Well, the second round has come and gone and except for a few exciting moments in the Heat-Pacers series because the Pacers refused to acquiesce, the round went out with a quiet whimper on a Saturday night with one of the least climactic game 7′s ever played. In a roundabout way we managed to accurately pick the Conference Finals, albeit not before second-guessing ourselves on several occasions. But alas, these are the teams we were probably destined to end up with all along and frankly, I don’t really expect either Conference Final to be all that interesting, especially in the East. At least Philly spared themselves the embarrassment of being ran out of the playoffs, instead they get the narrative of gritty underdog who “refused to quit”. Which isn’t tired or redundant at all.
Enough about the winners, though. We’re here to discuss the losers. That is, the teams who could only manage a top-8 finish in the 2012 strike-shortened season, which really isn’t all that bad. I say that, but the following is typed without that perspective: This is a complete dissection of each team’s season and what they need going forward, because criticizing from a distance is exhilarating. Without further ado, let’s get to the evisceration.
Los Angeles Clippers
Coming into the season, I’m sure they had higher expectations than unceremoniously being swept out of the playoffs. But after the West began to take shape like it did, they couldn’t have been too surprised by the results. Ultimately, this is a franchise with historically low expectations, and the only reason they’re any good now is everyone is clamoring to play in big and/or coastal markets so they can be the center of attention. It ultimately works. Blake Griffin & Chris Paul received a lot more attention this season than anyone on the remaining western conference teams. So yeah, they won their first series against what was probably a better team only made the second round and lost to a potential NBA champ. Things could be a lot worse, like they’ve been for, you know, as long as they’ve existed.
So what do they need? Well, an upgrade at shooting guard. Or rather, a shooting guard in the first place. Playing a point guard as the off-guard because you have too many of the former doesn’t make anyone the latter. Also, a new coach. Vinny Del Negro’s doesn’t seem to have a game plan or the respect of many of his players. He’s basically Theon Greyjoy out there. I’m not sure how they go about attaining these things. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are both free agents they’re going to be ponying up a lot of money for. I guess if one or both of them leave that’s…good? Clipper nation (which exists now in the figurative sense) might tell you otherwise. Really their best option is to try and send one or two of their excessive point guards out to either move up in a REALLY deep draft or trade for a viable shooting-guard/small forward. But really, they’re kind of thin in the paint too. I don’t know, a lot of holes on this roster that go unnoticed by your casual observer because Chris Paul is actually that effective.
Los Angeles Lakers
Does anyone think the Lakers experienced a successful season? They have two of the three best big men in the league, the second leading scorer and a relatively good bench. Sure, I may have oversold the Ramon Sessions pick-up as something more than it was. But I did pick them to lose to the Thunder even if I ended up regretting it. A lot of missteps with this team (whom I had three fantasy guys on) and my actual favorite team this season (Indiana, which we’ll get to in a moment), but I still contend their main source of their struggles is Mike Brown, even if every analyst on the planet makes sport out of who can be the first to apologize for his failings.
All that said, because anytime this franchise experiences any sort of turmoil it turns more dramatic than the first Draper marriage (or second, really), we fully expect Kobe Bryant to be the last man standing of the key contributors. If they insist on keeping Brown (very rarely does a coach get the axe this quickly) the ideal scenario I can map out for them is Bynum to Orlando for Dwight Howard, and Gasol to Houston for Kevin Martin and Luis Scola (though it stands to reason they might only get one of those two for Gasol now, might have to throw in Barnes or someone). That would give them a starting five of Sessions-Kobe-Artest/Barnes-Scola-Howard with Kevin Martin playing the Manu Ginobli role, a role he was probably always born to play. Does that not seem like an upgrade? Another potential scenario is a sign-and-trade with the Clippers involving Chris Paul and some significant pieces from their end. It remains to be seen if either team wants to operate so close to home, though.
Point guard. I’ll elaborate but not much else needs to be said. The disorganization on offense was their first problem (absolutely no one fully equipped to guard Wade, and limited array of swing-men to guard LeBron being a close second) and as much was evident by the number of turnovers and complete confusion in the last couple games. Ultimately, as much as I may like them, this team is going to be limited with no top-tier talent and being eight-deep with second-tier talent. If they can sign Nash or Paul or some other all-star point guard they can actually compete with a (healthy) Miami. Also, as inept as some of the players were in the last few games against the Heat, as in everyone was deficient in some grand way the last two games, it was impossible to decipher their offensive game plan; or if they even had one.
So yeah, I probably shouldn’t write stuff like this anymore. It’s more than a tad embarrassing. Really the tipping point for the Pacers was game four, if they didn’t win that then the series was over. And they didn’t. Then were predictably blown out in game five, and based on how terribly they played (and how everyone on Miami exceeded expectations in the wake of all the injuries suspensions) they were lucky to even have an opportunity to force a game seven. But they closed out the end of every quarter so awfully that it made the difference. Honestly, the two turnovers and two straight three’s in the last minute of the 3rd quarter basically ended the game. Even then they still had their opportunities and blew them like they were the Washington Generals. In short, they were simply over-matched and lost to the better team.
Going into game seven, I tweeted this because whoever won last night’s game was going to lose in an absolute maximum of five games to Miami. So it isn’t much of a loss for Philly other than they don’t get the distinct honor of playing in the Conference Finals or the two extra gates. Oh well, why they played a competitive series against Boston, it isn’t like the Celtics are running on all cylinders. Actually, they are, but it’s only four-cylinder. And upsetting the Bulls speaks for itself. Both the act of it and the accomplishment. In ten years all anyone will remember is that the Sixers were the fifth eight seed in NBA history to win a first round series, and ultimately that’s all that matters. So congrats, Philly. On a strange, unmerited yet successful season.
But as we’ve said numerous times, this is a team that has too much of good things with no great components. As much was evident in last night’s game as they were good enough to hang with Boston on the road but never great enough to actually take a lead. The entire game existed with them down anywhere between 1-11 points, and the last lead I remember them having was at 21-20 early in the second. If they can pull off a big trade I like their chances to improve, but this team has some obvious defencies that they’re probably incapable of addressing because as far as free agents are concerned, Philadelphia is kind of basketball purgatory. It’ll be interesting what moves they are able to execute, because there’s a lot of trade value for trade partners, but everyone is going to attempt to low-ball them.