And with that, we have our set Finals for the 2012 season. It’s the perfect Finals for casual fans, commercialism, and star f#cker$ everywhere. Don’t get me wrong because we’re really looking forward to it, but this is the pinnacle of star-studded basketball, which I suppose is ultimately a good thing. Anything that attracts more attention to the NBA is perfectly fine by me, and in this we’re getting our first installment of what the Finals will look like for the next 3-5 years. Miami isn’t going anywhere unless they do something incredibly rash, which I don’t think Pat Riley is prone to doing. And Oklahoma City’s biggest hurdle is managing to keep everyone on the payroll without hemorrhaging money in luxury tax. Seems promising.
But enough about the victors, they get all the spoils and certainly don’t need our attention, especially these two teams. We’re here to discuss the casualties of the conference finals. These two teams are very much on the opposite end of the spectrum. They’re clinging to relevance and hoping to relive past glory. The Spurs and the Celtics will both be post-season contenders next season, it’s a matter of how seriously anyone will take them. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the extra 16 games would hurt their chances, and they very well may. But you can also argue that 82 games over the course of six months isn’t nearly as daunting for an aging team as 66 games is over four months. With only a year or two left for many of the core assets on each franchise, there’s a lot of options both teams have at their disposal to try and attain that last elusive ring.
San Antonio Spurs
I’m not sure what to make of the Spurs season. There was a lot of ranting and raving about the functionality of the Spurs offense and its efficiency…before game three of this series, at least. But it’s true, the Spurs won games looking like the 80′s Lakers but with less panache. Many will conclude that given the age and miles on many of their core pieces, and that they couldn’t have, in hindsight, expected to win this game. Maybe that’s true, but they were the title favorite heading into it, and in this instance I think talent simply trumped experience and execution. That, and Tony Parker decided he would try to take over the series with his overwhelming quickness and jump-shooting…it didn’t work out so well. Really, outside of Duncan and maybe Leonard, no one for San Antonio rose to the occasion. Everyone either slinked back into the shadows (Ginobli & every supporting player except Leonard) or randomly and suddenly got too big for his own britches (Parker). It was the perfect storm for Oklahoma City, who caused a lot of the disarray for the Spurs. All told, it was a successful season by the general public’s account. But for San Antonio, any season without a title is probably a failure, and that explains why they’re so successful in the first place.
Going forward, other than some better utility big men and bringing in some youth, my only advice to San Antonio would be to maintain the same core group of players, stay healthy and stay deep. They’re going to struggle to ever overcome Oklahoma City if these last four games are any indication, which I imagine they are. After being routinely decimated by Oklahoma City, Scott Brooks seemed to figure something out that Popovich couldn’t effectively counter. Either way, there’s a lot of potential for San Antonio next season, following then, however, things will start to get a little dicier.
People will say that the Celts blew this series and another crack at a second title, but that isn’t accurate. Every game in this series should have gone the way of game five and six, and they just didn’t. Boston is resilient and Miami is flaky and insecure, so these things will happen. But a team that needs seven games to beat Philadelphia shouldn’t be able to push Miami to the same number. Boston isn’t like San Antonio where they have a legitimate ten-man roster, they were razor thin with supporting players and their best three-point shooter was playing on toothpicks for ankles. They exceeded all reasonable expectations by getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. This is where they’re like San Antonio, however, the Celtics (of all franchises) aren’t going to see things similarly. And it’s tough to when you had a chance to win the series at home. With a healthy Jeff Green, Jermaine O’Neal (just another average guy) and Avery Bradley, they can convince themselves they would have won otherwise.
The consensus seems to be that Boston will retain Pierce, Garnett and Rondo while giving Allen his walking papers. This is probably the best option, as Boston can attract free agents and you want to free up all the cap space you can. Looking at their roster, you see a lot of balance, the only thing I’d recommend is acquiring some more promising young players and some better bigs. Kevin Garnett is carrying too much weight on his shoulders and as much as I like Brandon Bass, he isn’t a “big” in the same way that Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins are. This could be a team back in the same position they are this year, because while I think San Antonio is significantly better than Boston, the gap between the western and eastern conferences is even greater. San Antonio has real competition between a slew of teams. Boston has Indiana, Miami and Chicago, everyone else next year in the East will be the chum to Boston’s shark. There’s only so much time left for this team. Given their collective age, I’d say they’re in pretty good standing.