1) Final thoughts
Rob D: This Finals had so many ups and downs, twists and turns, that I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Unlike any Finals I can remember for the last 15 years, I still find myself lost in thought days after, pondering the key moments and the meaning of it all. My mind can easily be taken back to the last half-minute of regulation in Game 6 and I can feel the adrenaline still pulsing through my veins.
These Finals were entertaining and satisfying to the very core, but more importantly, they achieved only what very few basketball moments can – they transcended the sport. I got emails and SMSs from people who aren’t NBA fans – one by one they came after Ray hit that shot in Game 6. One of my bosses at work stopped me working to watch half of Game 5 – never mind I was finishing off something incredibly important, he just told me to log into League Pass and put it on my screen. My dad watched the end of Game 7 and messaged me the score with 2 minutes left – never mind he didn’t realize he was watching the replay that night.
These things don’t happen every year. This year, the Finals were unquestionably the best series of the playoffs and that is a rarity. The 2013 Finals will be one of the most remembered in history. The best ever? Hard to say, but given everything at stake, the dramatic ends to Game 6 and 7, and the personnel who lined up on the court, it deserves to be forever in that conversation.
DJ Leon Smith: This is going to sound strange after one of the best NBA Finals series in recent memory, but I really expected more. And once again, it comes back to one man – LeBron James. I’ll get this out of the way first, he’s clearly the best player in the league by a wide margin and he’s already a top 10 player of all-time (and has a serious chance to be top five, possibly top two). But is there any other player who is/has been in contention as an all-time great who has so many baffling big game moments on his resume?
After a couple of wobbly moments against the Bulls and Pacers, the Heat eventually dispatched them, mainly on the back of LeBron’s brilliant play. That, combined with his Finals experience (on the winning team for the first time) in 2012, plus knowing he was going to be pushed by the well-oiled Spurs machine, it seemed like everything was lining up for LeBron to have his Magic rookie season/Jordan ‘91-‘93/Hakeem repeat/Shaq three-peat NBA Finals domination moment.
Instead, until Game 7, LeBron’s play inspired tweets from my NBAMate brethren like “it’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in sports”. Yes, we’re holding LeBron to a crazy standard of night in, night out play, but we’ve SEEN HIM DO IT BEFORE. Ultimately the Heat did win the title with LeBron playing out of his mind in Game 7, but if Ray Allen doesn’t tie it up at the end of Game 6 with one of the clutchest moments in sports history (it really was that big, you can’t limit it to purely NBA history), we’re once again talking about LeBron’s mental failings. They’re not Kobe shooting too much failings, or Allen Iverson/Charles Barkley/Patrick Ewing issues where they’re simply beaten by a more talented adversary, it’s something I can’t recall having ever seen in MVP-level player in his prime.
Instead, now we’re talking about San Antonio ending up as the team who lost a NBA Championship after being closer than any other team in history. Who would have thunk it. What a bizarre, entertaining and unpredictable NBA Finals it turned out to be.
Ash: This was an absolute hell of a series. I loved every minute that I watched of it. I have a million thoughts about it, but I just want to focus on LeBron for a second. After Game 5 he was facing heat from the usual suspects, and then he came out and gave us two consecutive performances that, while not quite “vintage LeBron” level, were still pretty amazing. He came through for his team when he had to. Just like he did against Indiana, and against Boston last year…I for one think that we’ve got to get past the idea that LeBron is either a choker or doesn’t come through when he has to. Come on guys. He’s given us three series’ proof that he can and does do so. It’s time we as the basketball media moved on. (Speaking of which…Kevin Durant didn’t look so flash without Westbrook, did he now…?)
JT: Heck, I’m a LeBron guy and I still want to nitpick his game. Like what happened to his post game? And why does it take an anvil hangin’ over his head for him to bring out his A Game? But you know what, it doesn’t matter anymore. He’s won titles, he’s carried teams (and then some), he’s put up historic numbers in Game 7s and he’s done it all with an absurd level of scrutiny that no other athlete has ever endured. (Granted, he’s had a bit of luck too). It’s time to let go of the rope.
We need to accept that this is all part of LeBron’s package. It’s what makes him so fascinating, I guess. He’s out of this world and yet sometimes he can look human, and even fail, like we all do from time to time. But he didn’t fail here.
- His 37 points in Game 7 brings his career Game 7 average to 34.4 ppg, which is the best in NBA history.
- His 37 points was the most in an NBA Finals Game 7 since Jerry West had 42 in 1969.
- He’s the only player in NBA history to average 25-10-7 in the Finals, and he did it in 2012 and 2013.
