The Los Angeles Lakers were ousted in the second round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs in a clear shift of Western Conference power from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers couldn't get the stops they needed to make Kobe's 42 points on 33 shots stand up and they are now done and moving on to bombastic claims and roster questions.
The Thunder won their series 4-1 which gives us the inevitable meeting of the two best teams in the West in the Conference Finals. The Spurs are well-rested, deep, healthy and even seem to be a little hungry. It should be a fun series.
In the East, the slog continues with both series destined to go long as no clear dominant team exists. The Boston Celtics took a 3-2 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to a huge performance from Brandon Bass. He dropped 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter to lift the Celtics to a 101-85 win. For a Eastern Conference team to break 100 is big news.
Here's the schedule for the 2012 NBA Playoffs for Tuesday:
With the series tied 2-2, the Heat will try and do what the Celtics did and take a lead over the Pacers but can they really count on 70 combined points from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade again? Indiana needs to stop taking so many outside shots and pound the ball inside to Roy Hibbert and David West.
The Pacers-Heat series has been the best matchup of the second round, hands down. With Phoenix’s season over, I have no vested interest in any one team, but I still find myself pulling for the Pacers...
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"Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow." -- Jon Madonna
I believe that the Suns front office would acknowledge the sapience of this quote. I think that Sarver had something similar to this in mind when he embarked upon the current experiment of dividing the basketball side of operations from the business side of operations. Two heads are better than one. Domination through specialization.
The beginning of the Babby/Blanks era has been a bumpy ride. The Suns have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in a quarter century. Obviously the fledgling staff can't be pleased with this happening under their watch. This group didn't inherit an ideal situation, though, so it seems prudent to give them enough rope to hang themselves a chance to turn things around.
Issuing one year grades for a front office can be difficult. The statistics for players reset every year, but the effects of front office decisions can take years to materialize and the aftershocks can be felt well down the road.
Press forward to delve deeper into the moves that helped define the season and a review of the people who made them.
First, allow me to introduce the key components of the Suns pantheon.
Lon Babby: President of Basketball Operations
Babby makes up the business side of the Suns bifurcated cognoscenti. Basically, he is the brains of the outfit. With a resume that includes being a Yale law graduate, providing legal counsel for the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles, and acting as player agent for the likes of Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, Hedo Turkoglu, and Josh Childress, it certainly supports his credentials as a luminary. His credentials relating to running a basketball team are less impressive, and by that I mean practically non-existent. Will his ability in these other fields translate to success in his current role? We will find out.
One reference to the fateful summer of 2010 and then I will exclude the conspiracy theories from the rest of my evaluation. Obviously I am not the only person in the world (it's actually Marc Stein and me - that makes two) that applied the smoke/fire principle to the Babby/Turkoglu/Childress bermuda triangle. There's nothing concrete to link this, though, just speculation like the following excerpt from an ESPN story.
Another reason: Turkoglu is a current client and Childress is a former client of longtime player-agent Lon Babby, who appears destined to replace Steve Kerr as the Suns' new head of basketball operations.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Saturday that Suns owner Robert Sarver -- increasingly interested in succeeding Kerr with a revamped structure that includes non-traditional personnel voices as well as traditional basketball executives -- is giving Babby strong consideration to lead the Suns' revamped basketball department.
Sources close to the situation told Stein on Sunday that Babby's hiring has been agreed to in principle, with more hires to come to assist him.
Lance Blanks: General Manager
Blanks played collegiate ball for Virginia and Texas (advancing to the elite 8 in the '90 NCAA Tournament) and was a first round selection (26th overall) by the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 NBA draft. He bounced around the NBA, CBA, and Europe for 10 years. His main pedigree comes from acting as Director of Scouting of the San Antonio Spurs in the early 2000's. He served as assistant GM for the Cleveland Cavaliers for 5 seasons (and was instrumental in bringing a ring to the King) prior to coming to Phoenix.
Blanks is in charge of the basketball side of operations. Scouting and talent evaluation are his bailiwick. While not nearly as visible as Babby, it has been assured that these men are acting cooperatively in a snag ‘em and bag ‘em dynamic.
John Treloar: Director of Player Personnel
Treloar is the scouting director and appears to be the Suns "draft guy". This analysis will not focus on him since he is the third wheel, at best, on the Suns team front office concept, although maybe it should since it seems logical that he has at least some degree of influence on trades, free agent signings, and draft picks (i.e. Morris and the upcoming selection).
