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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Three Great Quotes And Some Thoughts About the 2006 Playoffs

The 2006 NBA Playoffs were tremendous from start to finish, featuring great individual and team performances. We will no doubt be talking about this postseason for years to come. If this were a TV show, now would be the time to run one of those "sights and sounds" of the playoffs pieces. Instead, here are my three favorite 2006 playoffs quotes and some observations about Miami's championship and what it might mean historically.

Best 2006 NBA Playoffs Quotes:

"They're not the big, bad wolf and we're not the three little pigs."--LeBron James after his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Detroit Pistons to take a 3-2 series lead. In one sentence, James summarized why the Cavaliers were able to push the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions to the brink of elimination: he was not the slightest bit afraid of them and he convinced his teammates to feel the same way (at least until game seven...). What I will remember the most about this year's playoffs is gathering around James with other members of the media for his pre-game standup before game three of the Cleveland-Detroit series. Detroit had just annihilated the Cavaliers in the first two games and what struck me was that James really believed that Cleveland could win two games at home and even the series. Indiana Pacers scout Kevin Mackey once told me that only by seeing a player in person can you get a sense of his presence/dominance. My sense of LeBron James at that moment was that either he was delusional or he knew something about himself and/or his team that no one else knew. He believed in himself and he got the rest of his team to believe in themselves--it was simply awesome to watch his game blossom during the playoffs and just a taste of things to come for him.

"Playoff basketball is war and hell. We go to war and give them hell."--Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan after Washington's game two win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Politically incorrect? Certainly, as is any comparison of a sporting event to war when our soldiers are putting their lives on the line every day around the world. Sometimes these kind of statements pass without mention and sometimes (like the recent situation involving a World Cup soccer player) they create an uproar. Jordan said this right after the game concluded and it was clear that in the heat of the moment he was not making a literal comparison of basketball to war but simply trying to explain the tremendous willpower and determination that it takes to win in the playoffs. After 9/11 we went through a brief period when songs referring to fire or bombs were not played on the radio and we were careful to not make sports=war analogies but the total effort of mind, body and spirit that it takes to win in any competitive endeavor inevitably lends itself to such analogies, even though we all know that they are not literally true.

"You guys probably don’t know what an octagon is. But it’s something that belongs in an octagon. If you want to train and hop in an octagon, we can train and hop in an octagon. That’s not basketball."--Kobe Bryant describing Raja Bell's clothesline against him in game five of the Phoenix Suns-L.A. Lakers series. I rarely watch ultimate fighting, but I liked this quote because it showed Bryant's humor and determination at the same time. He said it with a big smile but--like Magic Johnson's smile and Michael Jordan's smile--you know that underneath that smile Bryant would go into an octagon against anybody and believe with all his heart that he would win. The basketball court is not the right place for that, though. This made me think of something that Isiah Thomas once said. He talked about being at a banquet with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird after all three of them were retired. Magic and Bird, each standing 6-9, towered over Thomas, generously listed at 6-1. Thomas' Pistons beat Magic's Lakers in the 1989 Finals and beat Bird's Celtics in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals and he claims to have a personal winning record against both players and Michael Jordan (I'm not sure if he is referring simply to playoff series or all games played). In the heat of battle (another war comparison...) against those guys he never thought of himself as small but at the banquet Thomas thought to himself, "(Expletive deleted), they're big!" A true competitor hops into the octagon at a moment's notice and never thinks about the odds. Kobe was just trying to give a light hearted answer but we all know that humor contains a grain of truth.

Thoughts About Miami's Championship:

1) I correctly predicted the outcome of 10 of the 15 series. As some readers are certain to point out, three of my incorrect picks involved the Miami Heat. In retrospect I should have stuck with my preseason Eastern Conference predictions, when I tabbed Miami as the best team in the East (albeit with some reservations). I was never completely sold on Miami or Detroit from the start of the year but for most of the season I did not see anyone in the East who could beat them. Detroit's regular season record did not convince me that the Pistons would win the title because I thought that the Pistons would lose to the first sufficiently disciplined team that they faced. Miami struggled to beat good teams--let alone division leaders--all season. When New Jersey came on in the second half of the season the Nets seemed like just the team to knock off Miami and Detroit; the Nets played good defense and had three great perimeter players who could attack the paint. I guess New Jersey's struggles against the Indiana Pacers in the first round should have been a warning sign, but I thought back to the 1993 Phoenix Suns who almost lost in the first round but made it to the NBA Finals.

2) I have consistently maintained that Shaquille O'Neal had to win a championship with the Miami Heat to justify the $20 million a year that they are paying him--anything less would be a failure and he would be the first to admit that. Now I must say that, even if O'Neal never plays another game, signing him was worth it.

3) Many people will look at O'Neal's departure from the L.A. Lakers and say that since it has proven to be a good deal for Miami that it must be considered a mistake by the Lakers. I disagree. I have always said that this was a short term deal for Miami but a long term one for the Lakers. We would find out quickly if the deal worked for Miami, because O'Neal is near the end of his career--for him and the team, it was championship or bust. The Lakers are rebuilding around Kobe Bryant, who has many elite level seasons left unless he suffers a serious injury. If Bryant leads the Lakers to a title at some point then the deal worked out for them as well. The simple fact is that for financial reasons Lakers owner Jerry Buss would not have kept both O'Neal and Bryant unless O'Neal accepted a shorter contract than the one Miami gave him. If Buss would have given O'Neal a longer deal then he would have had to let Bryant sign with another team. O'Neal is barely a 20-10 player now and would not have gotten the Lakers anywhere close to a championship without Bryant, just like he would not have gotten the Heat anywhere close to a championship without a superb performance by Dwyane Wade.

4) Despite what I just said about O'Neal's diminishing skills, he had an importance in the Finals victory that belies his rather pedestrian statistics. Dallas had to double-team him regularly and/or foul him, the latter of which put the Heat in the bonus and added to Wade's free throw attempts. Since the Mavericks had to pay so much attention to O'Neal they were never able to get a handle on Wade; you cannot double-team two players and leave one guy guarding three people. The difference between O'Neal now and O'Neal a few years ago is that back then he could score 35-40 points against double-teams while still creating opportunities for his teammates. Now, he cannot play as many minutes as he did then or be so dominant, so he simply accepts the double-team and makes the correct pass.

Bottom line: Miami would not have won without O'Neal, but the Lakers would not have won with him minus Kobe Bryant; O'Neal has every right to feel good about what he has accomplished, but the Lakers may also get a championship out of the deal as well.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:58 PM

3 comments

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3 Comments:

At Thursday, June 22, 2006 2:51:00 AM, Anonymous Jason said...

Agreed--it'll be tough to live up to this postseason. So many great moments.

Nice job on the quote selection. Here's my favorite:


"No, but I would with your wife."

--Shaq, after being asked if a snake bit his mother in the chest, would he suck the venom out to win another championship.

 
At Thursday, June 22, 2006 4:26:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

"the Lakers may also get a championship out of the deal as well"

You think Lamar Odom (& other throw ins) will get LA a title? If not, then this statement is simply incorrect.

As stated in my last posting to the previous thread, LA dealt Shaq far below market value in a hurry, because Kobe wouldn't have re-signed if Shaq had stayed. As said in my previous posting on the previous thread, Pat Riley knew about what was happening from his interview for the LA head coach position. (This story was in yesterday's LA TIMES, and I'm sure has been printed elsewhere, as well.)

If Kobe/Shaq hadn't been as public a feud as it was, then at least the Lakers could have gotten market value for Shaq (such as Paul Pierce, or Abdur Rahim & others, or some other real stars).

LA got hurt by Kobe's ego & inability to get along with others -- this process probably will continue, unless he can change.

As stated in my previous post on the other thread, perimeter players are far more replaceable than dominant (or almost dominant)big men, in today's NBA. Kobe is merely one of a number of currently-active players (such as Ginobli, Iverson, Pierce, Vince, TMac, Nash, Payton, Grant Hill, Cassell, etc.) who, around their primes, could have won titles with Shaq in his prime. On the other hand, Duncan is probably the only other dominant big man who could've delivered rings to Bryant.

Shaq has already been to the Finals with Penny, Kobe, & Wade. Shaq's defensive presence, just by taking up space, is enormous. People disrespect Shaq because many of his abilities are natural, but they fail to recognize his footwork, coordination, and human skills -- Mark Madsen spoke about the human skills on the radio in LA, after the Miami win. Madsen said that, on the Lakers, Shaq was a wonderful teammate, with great mirth.

There is no doubt that the Lakers are paying the price for having dealt Shaq far too quickly and carelessly, to satisfy Bryant.

Shaq is a winner, and you are correct that Miami's paying him $20 million has already been vindicated.

Whether the Lakers ever return to glory with this grossly imbalanced, rag-tag cast of characters is a question that will have to wait. But any future return to glory would be DESPITE -- and not because of -- the Shaq deal.

Meanwhile, the team that the Lakers couldn't beat (Phoenix) will be much stronger next year, with Amare's return, and one more year of experience and bonding, especially if Tim Thomas continues next year where he left off. And we havent heard the last of other guys, like Garnett & Iverson, as well -- though their team situations are in disarray. Bryant will be hard-pressed to ever enjoy the presence of another teammate like Shaq, who enables championship possibilities. You don't know what you've got till it's gone ... just ask anyone in Lakerland, these days. Thanks for the blog. And congrats, Shaq.

 
At Friday, June 23, 2006 2:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alternaviews: I think that if the Lakers had re-signed Shaq for max years and max dollars that they would not have re-signed Kobe. I'm sure we agree on that, even if you think it is because Kobe would not play with Shaq and I say--based on public statements by members of Lakers management and Buss' history of refusing to go over the salary cap--that the Lakers would not have given max deals for max years to both players. By trading Shaq and keeping Kobe the Lakers have a six-seven year window to try to build a championship team around Kobe (again, assuming that he does not get a serious injury). Kobe and Odom can be the one-two punch. What the Lakers need is a real point guard (Smush can come off of the bench), an upgrade to the frontline and some more bench strength. If Bynum and Brown develop, some of the answers may already be on the roster. If not, the Lakers have to draft well and sign some good free agents. By avoiding the financial albatross of paying Shaq $20 million/year as his skills decline and retaining the services of Kobe Bryant the Lakers may get a championship out of the deal. It is important to realize that (1) Heat owner Mickey Arison is a lot wealthier than Buss--he is literally worth twice as much as Buss AND Mark Cuban put together, according to published reports--and (2) the Heat are not paying Wade max dollars because he is still working under the terms of his rookie contract. Again, this deal worked out great for Miami--a lot of teams shell out more money than the Heat did for Shaq and never win a ring (Portland, the Knicks). The Lakers did what they had to do for their long term future. It is my opinion that if Shaq had stayed in shape that the Lakers would have won the 2003 and 2004 titles and Buss may have thought more favorably about paying Shaq more money.

I don't think that Riley had to go to L.A. for an interview to understand the Lakers financial situation; it is all a matter of public record. By the way, Riley deserves a lot of credit for building this team and then coming downstairs, rolling up his sleeves and making sure that it worked (Van Gundy got a raw deal, but that's another story...).

The Lakers were never going to get market value for Shaq. Few teams were willing to pay him max dollars for max years and they had the Lakers over a barrel for the financial reasons that I described.

I think that L.A. got hurt by both stars' egos--Kobe and Shaq--but the way the story is usually presented Kobe gets all the blame. This is because Jackson wrote a book, Shaq gives good quotes and will always be presented favorably and Kobe had some celebrated off-court problems around the time all this was going on.

I disagree that perimeter players are so easily replaced. This could not have been forseen in 2004 when the Lakers made their decision, but the rules changes and interpretation changes really favor perimeter players and put a premium on their value. Your statement is more true of "yesterday's" NBA, when--the Bulls notwithstanding--most championship teams were anchored by big men like Duncan, Olajuwon, Kareem, Moses Malone, Parish, etc.

Some of the guys you listed may have been able to win titles with Shaq but Kobe won three straight with him, with a fourth Finals appearance to boot. The only other teams to win three straight titles are the Mikan Lakers, Russell Celtics and Jordan Bulls. What Shaq and Kobe had was very special and could have been even more special. Don't forget that Kobe was the "closer" in many of those games, even the ones in which Shaq had the bigger numbers. Kobe was not just some guy along for the ride--and he also played hurt and he played excellent defense.

I agree that in some ways Shaq does not get enough credit for his athleticism because everyone just looks at his size; on the other hand, because he is so well liked he also gets a pass for his conditioning at times and his lack of devotion to that for stretches of his career is what I like least about his game.

Not sure if Thomas will be back with Phoenix (again, financial issues). Amare's return to health is still questionable; he looked like a shell of himself in the three games he played this year, so let's hope that he just came back too soon.

Garnett and Iverson are older than Kobe and have worse teams around them. We have heard the last from them as championship contenders unless they are traded to different teams.

I agree that Kobe will never have another teammate who is as dominant as Shaq. As for whether he will win another title, let's wait six-seven years and see.

 

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