I mean, holy hell, this guy is incredible.
And did I mention that he shut down the best point guard in the NBA? Or that he led the team in rebounding (10.9)? And assists (7.0)? And steals (2.3)? And that he carried his ‘superstar’ teammates – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – who were subpar throughout the entire playoffs? He bought the groceries, cooked the meal and then washed the damn dishes – the guy did everything. And that’s unprecedented at this level.
The Spurs blew it, though. They had this title won and were probably even the better team, but that Game 6 choke job was epic. Unfortunately that will be a (small) stain on the brilliant careers of coach Pop, Timmy D etc. But then again, I think Tony Parker’s dodgy hammy played a pretty big role here and things could have been different had the best point guard in the NBA been healthy.
But looking at the big picture, they exceeded expectations and should be proud of their effort (and bloody excited about a future with Kawhi Leonard). I think people have finally come around on the Spurs – Timmy D, Tony and Pop, these guys are special, and they’re a first class organisation that represents a lot of what’s good about the NBA. When they finally decide to call it quits, it will be a sad day for all.
2) You’re the GM for the Miami Heat. Do you shake things up?
Rob D: No. I’m a firm believer in that after you win a championship, you stick with your core so long as your core is in their prime (or thereabouts). LeBron, Wade and Bosh are good enough to keep winning championships so long as they are surrounded with good role players, and great teams find a way to do this. Miller and Battier might be finished, but they are by no means irreplaceable.
The perfect model for this was the Bulls in the 90′s – Jordan and Pippen were surrounded by different shooters and rebounders for a decade but ultimately the formula was the same, and it worked because they had two of the best players in the world.
Of course, what Miami did show us in these playoffs is that they’re not invincible. They do have weaknesses and teams will try to exploit them. But how can you really argue they need a shake up when they just won the last game of the season?
DJ Leon Smith: Yes, and we all know the move that’s getting made. Goodbye Chris Bosh. (They’re not trading Wade, and for a laugh I would pay cash money for a recording of Pat Riley calling the Knicks and asking them if they’re open to a LeBron deal on April 1, 2014.)
First thing I do is look at the rosters of the Bucks, Raptors and Kings, three teams who are known for making silly moves. The Bucks have no one I want, the Raptors have a new GM (damn) and the Kings have… DeMarcus Cousins. Do they take Bosh to get rid of their main source of headaches? Do the Heat want to roll the dice on the talented headcase? If I was the Heat I’d make this deal in a second. But to be honest Riles standing pat (pun not intended) with the big three is probably the best move.
Having said that, the ultimate, scary for the rest of the league, call the season off before it starts move though? Bosh for Bogut. Imagine the big fella telling LeBron, Wade and Cole “play all the passing lanes, I’ve got your man if he gets past you”. GOOD LAWD. (P.S. Yes, I know this deal doesn’t happen in a million years. And it’s Golden State who says no to this trade.)
Ash: Why? Because Pat Riley once coined the “Disease of More” theory? I see no reason why they should mess with a core that just got them a second consecutive title.
Upon further thought, the thing I realised is that the most theoretically tradeable member of the Heat is D-Wade, and he’s also probably the hardest to trade for both basketball (he’s definitely on the downward slide of his career now, and you have to wonder how much longer a perpetually-banged up undersized SG in his 30s without an elite jumper can really go on) and emotional (along with Dirk, Tim Duncan and Kobe, is there another player in the NBA more synonymous with one team? Trading Wade would be the coldest of cold basketball moves) reasons. I don’t see Riley messing with a good thing.
Now next year, when the Big 3 are all free agents…that’s when I see change happening. (My guess is that Wade stays to finish his career, Bosh bolts to the Lakers, and LeBron either stays in Miami or goes back to Cleveland).
JT: That’s a tricky one. It would be unprecedented to break up the core of a team that has just won two straight titles, but there are several elements here which make this situation unique. 1) Dwyane Wade’s rapid deterioration, 2) Chris Bosh getting brutalised inside in these playoffs, and 3) LeBron’s looming free agency.
Unless they can nab a guy like Greg Oden on the cheap (both sides are interested) and be confident that his body will hold up (probably not), I’m tempted to be proactive and make a change.
And look, it’s not as if the Big Three dominate when they share the floor together. The Heat were minus-12 with they were on the floor against Indiana, and a disastrous minus-27 against San Antonio. So that tells you that they’re not a perfect match, and, that LeBron James is THE critical element here. To a degree, the other guys just hold his bag.