Aaron Brooks (Can we really blame the front office for Brooks signing with a Chinese team right before the lockout ended? If they hadn't traded for him it wouldn't have ever become a problem in the first place.)
Michael Redd, Sebastian Telfair, Markieff Morris, Ronnie Price, Shannon Brown
At first glance it would seem that the additions were superior to the subtractions, especially for those who consider Carter leaving to be addition by subtraction. Then why didn't the team improve this year? One could argue that it did by virtue of the play in the second half of the season. Redd, Telfair, and Brown all made strides as the season progressed.
As of right now, it appears that the front office won this exchange. They culled off 5 players that had no future with the team and now it would seem that at least 2 of the 5 replacements will be with the Suns on more than a transient basis.
Let's look at some offerings on these players from before the season and compare them to how they actually panned out.
Michael Redd Has a proven pedigree as a first-rate NBA scorer," said Suns president of Basketball Operations Lon Babby. "He will work with our renowned training staff to get into basketball shape. When he is ready to play, Michael will be a welcome addition to our team.
Telfair has already been a starting point guard in this league and has the potential to be a very solid back-up as well. Of course, he also has the potential to be a complete bust for the Suns, but I believe with limited responsibility in the 2nd unit and his incredible speed and quickness he could really help this team.
I'll be thrilled with the worst case scenario there. The man rebounds, fights, plays tough, finshes at a high rate around the rim, and makes open jumpers. And he's a pure PF who can slide into C in a small lineup.
In skillset, Brown is sort of the Bizarro Dudley. An outstanding athlete, Brown will wow us with breathtaking dunks and other feats of skywalking Dudley can only dream of, but lacks Dudley's smooth shooting stroke, basketball IQ and all-around game.
As backup SGs go, Brown is above average. Over the last two seasons, he averaged around 8 PPG in 20 MPG. The Suns could probably live with that, but he can potentially increase those numbers depending upon Dudley's success and how many minutes Brown will get.
There are some astute observations and some whiffs included in these quotes, just like many of us had in predicting the successes (or failures) of these players this season. As it turned out, though, the Suns control Morris for the near future and at least have some options with the other three based on what unfolds in the free agency period.
Other Notable Decision:
Declined to offer contract extension to Robin Lopez before the January 25th deadline and did not trade him before the March 15th deadline.
This will have to go down as a question mark for now. Babby stated at the end of season press conference "And he's, again, he's going to be a restricted free agent, and the message I would send out is quite likely, if not certain, that we're gonna match.", which seems like a strong endorsement for keeping Lopez. If that was really the case, though, then why weren't the sides working at an extension before January 15th? This seems like a little bit of gamesmanship on Babby's behalf in an attempt to drive down the price. Good luck.
What the front office can't do in this situation is let Lopez walk away for nothing. Letting assets dissolve into the void is not a recipe for success.
Let's refer back to Ray's bullet points:
Field a team that can compete for a playoff spot.
Keep Grant Hill and Steve Nash for at least this season, after which Nash's contract is up and both he and the team can re-assess.
Fill roster holes with inexpensive, low-risk, short-term contracts. Hello, Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown!
Check - As I mentioned earlier I felt this was at least a small victory.
Our expectation going into the season may be different than a lot of you folks and different from a lot of prognosticators, was that we had a, our mission was to begin the rebuilding process, maintain our discipline for this coming year, and remain competitive.
When we assessed our team, right after the lockout, it was our belief that we were good enough to be a playoff team, and that was the goal of the season. It was understood by our players, so in that sense, the season was a disappointment.
This last quote seems to resonate with me. The team was painfully close, but fell just short of the playoffs. The Suns franchise has a history of fielding competitive teams. Making the playoffs is expected. The rebuilding while remaining competitive strategy is not being validated by recurring lottery appearances.
There were definitely some positives from the season, and I think the real analysis of the front office still lies ahead of us. Over the coming two years, the bar needs to be set higher in terms of the goals for this franchise.
I felt the Suns season was a C. I give the front office the same grade. I look forward to better grades next year.
(SB Nation Arizona) The 2012 NBA Playoff schedule rolled on through the busy weekend and gave us some historic moments. LeBron James reminded the entire sporting world why he's a three-time MVP. Facing a desperate situation, he dropped 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists on the Indiana Pacers to even that series 2-2. Put aside whatever animosity you hold for James' other faults and marvel at that performance.
Also you can blame the Pacers for ignoring their size advantage in the paint and relying too much on Leandro Barbosa. Indiana's depth, however, still should give them an edge against the beat up Heat who can't possibly get 70 points from James and Wade in every game.
