Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Finals Recap

Well, this is too bad on a couple of levels.  First off, I’m going out be out of excuses for why I haven’t been writing real stuff.  Maybe the draft will help me prolong things some.  Also bad because the wrong team won.  I picked Miami before the series started, so it’s not about that.  It’s not even fair to say that Miami wasn’t the best team, even if they needed Detroit to implode and Dallas to fall apart.  Miami persevered and the others didn’t.  That’s why they are getting rings sized today.  

The wrong team won because I can’t be happy for these guys.  Shaq and Haslem are fine with me, but Walker represents every coach’s worst nightmare.  Wade won by abandoning his ability to create in favor of tunnel-vision scoring.  Mourning’s been a back-biting, self-serving poser hiding behind his kidney PR free pass for several years now.  Jason Williams is tough to cheer for.  Payton finally rode enough coattails to get his ring.   And then there’s Riley, who managed to displace Larry Brown as the worst backstabber in the league.  He ducks into the President’s chair as soon as his playoff-disaster-prone Mourning-led Heat fall apart, giving Van Gundy the chair, swears off coaching like it was a curse for several years, then slams Stan right out the door the moment the team was on the verge of a title again.  Despicable.  At least Karl Malone didn’t somehow wedge himself onto this roster.

Every year, the champions set the new trend for the other GMs to copy.  The last few years, the champs have been the Pistons and Spurs, fantastic models built on intelligent spending and teamwork.  Now, we get Miami, whom I’ve referred to as a collection of individuals on several occasions.  This may set off another round of silly spending, like Portland’s All-Star stuffed squad of 2000.  I hope this doesn’t happen, and the league doesn’t forget the lessons learned from the last few Dream Teams: gathering a room full of guys that want to be the main scoring option doesn’t work.  The Heat got away with it because over half the roster has a foot in the grave and conceded the load to Wade.  It’s a bad formula, and it’s not good for the league.  The best case scenario is for the league to keep moving towards teams built like the Suns, Spurs, Pistons, and Mavs, where big names are created through success and not the other way around.  

(sliding the soapbox back under the desk)

Why did Dallas lose the series?  It’s simple: Dirk never got off the floor.  In Game 6 of the Spurs series, he disappeared in the clutch, the bottom fell out on the Mavs, and their double-digit lead became a Spur’s win.  He erased that in Game 7 with a bulldog performance.  Game 3 of this series kicked off the exact same scenario.  Dirk was nowhere to be found as Wade exploded in the Miami comeback.  The difference was, Dirk never responded.  He tallied good numbers overall, but he never figured out how to break down Miami’s defense so that he could score at will.  Dirk kept trying in vain to stick with the plays that carried him through the western conference, refusing to adjust.  It was unsurprising to me that last night he again was AWOL in the 4th (0-4).  Dirk establishes the Dallas mindset, and he was in a shell from Game 3’s 4th quarter on.  

Where do the Mavs go from here?  They have a fantastic team in place, but must resign Jason Terry in the offseason (looks like a good bet from here).  Stackhouse is the only other major contributor not signed long term (entering final year).  They should be fine as Howard, Daniels, Diop, and Harris are all still young and developing.  

The Heat have a shakier future ahead.  O’Neal and Mourning clearly do not have much more miles to travel in their careers, and there is no prospect to replace them at the moment.  Walker is signed long-term, and that may be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view.  Payton may take this as an opportunity to retire on his own terms, and Williams will stay on board.  Wade is up for an extension, and will probably take it.  The Heat are said, per the Miami Herald, to be interested in bringing in a combo guard in the offseason.   Haslem is signed for several more years, but Posey has a player option that he may or may not take.  It would be foolish of the Heat to sign him to more than the $6.4 million he’s set to make next year.  The Heat will have a tough time defending their crown as the cast around Wade ages.  

Additionally, I’m concerned about Wade’s development.  I’m seeing too many disturbing parallels to Steve Francis.  This isn’t to say that Steve was ever at Wade’s level, but Flash is starting to pick up the same bad habits.  Like I mentioned earlier, Wade stopped creating for others and just looked to score himself.  That may have been necessary, but it’s a tough habit to break.  Consider: after averaging almost 7 assists in the regular season, Dwayne Wade handed out as much as 6 only in the Finals’ opener.  He averaged less than 4 for the series.  In his clutch drives, it was plain that he wasn’t even interested in hitting a wide open teammate when he had the opportunity.  Again, maybe the necessary action at the time, but a hard habit to break.  Are teammates going to enjoy playing with him down the road?  Isn’t this exactly what we roast Kobe for?  At least Therapist #8/24 has a jumper; Wade has seriously become a one-trick pony.  And defenses in this league catch up to those players.  Wade’s turnovers are also disturbing; he had 4 or more in 4 of the 6 games and averaged 3.9 for the postseason.  This is the exact same road that Marbury and Francis took.  Wade may draw the annoying Jordan comparisons now, but will it last?


