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Friday, May 14, 2010

Celtics Advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, Cavs Begin Long and Challenging Offseason

"I'm a big boxing fan. I like reading and watching body language. Right now looking at the Cavs, they look like a boxer whose will has been taken away."--ESPN's Mark Jackson describing the listless Cavaliers near the end of Boston's 94-85 series clinching win over Cleveland

"This smells to me of quitting. You've given up."--Jackson expressing disgust as the Cavaliers do not even try to commit a foul as time runs out on their season

A proud and disciplined former champion--the Boston Celtics--just dismantled the number one overall seed in the NBA playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers. As ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy noted right after Boston's 94-85 game six victory, while the result itself is more surprising than shocking it is certainly shocking how indifferent the Cavs seemed and how poorly the Cavs played at home in this series after being nearly invincible at Quicken Loans Arena for the past two seasons. Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 22 points and 12 rebounds; after spending the greater part of this season dragging his surgically repaired right leg up and down the court, Garnett proved to be a real X factor in this series: Boston Coach Doc Rivers stated from the outset that his offensive game plan involved posting up Garnett to get him at least 20 field goal attempts per game and the Cavaliers never found an answer for Garnett's turnaround jumpers nor did they exploit the fact that he still lacks lateral mobility defensively. Rajon Rondo had another excellent performance, finishing with 21 points, 12 assists, three rebounds and five steals. Paul Pierce (13 points on 4-13 field goal shooting) and Ray Allen (eight points on 2-8 field goal shooting) did not contribute much but bench players Rasheed Wallace (13 points on 4-8 field goal shooting, including two three pointers) and Tony Allen (10 points, three steals) picked up the slack. The Celtics led most of the way, built a double digit cushion in the second half and held off a half-hearted Cavalier rally that consisted of nothing more than back to back three pointers by LeBron James to pull the Cavs to within 78-74 with 9:34 remaining in the fourth quarter; time and score suggested that the Cavs had an opportunity to win the game but anyone who watched this game with understanding--particularly if you had also watched Tuesday's debacle--knew that the Cavs were through. It was Cleveland's "Rope a Dope" moment and the Cavs were the "dope"; during that famous boxing match, right before Muhammad Ali knocked out the champion George Foreman he asked Foreman "Is that all you got?" and Foreman later recalled that he thought to himself, "Yeah, that's about it." The important difference between Foreman and the Cavs--other than the fact that Foreman actually won a championship--is that Foreman wore himself out by trying so hard to knock out Ali, while the Cavs played hard sporadically for a few moments versus the Celtics before apparently deciding that this playing hard business is too tough, after which they packed it in and prepared for summer vacation.

LeBron James authored the most confounding, least impressive and ultimately meaningless triple double that I have ever seen:

*James scored a game-high 27 points--but he shot just 8-21 from the field.

*James grabbed a playoff career-high 19 rebounds--but, as Jackson repeatedly noted, instead of pushing the ball full bore up the court after most of his 16 defensive rebounds James was content to either walk the ball up the court or else give the ball up without even being pressured by Boston defenders.

*James dished off 10 assists--but he was a one man fastbreak for the Celtics, committing nine turnovers, most of which would be classified as "unforced errors" in tennis terminology.

Scottie Pippen scored just four points in game one of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals and yet teammates and opponents alike declared that he dominated that contest; in contrast, James stacked up all kinds of numbers in game six versus Boston but he neither seemed to dominate the game nor did he have much control over the outcome: it was like he was putting up statistics in a vacuum while the Celtics were focusing on what they had to do to actually win the game. With every Cavalier not named Mo Williams (22 points on 8-18 field goal shooting) struggling to make a shot, the team desperately needed James to drive to the hoop with abandon, but he only did so sporadically. Jamal Mashburn made a very interesting point at halftime that he reiterated after the game: a major difference between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant is that Kobe Bryant attacks double teams quickly and efficiently and he is able to make one dribble and two dribble pullup jumpers, while James too often hesitates in the face of double teams and seems to need to take multiple dribbles before making a play; also, although James has improved his jump shot he still does not have the one dribble and two dribble pullup jumpers in his repertoire. During some earlier NBA TV and TNT telecasts, Chris Webber has also noted that casual fans may not understand just how deadly a weapon those one dribble and two dribble pullup jumpers are for Bryant; Webber asserts that those are the shots--in combination with Bryant's other weapons, of course--that make Bryant so difficult to guard.

