, and this.
I was only 6 years old during this game, long before my obsession with basketball, so I’m glad that NBATV is showing these games. I get to actually watch and experience some classic moments of NBA history.
Plus, that first Penny poster was DOOOOOOOOPE!