To stay on top and potentially three-peat next year (a colossal task) I believe the Heat need the following: 1) more muscle upfront to rebound the basketball, 2) some kind of spark to snap them out of this coasting mentality and lethargy which is sure to increase on the next go-round, and 3) to trim payroll to have more flexibility going forward.
Let’s be honest, they’re stuck with Dwyane Wade; they’re not getting any value for his contract and those knees. So it’s Chris Bosh we’re talking about here. Sure, he can space the floor, but despite what you hear that isn’t everything. Rebounding, low post scoring and intimidation around the rim, he is not. That’s a problem when your two biggest in-conference rivals trot out Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah at the center position. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that had Chicago had Derrick Rose this year (fully healthy), and Indiana Danny Granger, they would have beat the Heat. Miami needs to recognise that.
If I were the Heat I’d take a long hard look at DeMarcus Cousins (for Bosh). I won’t go on about it here because I wrote about it a few weeks back, but they need to consider it. Granted, it’s an enormous risk, on numerous levels, but I don’t think they’ll win a third title without changing the dynamics of this squad; the task is too great and their flaws too obvious. A trade with Houston (Bosh and a first rounder for Asik/Parsons/Jones) could also work and be beneficial for both sides.
3) Where to from here for the San Antonio Spurs?
Rob D: They blew it. I will always believe they lost these Finals, and I have a lot more to say about the Spurs in my 3,000 word Finals post coming next week. For now, I will resort to the same tactics I do every year for San Antonio – writing them off.
Of course, they will stick with their program. Duncan is still serviceable, Parker is still a star when healthy, and Green, Neal and Leonard are going to make great complimentary pieces (unless Leonard becomes an All-Star in which case he will not be complimentary). They will be another 50 win team next season, and depending on health in the West (let’s remember if Westbrook wasn’t hurt the Spurs probably wouldn’t have made it this far) they might make another WCF. But mentally, I don’t know if they’ll ever recover from this. No team has ever been closer to winning a championship and not won it. For these Spurs in the Duncan-Popovich era, I fear this will be as close as they get.
DJ Leon Smith: Such a weird spot for the Spurs to be in. They’re a year older, but they’re not as broken down (and dysfunctional) as a team like the Celtics. They just lost a heartbreaking NBA Finals series, but their personality doesn’t lend itself to a “we’re emotionally crushed, woe is me” floundering 2013/14 season. At the same time, I can’t really picture the Spurs in “F YOU” mode for an entire season either. BUT IMAGINE IF THEY DO. I really want to see this to be honest.
In terms of roster moves, there’s not too much that needs to be done. There’s one player – who coincidentally is a free agent – who I think could be a major asset for the Spurs.
As poor as Ellis has played over the last few seasons, you have to take a few things into account. One, getting over wrecking his ankle and adjusting his play to a less athletic/reckless style – which, to be honest, he’s struggled with. And secondly, he played for the Milwaukee Bucks for the past couple of years. Has he even really been coached yet in his NBA career?
For San Antonio, if there’s one player who showed a noticeable decline in the Finals, it was Manu Ginobili. Which ended up being a massive issue for them to deal with, as outside of him and Tony Parker they don’t have many players who can produce a shot out of nothing. If Ellis bought into the Spurs system as a 15ppg bench scorer – and most importantly, takes a massive pay cut to make it happen – who knows? He could flourish as a Manu-lite/rich man’s Stephen Jackson under Coach Pop.
We know he’s not taking that pay cut though. So enjoy the rest of your career on a lottery team who overpays you to put up 19ppg on 40 per cent shooting, Monta.
Ash: Who knows. If they would have won, I would have bet everything on Duncan and Manu retiring – and I wouldn’t completely rule that out if either of them feel they don’t have anything left to give. My guess, however, is that they bring everyone back, make one more run next year and hope their younger guys (Leonard, Green, Neal in particular) gained enough from this experience to be real contenders again.
JT: In all likelihood they’ll be back as is, but something to watch. Depending on what happens with Ginobili (unrestricted) and Splitter (restricted), the Spurs could have significant cap space to play with (they only have $42 million committed so far for next season). Before committing to either one of these guys it wouldn’t surprise me if they made a run at a Josh Smith (yeah, I know) or Andre Iguodala to see if they’re willing to take a bit less to come on board. Hey, want to join Tony, Timaay and Kawhi and be part of the new Big Four in San Antonio? Not a bad pitch. Both guys should consider it because either one would be a tremendous addition to the Spurs and keep them positioned to contend for the next few years.
Manu is getting on, clearly, and has hinted at retirement but the Spurs will probably try and convince him to hang around for one more year at a discounted rate.