After the game, James said, "The fact that it's over right now is definitely a surprise to me. A friend of mine told me, 'I guess you've got to go through a lot of nightmares before you realize your dream.' That's what's going on for me individually right now." Read that last sentence again: "That's what's going on for me individually right now." James did not mention what his team is going through or the agony that the long-suffering Cleveland fans are experiencing. No, this whole experience really is just about LeBron--at least, from LeBron's perspective.

Now begins the long summer of discontent for Cavalier fans. The Boston faithful--spurred on by ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons--taunted James by chanting "New York Knicks!" when James shot free throws but James has only himself to blame for that; James could have muted all of the noise about free agency by either re-signing with the Cavs--much like Kobe Bryant quietly re-signed with the Lakers months ago--or else insisting that he would say nothing about this subject because his sole focus is on winning a championship in 2010. Yes, I know that James eventually refused to take questions about free agency, but he waited to take that stand until the story had developed a huge life of its own. This became a distraction for his team and may have ultimately resulted in the front office making hasty moves for presumed short term benefits instead of constructing the roster for the long haul; the Cavs have been bending over backwards for James for years while he has refused to commit to staying with the team. James' comments and general demeanor in his postgame press conference hardly offered any comfort to Cleveland fans, nor did it seem promising that the quickest move that James made all night was ripping off his Cleveland jersey after the game and tossing it to a locker room attendant as if he were throwing out garbage. Until recently I thought that James was far too smart to leave a 60-plus win team with a defensive-minded coach in order to start over with a lesser team--but until recently I also could not have imagined that James would sleepwalk through an embarrassing 32 point home defeat in a pivotal game five.

I have no idea what James plans to do come July 1 and right now I am much more interested in watching/analyzing the four remaining playoff teams than in speculating about who the ringless "King" will play for next season.

Meanwhile, the revisionist historians are already out in full force, so here are some preemptive strikes regarding the mythology that is already being created about LeBron James and this playoff series:

1) I don't want to hear anything about the alleged impact that LeBron James' alleged elbow injury had on this series. Everyone who watched ESPN's pregame show saw James standing at half court repeatedly shooting half court shots with his right arm, using both an underhand and an overhand delivery. In other words, his elbow is not impairing his strength or range of motion--which is what I have been saying all along. Will I change my tune if, as some have speculated (with no apparent concrete evidence, since the MRI of James' elbow revealed no structural damage), James has offseason elbow surgery? No, I will not; if James' elbow is hurt that seriously then why the hell would he shoot half court circus shots before playing in an elimination game? This elbow injury is either fake drama--the unnecessary left handed free throw versus Chicago, the rubbing of the joint when the cameras are focused on him, the black sleeve being worn and then being taken off--or pure foolishness, which is the only way to describe shooting half court shots with a serious injury (if that turns out to be what James did). My firm belief--until proven otherwise--is that James has exactly what the MRI revealed: a bruise. James is hurt but he is not injured to the extent that he cannot function (in contrast to Kobe Bryant, who has a broken finger on his shooting hand and a troublesome right knee that kept swelling up after every game toward the end of the regular season).

2) I don't want to hear about Cleveland's supposedly deficient supporting cast. I have heard some people say that the Cavs had the best player in this series but that the Celtics had players 2-4. Well, I've got news for you: the Celtics had the best player in this series and his name is Rajon Rondo. Rondo dominated the action at both ends of the court throughout this series. Furthermore, although his numbers were not overwhelming, you could make the case that Kevin Garnett was the second best player in this series; he certainly provided more consistent effort and production than LeBron James did, even though James put up gaudier statistics. The sad reality for Cleveland fans--and the Cleveland franchise--is that James not only was not the best player during this series but he could not even find it within himself to play hard all of the time. James' shooting was erratic and he (mis)handled the ball like his name is Edward Scissorhands. The Cavs have an All-Star point guard, an All-Star power forward, a future Hall of Fame center who made the 2009 All-NBA Third Team, a two-time All-Star center coming off of the bench, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who made the All-Defensive Second Team, a reserve guard who ranked third in the NBA in three point field goal percentage in 2010 and several other reserve players who could start for many of the league's playoff teams.