Monday, June 19, 2006

Evaluating Game 5 and Extra

Well, what can you say?  Fantastic game with a somewhat dubious ending.  A few thoughts:
  1. Home cooking has been a part of basketball for as long as the NBA has been around.  Joey Crawford dances onto a court tweeting his whistle to get attention before making a call, Dick Bevatta is very loose and veteran-favoring with his calls, Jack Nies aims to T up no less than 3 guys on any given night, and the home team in a tight series is going to lap up all of the calls.  It is what it is.  It’s an outrage when you’re receiving it, and it’s sour grapes from the opposition when you’re reaping it.  Dwayne Wade earned about two thirds of his trips to the line last night, but Dirk steals just as many in Dallas.  What should worry Miami is how dependent Wade has become on the leap-into-traffic aspect of his game.  His jumper is atrophying, and when the calls don’t come, they’re all left high and dry.  

  2. I don’t know for sure what went on with Josh Howard’s timeout.  On one hand, he did make a bone-headed TO call in college and the refs were pretty adamant that he called a time out with no mention of “if the next FT goes in.”  If Avery tried the “what else would we be trying to do” card, that’s not going to fly.  Icing the shooter is common enough if a team has extra timeouts.  It’s not up to the refs to interpret your intent.  On the flipside, speaking as a one-time ref from my 4 years in college, in a stopped clock situation like last night, all the ref had to do was clarify.  This wasn’t in the middle of play with the clock running down.  He had freedom to ask “Howard, you calling for time?”  Asking “hey, I really don’t think you want to call a time out right here, you only have one left” would be out of bounds, but the former request for clarification gives Howard the chance to say “after the free throw.”  Once the TO was given, however, Salvador and Crawford dug in their heels and wouldn’t wave it off (rightly so).  

  3. It’s tough to say that Stackhouse’s suspension downed the Mavs.  Terry and, surprisingly, Howard rose to the occasion and put up 60 points.  Dirk has yet to have one MVP showing in this series, being kept well below his regular season scoring average and shooting percentage (26.6 and 48% becoming 21.6 and 37%).  The story of the 3-game Miami streak is that Wade has broken loose while Dirk remains bogged down.  

  4. As previously mentioned, the team that breaks a 2-2 series tie eventually wins the series about 85% of the time.  

  5. No names mentioned, but Avery Johnson has hinted that a few Mavericks have succumbed to South Beach Party Disorder, the Heat’s bigget homecourt advantage.  Avery is irate, switching hotel accommodations to Fort Lauderdale and forcing the team to sleep two to a room to knock out what he’s described as a “vacation mentality.”  I would have to lay some suspicions that Nowitzki has been one of the culprits, given his notorious party habits.  

  6. Riley has certainly reined in Walker (26 minutes), instead playing Posey 44 minutes.  Walker only tossed up 7 shots last night, making his FGA a big stat differential in the wins and losses.  

The Extra:
Richard Jefferson is said to be available in trades and has a declining relationship with Jason Kidd.
Also to be added to the trade block list (according to rumor): Iverson, Ben Wallace, and Carlos Boozer.  Yep, Ben Wallace.  His obvious sulking and disinterested play during their playoff run not only conveyed his displeasure with his role on the team (Flip doesn’t call plays for him to nurse his sensitive ego like Larry Brown did), it ticked off Joe Dumars and the owner to no end.  With Wallace asking for a silly 6-year max contract, the team might be secretly hoping that a S&T opportunity arises.  
There’s a growing number of Jay Williams comeback stories starting to circulate as he works out for numerous teams, but I’ve yet to see a single report that indicates that he’s anything close to what he was before his bike crash.  He’s worked hard, but his lateral quickness and leaping ability may never come back.  Add that to the fact that he was a disaster in his rookie year and I get the feeling that he may have the same destiny as fellow alum Bobby Hurley.  
The Denver Post is in the midst of a three-part report on the behind-the-scenes drama that plagued the Nuggets this year, focusing on the division brought about between George Karl, Kiki Vandeweghe, and owner Stan Kroenke as well as Kenyon Martin’s immaturity.  Put simply, no one comes out looking all that well.  It’s a spectacular gloves-off report based on actual interviews instead of conjecture, maybe the best since Phil Jackson’s book on the Lakers.  I highly recommend: