On The Sidelines 06.25.08: Legacies and a Draft List
Posted by Porfirio Diaz on 06.25.2008
The NBA Finals ended last Tuesday night. Emotions were high and tears were dropped. And legacies were changed forever. I take one last look back at the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics, and determine whether the legacies of those involved were changed forever. Plus, in honor of the NBA draft, a list of the greatest first round pick selections since 1980. All this and more on the newest edition of On The Sidelines.
So basketball season came to a close last Tuesday night. In a series filled with nostalgia, blown leads, officiating accusations and overacted injuries, it seemed almost natural for the series had to end with a 39 point blowout. So how did this year's NBA Finals impact the legacies of those involved? That's what will be discussed first so let's go to it.
Inside The Lines
Legacies – Boston Celtics
So after years of postseason frustrations, Garnett finally got the monkey off his back and won a title. Maybe not quite the Steve Young, John Elway or even Phil Mickelson "monkey off the back" variety, but still won a title nevertheless. So then the question becomes, how will KG's legacy be viewed now that he has a ring? Some have said that Garnett does not need to win a title in order to be recognized as one of the league's best players and after so many first round failures, it appeared to be going that way. His legacy would amount to consisted nothing more than that of a great player that could never lead his team out of the first round. But the greatest thing that could have happened to him was the trade to Boston. From there, he was able to help transform the Celtics, win a championship, and silenced his critics. The Celtics would not have won a championship without Garnett's contributions. A couple of things might hurt his cause: The fact that he wasn't the main guy on the Celtics during the Finals (Paul Pierce was), the lack of killer instinct, and his tendency to disappear during clutch time. No matter how dominant a player is, they can never be expected to win a championship on their own. Michael Jordan always had Scottie Pippen on his side, Kobe had Shaq (or is it Shaq had Kobe?), and even Tim Duncan had great teammates around him, from David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. The one thing I agree on is that KG is not a great clutch player. That may hurt his legacy a bit, but when he's a terror on the floor during the first three quarters, he doesn't need to be, especially when he has Paul Pierce to handle the final moments of the game. With this championship, Kevin Garnett helped seal his legacy as one of the greatest players ever at his position.
Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish….Paul Pierce? On a list of all-time Celtics greats? Indeed that's what Celticfan is saying these days, thanks to Pierce's heroics in the NBA Finals. While I wouldn't put Pierce above any of those players, he is the greatest player to put on a Celtics uniform after the team's dynasty in the 80s. Pierce has been a starter every season with the Celtics since being picked 10th overall, thus viewed as a "true" Celtic in the eyes of fans. A efficient scorer and clutch performer (as well as a very good actor *wink*), Pierce didn't really reach star status until the Finals concluded, when he did an extraordinary job of defending Kobe Bryant and was voted Finals' MVP for his 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists performance. Before this year, fans were having trouble deciding whether or not they should include Pierce's jersey upon the Garden's rafters of champions. Now that he's lead a team to a championship, not only will Pierce's jersey dangling in the Garden be justified, but Pierce's legacy in Boston will forever be immortalized.
Ray Allen will mostly be known for being the third wheel of the "Big Three", but that won't stop him from being one of the best shooters in the NBA. Allen has had a pretty solid career throughout his NBA tenure, but was never viewed as a threat that could lead a team to a championship. Even when he was traded to the Celtics last year, they weren't viewed as a threat until they added KG shortly after. Allen provided the Celtics with terrific long range shooting and toughness all throughout the regular season and more fans believed he would be a pivotal piece in the team's championship run. But something happened in the playoffs. Suddenly he became more of a hindrance than a helper and it seemed as if the Celtics would not make it to the Finals. Luckily, the team advanced to the Finals despite Allen's disappearance. And there, he suddenly remembered he was Ray Allen and once again became an important part in the team's championship run. One drive to the basket in the Finals would be the highlight of the postseason and of his career, when he blew past Sasha Vujacic for the easy layup to complete the historical comeback in Game 4. While Allen's legacy didn't grow as much as Pierce's or Garnett's legacy did, this championship will only add to his solid career. Plus, a legacy that includes movie alter-ego, Jesus Shuttlesworth, is alright in my book.
Big time clutch player, a tough defender, and a major factor to the Heat's and Celtics' championship run. That's not a bad career to have. Posey was always there to provide from both sides of the court, making clutch baskets and playing effective defense on Kobe Bryant. All while coming off the bench. Basically, he's a player that every team wants to have. While he was an important piece in the Celtics' title run, his legacy will be a crumb compared to the likes of KG, Pierce, and Jesus Shuttlesworth. He's more of a lesser known version of Robert Horry. However, there's still plenty of time left in his career to make some more impact whether it's on the Celtics or on another team.
It is still to early in his NBA career to have a clear view of his legacy. But if anything, he's elevated himself to become one of the better point guards in the league. His situation could be similar to that of Tony Parker. Both play at a fast pace, are not afraid of driving to the basket, and shoot at a high field goal percentage. Like Parker, Rondo also won his first championship in his sophomore season as the Spurs' starting point guard. No one would have thought that Tony Parker would win an NBA Finals MVP, much less becoming one the best point guards in the league. The same thing could happen to Rondo. But for now, his legacy is still a question mark.
Game 2: The Leon Powe Game. Enough said.
Doc Rivers pulled off an amazing turnaround from being a poorly regarded head coach to a championship coach. He's now mentioned on a list of 32 other coaches who have won a NBA title (with 3 of them still active), alongside Red Auerbach, Greg Popovich, Pat Riley, Larry Brown and even the coach that he battled against in the Finals, Phil Jackson. Many have said that the coaching disparity between the two was great. Huge, enormous, gargantuan, the distance between Travis Henry and a child support payment big! You get the picture. But something shocking happened. Doc Rivers outcoached somebody. Ignore Phil for a moment. The fact that Doc outcoached anyone is a nothing short of amazing. But I jest. Still, these were the thoughts that were swimming in people's head. In fact, they still are. Many critics point out the reason that the Celtics won is because of the players. They could have dug up Red's grave to coach this team and they probably still would have won. But Rivers motivated his players when they were down, pounding them to win, win, win. That was one of the big differences in this series. Rivers motivated his team to win, Jacksons didn't. Sure, his players were a big help but it was Doc who still had to draw up the plays and believed in his players to execute them perfectly. No more will River's legacy be that of an inept coach who couldn't coach his team out of a paper bag. Now he can be called a champion. The future will determine if he's really turned over a new coaching leaf or if he goes back to being that hopeless coach.
The biggest gravy-trainer of them all, Scot Pollard.
Naa, I kid. It's because I love Scot Pollard from his days as a Sacramento King. Still, he did virtually nothing and still got a ring. He's like a rich man's Darko! Congrats anyway Pollard.
Legacies – Los Angeles Lakers
Well, the comparison talk between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan has officially perished. Jordan would have never allowed his team to lose a playoff game, much less an NBA Finals game, after being up by 20 or more points or allowed his team to get blown out in an elimination game. Or blah blah blah. I'm sure you've hear the talk already. Other than that, this series isn't going to tarnish Kobe's already vast legacy much. Or help it. People already know that he's one of the greatest players in the NBA and a poor teammate (no, I don't think taking your teammates out to dinner makes you a good teammate). Last year, he openly disregarded his teammates and demanded a trading before the season started. Then he became MVP and a great teammate. Hmmm. Well, at least he can add "MVP" to his legacy. But it's not like this was Kobe's final year ever. He'll be back and with an emerging team with possibly new pieces alongside with him, he could be ready for another shot at another ring. For now, he needs to stand down and not allow himself to become a distraction again, no matter how much smack talk Shaq puts in his raps. That's another thing too. Kobe has still not won a championship without Shaq. Whether it's a fair criticism or not, that will always be above Kobe's head. It also doesn't help that the critics just love to point that fact out whenever they have the chance (wait, I just mentioned that fact…does that make me a hypocrite? d'ho!). Unfortunately for Kobe, that might be his permanent legacy barring a complete change in attitude: great talent, poor teammate, no rings without Shaq. He can especially make those last two go away if he wins a ring within the next couple of years.
Or he can demand another trade. Depends on whatever mood he's in.
If there is one word that can describe Odom's career, it's "inconsistency". It seems like whenever Odom's about to progress into an effective player, he goes back to being futile. Two steps forward, two steps back. That happened again this year. The further the Lakers got through the playoffs, the better Odom played. He especially played his best playoff series in his career in the semi-finals against the Utah Jazz, posting an average of 18.2 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 2.0 APG. His progress declined a bit during the Spurs series but he didn't stumble over his own feet or anything. In the Finals, he went back to the Odom that everyone knows and loves. Chokes in big moments, disappears in big games, and is as soft as a pillow. Odom is not a bad player; in fact he's an overall good player. It's just that one day he'll show up and post double digits while the next day he'll struggle to make a basket. Odom is still fairly young, so he can redeem himself in the next couple of years. If he doesn't, mark that word "inconsistency" right on top of his legacy.
Paul Gasol was stuck on a below average Memphis team and Chris Wallace decided to do him a favor in a big way. Wallace sent Pau Gasol to the Lakers for some stuff in return, like 2 picks and some players. I can't remember off the top of my head, but it was that one-sided. And that will be part of Gasol's legacy, the fact that he was involved in one of the biggest one-sided trades in the history of the NBA. Of course, Gasol is also a good player. He helped the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals but was exposed as the soft player that he is by a tough Celtics team. Like Odom, Gasol is still young so there's still a chance that he might hit the gym, add some bulk, and be more of an inside presence defensively. Maybe.
Unless something great happens to him in the next couple of years, his legacy will forever be this:
I feel Jackson's legacy took much less hit than Kobe's, but that doesn't mean he's off the hook. The result of this year's NBA Finals caused many to wonder if Phil really is a good coach or not. Did Phil Jackson really earn those 9 championship titles or was he just the beneficiary of having superstar players like Jordan, Kobe, Shaq, and Pippen? Was he in the right place at the right time? Phil still has Kobe Bryant, so many though those two alone would be enough to beat the Celtics in the Finals. Unfortunately, Phil didn't match Rivers' adjustments during games and didn't motivate his team as much. It's one thing to be outcoached by Larry Brown, it's quite another to be coached by someone who was still lucky to have a job. Of course, it hurts when the star player of the team gets viciously shut down and doesn't perform like he normally would. But there were times that Phil would just sit there emotionless, like he was waiting for a bus. Where's the energy, the encouragement, the "Zen"? Phil was not "Zen", but ordinary. That said, winning 9 titles in 12 years is no fluke. Sure, he was given great talent to begin with, but he still needed to manage their egos and lead them to title victories. Plus, superstar players can't win a championship by themselves. Jackson maximized the talent he had around his star players and made sure they worked within his system. Some don't like his arrogance or his "Zen Master" image. Some feel put off by that, which is enough to place him right below Red as the greatest coach of all time. But he's still one hell of a coach. Lucky? Maybe. Arrogant? Yes. Great coach. Yes. Phil's legacy may be one that involved the help of many superstars, but one cannot deny his great coaching abilities and his championship hardware.
Best First Round Pick Selections in NBA Draft since 1980
In honor of the NBA draft (Thursday, June 26, 7PM ET/4PM PT – ESPN), I decided to make a draft list of my own. With my buddy Bill, we managed to make a list that comprises of the NBA draft's greatest first round pick selections since 1980. So that means greatest #1 overall pick, greatest #2 overall pick, and so on. I also implanted a star rating (everybody loves star ratings!) determining the difficulty of the pick selection. So say, one star would mean our pick for that selection was easy (for example, pick selection #3) while a five star rating would mean our decision was monstrously hard (thanks to a lack of great players being selected at that spot). I will also have some brief commentary about the selections. So with that said, let's see how it went.
1. Tim Duncan (Spurs, 1997) ****
Obviously, this was one of the tougher selections to choose, but with good reason. A list that includes many great players, it came down to two players and we went with the one that impacted his team like no other. Tim Duncan, a man that turned a team's fortunes quicker than anyone I can remember. Plus those 4 championship rings, 2 MVPs, and 3 Finals MVPs doesn't hurt either. Some would say LeBron James, but it's too early to determine that. Hakeem Olajuwon was our other choice, but Timmy was the better pick.
Honorable mentions: Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James
2. Isiah Thomas (Mavs, 1994) **
Jason Kidd and Gary Payton have to battle for second, because Thomas takes this one easy. Great player, dreadful general manager.
Honorable mentions: Gary Payton, Jason Kidd
3. Michael Jordan (Bulls, 1984) *
Do we really need an explanation?
Honorable mentions: Dominique Wilkins, Grant Hill
4. Chris Paul (Hornets, 2005) **
Though we felt it may be a little too early to pick Paul, I guess you could say it's warranted. He did almost won MVP this year. Plus, just look at the other players. Not bad, but they're no Chris Paul.
Honorable mentions: Dikembe Mutombo, Rasheed Wallace
5. Scottie Pippen (Bulls, 1987) *****
So would we pick one of the greatest power forwards ever or the greatest second banana ever? Bill picked Scottie Pippen and I picked Kevin Garnett. This was possibly our hardest decision on this list. Coin flip decided this one. One other note, this selection has some very good players. Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Jason Richardson, Mitch Richmond. Not bad.
Honorable mentions: Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Dwyane Wade
6. Kenny Smith (Kings, 1987) **
An otherwise weak list but Kenny Smith gets the nod over Roy due to experience. In the few years, maybe Roy will be in this spot. Plus, the two rings helps a lot.
Honorable mentions: Brandon Roy
7. Chris Mullin (Warriors, 1985) **
One of my favorite players ever. That alone gets the pick.
Honorable mentions: Richard Hamilton, Kevin Johnson
8. Detlef Schrempf (Mavericks, 1985) ***
Hmmm…Detlef Schremphf or Tom Chambers. Two players who we don't know very well. So we went by stats and the one with quite possibly the greatest name ever!
Honorable mentions: Tom Chambers, Ron Harper
9. Dirk Nowitzki (Bucks, 1998) ****
I wanted to put Amare Stoudemire here but he hasn't really earned it yet. Tracy McGrady hurts himself opening a door so we went with the one that's not too young and not too hurt. In all seriousness, Dirk is above the best player in this selection.
Honorable mentions: Amare Stoudemire, Tracy McGrady
10. Paul Pierce (Celtics, 1998) ****
Pierce would have won this one even if he didn't win a ring this year. Or would he? John Salley actually had a career that's sort of equal to that of Pierce's. He has 4 rings, but eventually we went for the one with a Finals MVP award.
Honorable mentions: John Salley, Joe Johnson
11. Reggie Miller (Pacers, 1987) ****
Another tough pick. Reggie Miller vs. Robert Horry. Bill decided it was definitely Miller and I was on the fence. Both great long range shooters, both great clutch time performers. Horry does have the rings but Miller is a far better player. Eventually, we decided on Miller.
Honorable mentions: Robert Horry
12. Mookie Blaylock (Nets, 1989) *
Ok, so I picked his based on his name but he was also a good player at the time, I think. Plus, the other players in this pick….eww.
Honorable mentions: Michael Doleac
13. Kobe Bryant (Hornets, 1996) ***
Bill and I were butting heads again. He picked Malone and I picked Kobe, though I hate both of them. This was much harder than it needed to be. But in the end, it's Kobe all the way. Imagine if Kobe was happy playing for the Hornets….or for anyone else.
Honorable mentions: Karl Malone
14. Clyde Drexler (Blazers, 1983) **
Tim Hardaway and his revolutionary cross-overs have to settle for second, because the Clyde glides his way to the top of this selection pick.
Honorable mentions: Tim Hardaway, Predrag Stojakovic
15. Steve Nash (Suns, 1996) **
Now it's either going to get much easier or much harder from here on out. For now, it's much easier. Nash wins for being Canadian…oh and for those MVPs too, I guess.
Honorable mentions: Al Jefferson
16. John Stockton (Jazz, 1984) **
Hey everybody, it's everyone's favorite short short wearing player!
Honorable mentions: Ron Artest
17. Shawn Kemp (SuperSonics, 1989) ***
Bill had some good points for both Kemp and Jermaine O'Neal. At his prime, Kemp played on a Hall of Fame level but had too many off court issues. But O'Neal is barely an All-Star. I say Kemp wins #17, which is also the same number of children he produced. Ok, I picked him to just say that line.
Honorable mentions: Jermaine O'Neal
18. Joe Dumars (Pistons, 1985) *
No one is beating Joe Dumars. He's a beast!
Honorable mentions: James Posey, David West
19. Zach Randolph (Blazers, 2001) **
It must be a shallow list if Zach freakin Randolph gets picked. But he is the best player of this selection. Yikes.
Honorable mentions: Jamaal Magloire, Pat Garrity
20. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cavaliers, 1996) **
I was briefly looking at Speedy's direction but the big Z caught my eye.
Honorable mentions: Speedy Claxton, Hubert Davis
21. Michael Finley (Suns, 1995) ***
For being this late into the round, this one was actually a tricky one. Does Rajon Rondo get this spot so early into his career or is Michael Finley just flat out the better players? Bill reassured me that I would be crazy to pick Rondo. Finley it is!
Honorable mentions: Rajon Rondo, Boris Diaw
22. A.C. Green (Lakers, 1985) *
Not too familiar with him, but he's a lot better than the other choices. Let's just move on.
Honorable mentions: Kenny Thomas
23. Tayshaun Prince (Pistons, 2002) **
I actually wanted to make a case for Bobby Jackson but Tayshaun Prince had a better career and a ring. Grrr.
Honorable mentions: Bobby Jackson
24. Sam Cassell (Rockets, 1993) ***
It was really a battle of three players: Cassell vs. Fisher vs. AK-47. Ok, now one does not belong. So now it's Fisher vs. Cassell. Both are good role players but Bill picked Cassell since he says he's a better player. I didn't like how Cassell gravy trained his way to a championship this year ( I didn't mention it earlier, but that could have ruined his legacy a little bit). Despite that, Cassel has been useful for more teams than Fisher. We eventually settled for Cassel.
Honorable mentions: Derek Fisher, Andrei Kirilenko
25. Gerald Wallace (Kings, 2001) *
I'm still sad the Kings let Wallace go in that expansion draft a couple of years ago. Good defensive player, good energy….I miss him.
Honorable mentions: Al Harrington
26. Kevin Martin (Kings, 2004) *
A rising star…..ok, maybe a rising star on a struggling team. If he was on any other team, he would just be a role player. Oh well, I still like him.
Honorable mentions: Samuel Dalembert, John Salmons
27. Kendrick Perkins (Grizzlies, 2003) *
Starting center for a championship team and won? Good enough for us.
Honorable mentions: Jamaal Tinsley
28. Tony Parker (Spurs, 2001) *
The greatest first round value pick ever. No contest.
Honorable mentions: Leandro Barbosa
29. Josh Howard (Mavericks, 2003) **
The offseason pot smoker smokes the completion on his way in this spot.
Honorable mentions: P.J. Brown
30. Marko Jaric (Clippers, 2000) **
Some would say David Lee deserves this spot. But if you just look at Jaric's wife, then you know why we picked him here.
Honorable mentions: David Lee
Out of Bounds
- Here it is, Shaq's now infamous rap song about Kobe.
- RIP George Carlin. Inspirational comedy genius. You will be missed.
Nothing else to add except to enjoy the draft and it's many, many unintentional funny moments.