All-time greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan played for sub-.500 teams when they legitimately had no help. Are we really supposed to believe--after back to back seasons of 66 and 61 wins--that LeBron James is so much better than Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan that he actually carried a worthless roster to the best record in the NBA while notching two wins this season over the reigning NBA champions?

Is Cleveland's roster perfect? Of course not--but no roster in the league is perfect. The Celtics are aging and injury prone; the Magic lack frontcourt size other than Howard and Gortat; the Lakers have the least productive starting point guard among the playoff teams plus a bench that is so unreliable Coach Phil Jackson said that watching them play makes him want to throw up.

Most people picked Cleveland to beat Boston precisely because the Cavs have a better team than the Celtics.

3) I don't want to hear that Mike Brown does not know how to make in game adjustments. I already addressed this subject at length, so here is the Cliffs Notes version: great coaches do most of their work in practice, preparing their players for what most likely will happen in the upcoming games; so-called in game adjustments are, in many cases, simply the application of a previously determined plan when a given situation (foul trouble, different matchup scenarios, etc.) happens. A good coach does not have to come up with some totally new plan in the middle of a game. The real problem that Brown faced during this postseason--an issue that I mentioned in March but that the Cavs initially seemed to overcome--is that injuries and midseason transactions prevented him from establishing a set player rotation and letting that rotation develop good chemistry. Every player on the Celtics knows his role and has a good idea how much playing time he will get, but Coach Brown never had the time to reach that comfort zone with this team. Coach Brown has been criticized for essentially benching J.J. Hickson after Hickson was a starter for most of the year--but if Brown started Hickson over Shaquille O'Neal or Antawn Jamison and the Cavs failed to win the championship then what would Brown say to owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager Danny Ferry? Gilbert did not spend millions of dollars on former All-Stars to have them riding the pine. This is not just a matter of money or office politics, though; O'Neal provides low post scoring that Hickson does not, while Jamison is the "stretch four" that everyone thought the Cavs needed to deal with Garnett and with Orlando's Rashard Lewis. Hickson thrills fans with his energy level and his dunks but he also makes a lot of mistakes defensively.

James' looming free agency placed great burdens on Gilbert, Ferry and Brown, each of whom clearly felt the need to appease James in the short term even at the possible expense of the team's long term future. Ferry broke up a team that made it to the 2007 NBA Finals and then he broke up a team that advanced to the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. While Ferry's moves improved the roster on paper, it would have been interesting to see how either of those squads might have performed if they had been given the opportunity to play together for one more full season but Gilbert and Ferry clearly believed that if they did not constantly turn over the roster then James might take his ball and go home (or, leave home, to be precise). The ironic thing is that the 2009 team was built to face Boston (Ben Wallace matched up well with Garnett) but lost to Orlando, while the 2010 team was built to face Orlando (O'Neal was brought in specifically to deal with Dwight Howard, while Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and Antawn Jamison were supposed to help Cleveland match up with Orlando's perimeter players) but lost to Boston. ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy rightly said during the game six telecast that the Cavaliers have done everything possible to encourage James to stay. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that if James does stay then Gilbert will continue to spend cash like there is no tomorrow and that Gilbert will replace Coach Brown if that is what James wants.

Despite the constant roster turnover, the Cavs have consistently been an elite defensive team during Coach Brown's tenure--and he has had to come up with some creative schemes to "hide" some players who are not great individual defenders, a problem that reached crisis proportions in this series when Garnett and Rondo went at Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams respectively. Given enough time, Coach Brown could have perhaps come up with a scheme of defensive rotations to provide help versus Garnett and Rondo without giving up dunks and layups but O'Neal and Jamison hardly played together during the regular season and that lack of chemistry burned the Cavs defensively on several occasions.

My only criticism of Brown this season is that he "rested" healthy players near the end of the regular season as opposed to using those final few games to set up his playoff rotation.