Meanwhile, the Spurs don't care about James and don't need one player to be Superman to win games. They are deep and dangerous and have now won 18-straight games, including many late in the season where their best players didn't even dress. San Antonio completed their second sweep of the postseason with a set of back-to-back road wins over the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Philadelphia 76ers have locked up the Boston Celtics 2-2 in their series. The Sixers best strategy is to grind down their elderly foes. The longer this series goes, the best for Philly.
2012 NBA Playoff Schedule for Monday:
Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics at 7:00 p.m. on TNT
Each team has won on the road in this series so playing in the "Garden" shouldn't intimidate the Sixers. If they can continue to use their size and athleticism advantage and win the rebounding battle, they can steal Game 5 and take control of the series. Like most of these Eastern Conference games, it will be ugly, but it should also be a grind.
Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder at 9:30 p.m. on TNT
No one can really explain why the Lakers can't get more consistent performances from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but maybe Kobe Bryant taking all the shots has something to do with it. Meanwhile, the Thunder penetrate at will and should close out this series in five games on Monday night.
Here's SB Nation's own Bomani Jones arguing against good basketball and in favor of ratings so the NBA can make even more money.
Westbrook is often criticized for shooting too much and not distributing enough as a point guard, and last night he attempted 26 FGs while dishing only 5 assists. Of course, it's hard to complain about his shooting when he hits 57% of them as he did in game 4, leading the Thunder to a 3-1 series advantage.
The Heat find themselves in an unexpected hole after being shellacked by the Pacers in game 3 Thursday, and will try to even the series up this afternoon, still missing injured Chris Bosh, and after Dwyane Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra deny that there is friction between them.
In the other remaining series, the Spurs are fully in control 3-0 over the Clippers after coming back from a 24-point first half deficit to teach the young Clippers a painful lesson, and the Sixers continue to surprise, now even at 2-2 with the Celtics.
Westbrook and Durant were a combined 25 of 44 from the floor tonight, the rest of the team was 13 of 33. They shot 17 free throws, as well. They were both incredibly efficient tonight, always looking for great looks.
But Serge Ibaka, he was 7-11, pretty much accounting for the majority of makes from the rest of the team. Since he continued to miss jumpers tonight, it felt like he did a lot worse. But the truth is, he was down there getting some great offensive boards, and he had a few nice opportunities on the pick and roll as well.
Kevin Garnett is not my favorite person. Loved him in Minnesota, then obviously not so much in Boston. He's a hell of a player and future Hall of Famer but his offensive game has gotten extremely obvious these days. Jumper or post-up turnaround. Not much else. Spencer Hawes has had trouble defending either, while Lavoy Allen has done a much better job.
The Spurs, as we all know, are the deepest, most potent team in the league. We have 6 players that shoot better than 36% from three point land. We have great drivers and an incredible post player. The Spurs have built a team that never puts a lineup on the floor that can be manipulated. Our opponent always has to guard every Spur and that means they have no defensive flexibility.
I myself have been as tough on Bosh as any other writer here at PIM, but his recent injury has taught me-in a new way-the wisdom of these words: "You never miss a good thing ‘til it's gone." I just want to go on the record on behalf of any and all Heat fans who have undervalued or badmouthed the guy and say, "Chris, I apologize. I hate it took you getting injured for me to realize this, but 18 points, 8 rebounds per game, and a strong interior defensive presence are hard to come by in this league. I am very sorry for taking you for granted."
After four seasons with the Suns, assistant coach Bill Cartwright's contract will not be renewed. Cartwright was hired by then-General Manager Steve Kerr, a former teammate, and then-Coach Terry Porter in 2008 to help Amar'e Stoudemire's defense, rebounding and post-up game and with an eye on drafting a big man later that month, which it did with Lopez.
The following story is off-topic, but not really. Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Chris Perez verbally unloaded regarding the negativity and lack of support from the team's fans in a tirade after yesterday's win over the Miami Marlins.
Athletes don't generally get much support when they rant against fans, but I can appreciate where Perez is coming from. There is a certain subset of fans who seem to get enjoyment out of bitching and criticizing players more than anything else. A lot of what Perez says is true, and reminds me of the tone our game threads sometimes descend to.
"After I struck out Montero, the mock standing applause just adds to it," said Perez. "You see their true colors."Perez ended the 10th by striking out Jesus Montero, but even that didn't ease his anger because the fans responded with a Bronx cheer. "They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can't even give up a base runner without people booing me. It's even worse when there's only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It p----s me off."