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.
If you caught the Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder overtime thriller Sunday evening, you were in for quite the night.
Kevin Durant set a new career high 51 points off of 28 field goals. He shot 5-6 from 3 point land, and 8-10 from the free throw line. That’s MVP material, right up there with Lebron, Kobe, and CP3 this season.
Oh, and don’t forget Russell Westbrook who scored 40 points off of 29 shots. He also dished 9 dimes and committed only 2 turnovers.
But my favorite statline comes from none other than Serge Ibaka, who got a triple double. 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 blocks. That was the first ever triple-double in Sonics-Thunder history that included blocks. He also had a game high plus-minus of +31 in a game where the Thunder only won by 6.
It’s kind of crazy to say that “History was made” with three great performances coming from one team because it simply does not happen very often at all. This was the first ever NBA game where one team had a player score 50 points, another player score 40 points, and another player getting a triple-double.
This is a fun OKC Thunder team, ain’t it? Keep on runnin’ n’ gunnin’ guys.
Kendrick Perkins Runs the Break
I have nothing either witty or serious or analytic to say about this play. It’s just ridiculously awesome.
The NBA All-Star starters were announced Tuesday, voted in by the fans. (Also, the jerseys were revealed today, as seen above. Not bad at all). Just to recap the starters:
Fair enough. All of these players are deserving of All-Star nods. You can replace Carmelo with Chris Bosh as a starter, though, and you can argue that either Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge can start in place of Blake Griffin, but the game is for the fans who want to see explosive plays. No surprises here.
Though I was spot on with the starters in my Season Preview, the All-Star reserves will be a different story. They will be revealed next week, February 9th on TNT, chosen by the league coaches. One-third of the way through the season, players have gotten injured, have been better than expected, or have been worse than expected. Here’s my re-evaluation of the reserves:
First Guard: Russell Westbrook - He was basically a shoe-in for the team. He’s the only other point guard who really stood a chance against Chris Paul to be a starter. Not only is he a beast on the court who can score, but he is a lot of fun to watch.
Second Guard: Tony Parker - With Ginobili’s injury, Parker’s been doing a great job keeping San Antonio in their winning ways. The Spurs may be old, but Parker is only 29; still in his prime.
First Forward: Kevin Love - Is there any doubt that Love is an All-Star? His stats alone make him an All-Star, but the fact the has great fundamentals, can space the floor, can shoot the three, and is a good passer puts him over the rest. Plus, he was an All-Star last year that only got better.
Second Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge - He was the biggest snub from last season’s All-Star game, and is playing even better this season being the main focus of the Blazers’ offense. Great post game and midrange game and is a big part to the Blazers’ winning record. He’s getting in this year.
Center: Marc Gasol - His numbers may not show this, but Gasol is a huge reason why the Grizzlies have been winning. He has done a good job picking up some scoring and rebounding slack left when Zach Randolph went down with injury, and he’s been anchoring their defense. All-in-all, he is one hell of a player.
Wild Card 1: Ty Lawson - This spot could have gone to Steve Nash, Kyle Lowry, or Ricky Rubio, but I’m sticking with Lawson. The Nuggets deserve an All-Star with their record, and they’re winning with great team play. If I had to choose anyone, I’m going with their point guard.
Wild Card 2: Dirk Nowitzki - Like the other Wild Card spot that I saved for a guard, this spot could’ve gone to Paul Millsap, Rudy Gay, Danilo Gallinari, or Nene, but this pick is mostly out of respect. The Mavs are winning (top in Southwest division) and it would be a shame if the reigning Champions didn’t have a player in the game.
Key Injury Replacements aka Showing Some Love: Paul Millsap is possibly the most underrated player in the league and he’ll be this year’s Aldridge. Steve Nash may be old (almost 38), but he’s the league’s leader in assists and is still great. Danilo Gallinari deserves recognition for being the top scorer on a great Denver team.
First Guard: Rajon Rondo - He may be injured, but he’ll be coming back soon and he’s still one of the top playmakers in the league.
Second Guard: Joe Johnson - Al Horford went down early in the season, but the Hawks are tied with the Heat in the standings (going 9-2 since the injury). Joe Johnson is a huge part of that, and he’s also been an All-Star, which should help him.
First Forward: Chris Bosh - He’s playing much better this year, finding his role under Lebron and Wade. In spite of this, he’s still doing a great job scoring and pulling his weight when Wade was out with injury. If anything, he probably should start above Carmelo.
Second Forward: Josh Smith - Finally time for Josh Smith to become an All-Star, right? He’s probably been the biggest snub for years now, and finally has a chance this year. He’s also played very well since Horford’s injury, being a big part of wins.
Center: Roy Hibbert - Hibbert has finally gotten to that point where everyone expected him to be in the past couple seasons. He’s a tough player who’s been giving great production on the offense and on the boards.
Wild Card 1: Andre Iguodala - A great thing about Iguodala is that he can fit as either a guard or forward. A greater thing is how his play is a huge part to the Sixers’ success this season. In the #1 defensive team in the league, he’s their best perimeter defender. He also does a little bit of everything very well, as well as gives nightly highlight plays.
Wild Card 2: Deron Williams - I’m giving this to D-Will in spite of how poorly the Nets have been playing. His shooting’s down and his turnovers are up, but I blame this mostly on the lack of talent around him. Otherwise, he’s still an amazing player who can turn it on at any time. He just needs a guy like Dwight.
Key Injury Replacements aka Showing Some Love: I was this close to giving away D-Will’s spot to Ray Allen because he’s been shooting very well, but I can’t reward the Celtics’ play with two All-Stars. Kyrie Irving has shown why he was chosen #1 in the draft by exceeding everyone’s expectations. Greg Monroe deserves some talk because he’s putting up great numbers… it’s a shame he’s on the Pistons.
Also some names to note:
I’ll stop here because I know if I don’t stop, I’ll just keep typing names that won’t deserve it. Let’s see who the coaches choose in a week….
November 28, 2010 - Russell Westbrook Dunks on Shane Battier
I hope to see more of this in the upcoming season. Especially if Battier signs with a contender for mid-level.
If there’s two things I love, it’s basketball, and a well tailored suit. And in GQ’s upcoming issue, you get both at once! I love how this spread comes out just in time for the new CBA about to be ratified.
And I wonder how many times Iguodala’s pants ripped trying to do that dunk.