4) I certainly don't want to hear about how LeBron James is supposedly going to save the New York Knicks (or any other franchise). When the NBA MVP twice exits the playoffs without a championship--or even a Finals appearance--despite playing for a deep, talented and defensive-minded team that posted the best record in the NBA in back to back seasons, I become skeptical that he is suddenly going to take 2010 Draft Lottery teams--or even lower level playoff teams--to the 2011 Finals. It has suddenly become a popular notion that James may bolt to Chicago; if James cannot get to the Finals with Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson as his bigs then why should I believe that he is going to reach the Finals with Joakim Noah, Brad Miller and Taj Gibson? Add Chris Bosh to that mix and I still do not see the Bulls winning the East. Don't even get me started with the Knicks, who would likely have to get rid of their best current player--David Lee--in order to sign James. Mike D'Antoni's system would undoubtedly enable James to set all kinds of individual statistical records but if James cannot win a title with "San Antonio East" in Cleveland then he certainly is not going to win a title with "Seven Seconds or Less East" in New York.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:40 AM

19 comments

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19 Comments:

At Friday, May 14, 2010 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

David, you write:

"The Cavs have an All-Star point guard, an All-Star power forward, a future Hall of Fame center who made the 2009 All-NBA Third Team, a two-time All-Star center coming off of the bench, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who made the All-Defensive Second Team, a reserve guard who ranked third in the NBA in three point field goal percentage in 2010 "

That sounds great on paper (or on LCD screen), but:
* Mo Williams couldn't play defense on Rondo and didn't show up offensively until Game 6
* Jamison couldn't handle Garnett at either end of the court
* Shaq is too slow now to keep up with the Celtics' offense
* Ilgauskas is literally days away from retirement
* Gibson is too small to play defense on anyone

I'll give you that Varejao is a great piece to have.

I reiterate my contention, from my comment on an earlier post, that LeBron's best option is to go to the Bulls, maybe via sign-and-trade for Deng/Hinrich, and then hope that another top guy like Bosh/Boozer/Stoudemire also signs with the Bulls as a FA.

Derrick Rose is superior to Mo Williams. (although Rose needs to work on his 3-pt shot)

Noah is superior to Varejao.

Taj Gibson is about the equal of Hickson.

That Bulls team would instantly be one of the top 3 teams in the East, along with the Celtics and Orlando. It's hard for a collection of All-Stars to instantly gel (think Lakers '04 or Rockets '99), but it worked for Boston in 2008.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Codysseus said...

"
After the game, James said, "The fact that it's over right now is definitely a surprise to me. A friend of mine told me, 'I guess you've got to go through a lot of nightmares before you realize your dream.' That's what's going on for me individually right now." Read that last sentence again: "That's what's going on for me individually right now." James did not mention what his team is going through or the agony that the long-suffering Cleveland fans are experiencing. No, this whole experience really is just about LeBron--at least, from LeBron's perspective."

Eeesh. This is quite reactionary. Lebron certainly dropped the ball in this series, but come on. You're just sorta piling on there, David. That's quite the bold statement to make. It's something that fits your agenda of (rightly) criticizing him for another disappointing playoff exit, but isn't necessarily true. What he said isn't really damning unless you slide it into the narrative of Lebron being a selfish player who doesn't really care about winning. You thought of him as a selfish player who doesn't care about winning, he mentions his individual feelings, and it's extremely easy to point to that as an example.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 2:53:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

David,
Looks like you were right about the Celtics beating the Cavs in that game 6. I still thought Cleveland would come back because they had the superior team. They could outplay Boston at every position except PG play. that is what is so shocking about the way they lost the series.
Why do you think Mike brown went away from Delonte West? Rondo had a tough time getting by West. And Vareajo is 2nd team all-defender. Why didn't he try JJ Hickson instead of Jamison and have Jamison come off the bench? That is one of the reason the lakers have said they refrain from making blockbuster midseason trades because it can disrupt the chemistry.
Do you think the cavs would have been under such pressure had lebron not shoot that FT left handed?

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 4:06:00 PM, Blogger West Coast Slant said...

Thank you for this. It concisely says everything that the mainstream media needs to focus in on as they prepare to write their stories regarding Lebron this summer.

While once Monday night arrives, I'll completely forget about anything Lebron James-related, right now, I think you hit the nail on the head with each and every point.

