Quick Takeaways from the Finals
1. Lebron is the best in the league
There really wasn’t any question here, but a lot of supposedly knowledgeable people began to question if Kevin Durant was better than Lebron. I said it then and I say it now: if you think that you’re a hater. There is absolutely no aspect of the game where Durant is better. Is he really a better scorer? No. And there’s no contest when it comes to rebounding, passing, ball handling, and defense. The only argument that people could hang to was that Durant was more ‘clutch’, which is a stupid construct made popular by the likes of Skip Bayless and other hacks. Lebron’s numbers across the board during this run measure up with anything Michael Jordan did during the six Bulls title runs, or Kobe during any of his five title runs in L.A. He had a triple double in a title clinching win, something that neither Jordan or Kobe did. Of current players, he has been the most dominant full court presence for the last four years. And now he has the ring to prove it. Kobe is on the way down, and Durant isn’t as skilled. No one else is even in the conversation.
2. Don’t print those ‘Team of the Future’ stories just yet
For several months now, the Oklahoma City Thunder has been hailed as the next great team, the one that would soon take over the league and reign for several years. Much has been made about how good the team already is, and how young the core players are. To which I say…….hold up a minute. I actually addressed this a year ago; there have been other ‘Teams of the Future’ before, and they rarely achieve that billing. There’s a popular, but largely untrue, narrative about young teams that rise up after suffering crushing defeats to the current ruler and eventually claim their rightful place atop the NBA throne. In reality, that’s just not true outside of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Russell, Magic, Bird, and Tim Duncan all won titles in their first or second year in the league. The Kobe/Shaq Lakers suffered their losses but did not have to overcome any specific foe on the way. Many people thought that the Thunder could possibly deny Lebron a ring this year and keep him from ever getting one afterward. This series unfolded otherwise, but now the logic has shifted. The Thunder will get better, the conventional wisdom holds, and overcome their flaws in short order. Don’t make an assumption of anything; history is not on their side.
3. Don’t Print those Heat Dynasty T-shirts yet, either.
The equally ridiculous counter to the OKC Destiny take is this: the Heat have it all figured out now, and a run of several titles over the next few years is a given. Lebron has claimed his rightful station, like Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, and now the Heat will reign through the remainder of his prime. Not so fast my friends. Out of the top eight guys on Miami’s title team, four guys are 30 or over (Wade, Haslem, Shane Battier, and soon-to- retire Mike Miller). Wade is rapidly approaching the point where his minutes will need to be trimmed during the regular season; Haslem’s offense has seemed to disappear and Battier isn’t likely to become less streaky as he turns 34. It looks like Joel Anthony is just going to be a tall guy who can’t be trusted to play more than scant minutes in playoff games. The roster will need to be tweaked; a big man who can help Chris Bosh must be found somewhere, along with wing players to spell Wade and augment/replace Battier and Miller’s contributions. The Bulls with a healthy Derrick Rose are stronger and deeper in the paint and can hang with the Heat at the other positions. They will not go quietly and were expected to win the East this year before Rose went down.
4. The coaches are still on the Hot Seat
Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra may be the two most maligned head coaches to face off in an NBA Finals series. Throughout every round of the playoffs it seemed that both men were forever being ripped for playing this guy too much, that guy not enough, not having any structured offensive sets, and a bunch of other random ‘mistakes’. When the Heat fell behind the Pacers, Celtics, and lost game one to the Thunder Spoelstra was blamed more than having to play without Chris Bosh or the fact that they were playing some good teams. There were calls for Pat Riley to come down and take over in mid series for crying out loud. Brooks was not spared either. He was constantly blamed for Russell Westbrook’s volume shooting, or bad defensive matchups, or (like Spoelstra) a lack of offensive sets. You can translate all of those complaints into one of the following: (a) my team didn’t win or (b) they didn’t win by enough. The big thing to me is that neither coach looks like some authoritative figure; both look more like the video specialist that Spoelstra used to be, even though Brooks actually played in the league. Looks matter; that’s why guys like Riley and Phil Jackson almost never got questioned, and guys like these two always do. Their success won’t change that.