For the past two years, I had no idea why seemingly nobody in the media would write about how foolish Lebron has been about the whimsical and "wink wink" manner in which he has handled this coming summer's free agency.

Because of his approach, whole franchises and fanbases will be completely devastated based on his decision. If he leaves Cleveland, the entire city might jump off a bridge together. If he stays and scorns New York, he'll lose the whole New York fanbase (at least for as long as his new contract runs) which will also mean the "in crowd" he seems to be always preening for.

The only way he could have possibly made everybody still like him (and make those who don't at least respect him) was by winning a championship.

Failing to make it out of the second round is about as bad of an outcome as he could have had for himself.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 4:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bhel Atlantic:

The Cavs' roster does not just "sound great on paper"; it won 61 games this season, best in the NBA--and could have won even more games if Coach Brown had not shut things down near the end of the regular season.

Here are my responses to your specific points:

*I agree that Williams did not show up offensively on a consistent basis in this year's playoffs (or last year's playoffs)--but that does not mean that he is not a quality player. It is interesting to speculate about why a number of quality players do not seem to perform their best alongside LeBron in playoff situations.

I would be interested to see your list of pgs who can guard Rondo one on one.

*Jamison was not acquired to be a defensive stopper; he is a "stretch four" who was acquired to match up with Orlando.

*Shaq was actually one of the most effective Cavs versus the Celtics, even though he was brought in primarily to face Dwight Howard.

*Ilgauskas was the starting center for a 66 win team last season. His role was reduced this season only because the Cavs brought in an All-NBA Third Team center (Shaq).

*Of course, Gibson has weaknesses, as do most players in the NBA. Were Paxson and Kerr defensive stoppers? The larger point is that the Cavs have a deep and talented roster. Gibson would be a major rotation player on most NBA teams.

Cleveland's undoing this season is that injuries and trades precluded the Cavs from developing a set rotation. I alluded to this back in March when Shaq got hurt.

Boston did not just assemble All-Stars in 2008; they brought together three future HoFers. They also had an underrated, defensive-minded coach. Even with all of those factors in their favor, the Celtics got pushed to seven games in the first round in 2008 and could have easily lost well before reaching the Finals. Creating a winning formula in the NBA is a delicate thing--and I am not convinced that LeBron is totally committed to winning, which is a major problem for whichever team employs him next year.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 4:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Codysseus:

I don't have an "agenda"; I am just analyzing events as they happen.

You may consider LeBron's choice of words to be accidental but I think that--in the context of his actions--they are quite revelatory.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 4:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

After I sat in Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday and watched LeBron quit I knew that this series was most likely over (unless LeBron suddenly decided to not quit, which seemed unlikely).

West has some well documented personal problems and has not spoken to the media all year long, so it is difficult to assess where he is at mentally. At various times this season, Coach Brown reduced West's minutes or even took him out of the rotation entirely because West simply was not quite there mentally. West looked out of it versus Boston, throwing the ball all over the place and lacking his usual intensity. Brown handled the West situation as well as it could possibly be handled, yet another example of how underrated he is as a coach; West led the 66 win Cavs in playoff minutes played last year and even though his availability this season was questionable on a game to game basis the Cavs still finished with the best record in the NBA.

The answers to your questions about other rotation possibilities for the Cavs is that due to injuries/trades Mike Brown did not have enough time to develop a set rotation that he trusted. You could see that in the Boston series he was still experimenting. I give Ferry credit for upgrading the team from a talent standpoint but the constant roster upheaval in the past few years put Brown in very difficult situations during the playoffs. Look back and you will see that from 2008-2010 Brown has had to develop his rotations on the fly in the postseason because the roster keeps being overhauled.

The lefthanded free throw versus Chicago was pointless drama but I don't know that it changed the outcome of the Boston series.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 6:19:00 PM, Anonymous JLK1 said...

LeBron's performance the last two games was disturbing to watch. I recall over the last few years elite teams have walled off the paint to stop his amazing ability to drive the basketball. Now, his opponents don't have to use that defensive strategy because he doesn't even try to attack the rim.

I'd also disagree that Rondo was the best player in this series. Perhaps he was the most effective, but not the best. He greatly benefits from playing alongside the big 3. When he passes the ball, he has 3 guys who can knock down shots, and a 4th guy (Perkins) who can convert at the rim with high efficiency.

Credit to the Celtics. They were the better team. They had the good fortune to get much healthier and peak at the right time, and they had the talent to win. They played fantastic defense and made big shots. If they continue to play this well, the Eastern Conference Finals will be fun to watch.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 8:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JLK1:

Who do you think played better in this series than Rondo? I am not saying that he is a better player than LeBron or the Big Three but Rondo played the best during this series.

Rondo certainly benefits from playing alongside productive teammates but--unlike during the 2008 championship season--Rondo is leading the way as opposed to picking up the slack when one of the Big Three is double-teamed.

 
At Friday, May 14, 2010 9:29:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

JLK1,

What 'Big 3' are you talking about? Garnett and Allen have been pretty good given their age and mileage, but both are clearly on the downhill side of their careers. Pierce shot 34.5% from the field against Cleveland. This isn't 2008 - Rondo is clearly the engine that makes Boston go, and yes, he did outplay James over the course of the series.

Let's not downplay how much the not-quite-as-big-as-they-used-to-be 3 (Allen in particular) benefit from Rondo's ability to break down a defense and create great looks, both in the halfcourt and on the break.

David,

You make a great point about Shaq's return from injury unsettling Brown's rotations. I would add that it's hard to hang the blame on 'coaching adjustments' when you produce 4 lacklustre performances - including consecutive blowouts on your home court - in a 6-game series. Maybe I'd buy it if the games had gone down to the wire, but come on now.

Bottom line: LeBron set the tone and the rest of the team followed. This is on him at least as much as on anyone else. If only he had anyone around him with the balls to tell him the truth.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 12:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MARCEL

the celts played better than cavs they were hungrier and had more urgency. the cavs played pathetic and uninspired and was beaten throughly 9 10 32 18 in 4 losses. celts not as good as 2 years ago rondo they best player they play diffrent but it was still effective in the playoffs.

on lebron future he will be a bull or cav next year im leaning towards bulls i believe rose factor will give him a legit two option not a 3 option really what jamison and mo willams are noah a great young player you still got gibson and heinrich with another free agent they could have hell of a team cant get chris bosh 3 superstars wont work but a good player in free agent with lebron.

the situation with west and his mom is intresting that could way heavy on a player like lebron and west as well they both didnt play well after that.

i believe the boston celtics will beat the magic in 6 and lose in seven to the lakers.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 4:51:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

Rondo is the Celtics' best player now; that has actually been true throughout the season, though casual fans may not have realized it until they watched this series.

If the Celtics had not had Rondo then the Cavs probably would have been able to double team Garnett on the post and possibly squeak their way through this series.

Back in March I wrote that Shaq's injury could scuttle the Cavs' championship hopes, though I eventually decided to stick with my preseason choice and pick the Cavs to come out of the East.

Kenny Smith often says that if a team loses by five or fewer points then the loss belongs to the coach but if a team gets blown out then that is on the players. There is no question in my mind that the Cavs' loss to the Celtics in this series belongs to the players, most specifically LeBron for setting a lackadaisical and indifferent tone; not only does game five stand as a serious blight on his career but LeBron hardly distinguished himself in game two on the night that he received his MVP trophy. This is not about statistics or about LeBron missing shots--it is about the very obvious manner in which he became disconnected from his team and the way that he clearly did not put forth his best effort to win this series. I still say that we could look back in 10 years and conclude that this was his best opportunity to win a title--it is not every year that a player has the opportunity to enter the playoffs with the number one overall seed but LeBron has done so twice without even reaching the Finals.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 4:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

There is no question that the Celtics were the hungrier team but it is puzzling that the Cavs seemed so indifferent about pursuing a very real opportunity to win a title.

The "situation" that you allude to is most likely a false rumor.

I think that the Magic will beat the Celtics but lose again to the Lakers.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 2:37:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Thanks for bringing some sanity to this topic, David.

I agree with you that Mike Brown is getting way too much blame. I think his biggest problem is he seems boring and unglamorous to the fans and media. Maybe he should start publicly deriding his players as "innocent lambs". Actually, he'll probably be fired before he has a chance to do so. In that case, writing a tell-all book about this season might be a good start for him.

I agree with you that in his decision to "rest" players, Brown squandered a good opportunity to continue to build team chemistry. Having Shaq in and out of the lineup and having only recently acquired Jamison made things difficult. To Brown's defense, other coaches have "rested" players in the past and had it work for them (think of Gregg Popovich). Also, imagine if LeBron suffered some sort of injury playing in a "meaningless" game. Brown was probably under tremendous pressure from ownership, fans, and the media to avoid even the possibility of such a situation.

Another great point you have made: building a championship-caliber team is a very difficult thing to do. In all of their suggestions of what LeBron should do next, people lose sight of that fact. LeBron seems really young to us now, but the clock is ticking. Starting over with a new team will likely prolong his quest for a title, and before we know it, LeBron could be pushing 30 and still looking for his first ring.

For instance, Shaq was only 24 when he joined the Lakers. Even disregarding a young Kobe, the team Shaq joined had more depth and talent than the teams people are saying LeBron should join. Four years would pass before Shaq made it back to the Finals.

As another example, Kobe was about the same age as LeBron is now when the Lakers lost to the Pistons and their team was broken up. Kobe had been young ever since we'd known him. No one imagined that his situation would get as desperate as it got in the Summer of 2007: he was 29, had played for years without much help, and no solution was in sight. Things worked out for Kobe, but by the time he won another championship, he was already past his prime.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 2:54:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

On another note, I think it is unfair to cast too much blame on LeBron. He still played well at times, and all superstars have series where they are off. I'm especially bothered by all of the armchair psychologists who think they can tell from afar what LeBron was thinking and assert that he didn't try or quit. I admit that his performances seemed strange, but I will leave it at that. We simply don't know enough to say more.

What people are doing now is a lot like what they have always done with Kobe Bryant. Everything LeBron has done has been over-analyzed and cited as "proof" that LeBron quit, or was thinking about something else, or is selfish, or doesn't trust his teammates, or has various other personal flaws.

I know you are not a fan of Bill Simmons, but I thought you might be interested in his new article. Simmons says that LeBron is not essentially a cross of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, as he initially thought. Instead, he says LeBron is the second coming of Dr. J. Simmons says Dr. J was too nice as a person to lead a team to an NBA title and that LeBron suffers from the same personality flaw. Of course, I think the article is nonsense (thought other would disagree). The 76ers and Celtics met in the Eastern Conference Finals for three straight years. Each year, the Celtics had home court advantage and were favored to win. Yet, two of those three years, Dr. J, with all his alleged personality flaws, led the Sixers to victory over the ruthless alpha-male Larry Bird and the Celtics. I think Simmons is just bitter about this.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 3:35:00 PM, Blogger Kaos said...

I have to agree with David here when he says one of the primary reasons the Cavs lost this time was the fact that they have had major roster upheavals the last few years. In the last three post-seasons the Cavs have looked dramatically different each time around. They lost to a Celtics team that had the same 4 core players from their title run a few years ago.
It's always difficult to stand pat after a loss, but I think the Cavs administration should look into just letting the current team gel or making small upgrades. They are certainly capable of winning a title, on paper at least.

I do have to disagree with one thing though. While James does shoulder the lion's share of the burden of making this team win, I think that we are over-reaching here with the armchair analysis. One bad playoff series does not tarnish a great players career or future. Losing can do that to people. I think we all agree that James is a very different person from Kobe/Jordan in terms of personality just as much in terms of playing style. Saying that one absolutely needs to have a similar nature to either of these players in order to win doesn't make sense. James has shown that he cares about his game and about winning, which is why he has ruthlessly attacked his own skill-set weaknesses the last few years (and that's near-quoting David).

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 5:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

Brown got the idea of "resting" players from his time as an assistant with Popovich--Brown mentioned this to me when I asked him about it--but I would say that there is a difference between "resting" guys like Duncan, Ginobili and/or Parker after they have played together for years and "resting" players who have not had the opportunity to develop on court chemistry.

The reality is that every championship caliber team faces some kind of challenge, though, and the mentally tough teams persevere. The 2009 Lakers survived Bynum being out and the inconsistent play of their bench. If this year's Lakers win then they will have overcome multiple injuries to their best player, bench play that is even more erratic than last year's and an injury to Bynum's knee that will require offseason surgery.

The biggest challenge that the Cavs faced versus Boston is that at some point LeBron decided--for whatever reason--to stop trying hard. I firmly believe that LeBron is going to spend a long time regretting this, because it may be a while before he has another opportunity this good to win a title.

I agree with you that any superstar can have an off game or even an off series but that is not what happened here with LeBron. As Kevin Mackey loves to say, "The eye in the sky doesn't lie." Watch a tape of just about any game that LeBron played this season (or in previous playoff runs) and compare it to how he played not only in game five versus Boston but also game two. LeBron looked listless and disinterested versus Boston and I don't believe that the problem was physical, because in game three he came out like gangbusters and took over the game.

You are right that the media does too much psychoanalyzing but if you read what I have said about LeBron I have focused much more on what he did--and what he didn't do--than on speculating about his thought process, though I do strongly suspect that there is a disconnect between him and Coach Brown.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 5:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I have always said that, aesthetically, LeBron resembles Dr. J more than any other player, but I disagree with the way that Simmons compared LeBron and Dr. J. Suggesting that Dr. J lacked the ability to lead a team to a title requires pretending that the first five years of his pro career never happened, because in 1974 he led the youngest pro basketball team in either league to a championship and in 1976 he led an underdog team to a championship versus a Denver squad that had a Hall of Fame Coach, two Hall of Fame players and the best defensive forward in either league. While it is true that to some extent Dr. J deferred a bit too much early in his NBA career, the main reason that he did not win a championship in his first six NBA seasons is that he kept running into teams with Hall of Fame centers (Bill Walton, Wes Unseld/Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in an era when the rules and style of play all but required that you have a great big man to win a championship.

The Dr. J-Bird rivalry has been the subject of extensive historical revisionism even by people who covered it firsthand. Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston, who covered the 76ers during Erving's career, wrote a column a year or two ago saying that Bird's teams dominated Erving's; I pointed out to Livingson that--as I wrote in a 2004 article--Erving and Bird split four playoff series with each team winning 12 games and Bird only enjoyed a 23-21 edge in regular season games even though the Celtics clearly had the superior team for at least four of the eight years that they faced each other, a period of time in which Erving was 34-plus years old while Bird was in his prime.

As you indicated, Erving's 76ers beat Bird's Celtics in two of the first three series that they contested. What hurts Erving's reputation--unfairly--is that the one year the Celtics won they were fortunate enough to face Houston in the Finals and win a championship, while Erving's 76ers lost to the Lakers in 1980 and 1982. If the 76ers had not blown a 3-1 lead to the Celtics in 1981, we would look at that time as a period in which Erving completely dominated Bird.

The other thing that is forgotten about that time is that Erving-Bird, not Magic-Bird, was the league's biggest rivalry: Erving and Bird faced each other much more frequently and with much larger stakes, while the Magic-Bird rivalry did not take off in the NBA until they faced each other in the 1984 Finals; of course, that matchup coincided with the NBA having a better TV deal.

 
At Saturday, May 15, 2010 6:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kaos:

I don't think that losing "tarnishes" LeBron's reputation but the indifferent manner in which he played during this series is a blight on his resume because we know that he is capable of a much better effort. LeBron has certainly done a good job of attacking his skill set weaknesses and I am not suggesting that he does not have what it takes to win a championship but he put forth a very lackluster effort versus Boston. I don't know what he was thinking but if he thinks that it will be easy to obtain another opportunity to lead a number one seeded team into the playoffs then he is not as much a student of NBA history as he is purported to be. Many franchises have risen up, had a good three-four year run like the Cavs have had, and then fallen back due to age, injuries and other reasons. LeBron may never again play on a 60 win team or a number one seed. I am not saying that he won't have those opportunities but I am saying that it is certainly possible. Bill Walton won an NBA title at age 24 and was leading the team with the best record in the league the next season when he got hurt. His next appearance in the NBA Finals took place as a 33 year old Sixth Man of the Year Award winner. Grant Hill was an MVP caliber player before he was felled by injuries. LeBron may have been banged up but he was physically capable of performing and he should have seized this opportunity to vigorously go after winning a championship.

 

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