Weekly Countdown (cont.)
3 Last thoughts on the Finals
3. How Doc Rivers outcoached Phil Jackson. The bottom line is that the Celtics had better and older players than L.A. Jackson lost to the better team.
But all year long I was arguing that Rivers did the best coaching job in the league, and the Finals affirmed that. He turned a bunch of high-scoring individuals into a team that shared the ball and played defense. He was secure enough to give control of the defensive end to assistant Tom Thibodeau, even though they had no prior relationship. And he helped raise the performances of Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins to a championship level over the course of the season.
Those who want to say that Rivers was the superior coach in the Finals should focus on his work over the course of the season, because no coach in the history of the league has ever pulled together so many loose ends to form a championship team in one short season. By the time they reached the Finals, the Celtics were playing as cohesively as some of those Spurs teams that have been together for years. It was not as easy to weave that team together as Rivers made it look.
Rivers beat the Lakers in the fine details. For example, the Celtics scored at a high rate following timeouts, which is a small but important measure of a coach's influence on the game. Rivers would design a play and more often than not the Celtics would execute it for a good shot. Too many times the Lakers were unable to execute offensively coming out of their huddles ... because of Boston's superior defense, of course.
2. The Kobe-Michael comparisons are on hold. Let's be fair: Bryant didn't have Scottie Pippen. But it's valid to ask if Jordan would have disappeared over the final three quarters as Bryant did in the Celtics' clinching 39-point win in Game 6.
"In the end, it's going to be a defining moment for Kobe,'' said a rival team executive whose opinion echoes the feelings of many in the league, I believe. "The comparisons with Michael Jordan can stop now. Kobe had multiple good quarters in the Finals, but the defense always found a way to stop him. Jordan used to let the game come to him, but in the end he could amass points and usually answer in the clutch. Kobe didn't make shots when he needed to make shots, and he didn't have the ability to instill in the rest of the guys that [feeling of] 'we're going to get this done.' It's hard to pinpoint what it is exactly, but you either have it or you don't.''
I have a different view. Instead of criticizing them for their failures in the final round, I tend to applaud the Lakers for doing as well as they did. The midseason injury to Andrew Bynum inspired them to trade for Gasol, which will give them an exceptional front line next year. Now that they'll be aiming for a championship, they'll come back with older, tougher playmakers in complementary roles next season. After this Finals, I'm more convinced than ever that Bryant is going to win at least one championship without Shaquille O'Neal.
1. The chances of a rematch. The Lakers could use a lot of what James Posey and P.J. Brown gave the Celtics at both ends of the floor. They may consider either elevating Jordan Farmar to the starting lineup or bringing in a new point guard that will enable Derek Fisher to move to the bench, where he could be a lethal scorer. They must also make the hard decision on forward Lamar Odom, who is entering the final year of his contract: Are they going to re-sign him or trade him for a player who can create his own shot and complement Bryant in the half-court against tough defensive teams like the Celtics?
Bryant must continue his trend of putting his teammates in situations to make plays. Over the next season, they need to develop the mentality of making big plays so that they'll be able to come through in key moments next year when the defense focuses on shutting down Bryant.
The champions have a lot of issues themselves. The Celtics must retain Posey, who is expected to opt out from his $3.5 million salary for next season and could demand the full mid-level exception of more than $5 million annually -- which would turn into a $10 million expenditure for Boston because of the luxury tax. A decision must be made on restricted free agent Tony Allen, who in his short burst during Game 5 of the Finals looked to have recovered his explosiveness. If healthy following knee surgery last year, he would give the Celtics a dynamic scorer and defender off the bench.
Considering the ages of Ray Allen (33 next season), Garnett (32) and Paul Pierce (31), the Celtics can be expected to try going a little younger off the bench next season. They must also address the future of Rivers, who has one year remaining on his contract.
2 Thoughts on the referees
2. Do I believe the NBA tells referees which team to favor in a particular game or series? No.
1. Do I believe there are house men among NBA referees? I suspect there are.
I can tell you that a lot of people in the league believe this too: that there are referees who know which outcome their bosses would like to see, and in subtle ways they try to nudge the result in that direction.
Commissioner David Stern isn't going to fix games by telling the referees what to do. Never mind the immorality of it. The risk of getting caught is far worse than any potential gains of, say, having the Lakers and Kings extend their series to a Game 7 in 2002. It's a ridiculous accusation.
But there are employees in every organization who do what they think the boss wants from them. Why should the NBA be any different? Stern is a strong executive, and as a matter of human nature there are going to be officials who will try to advance their careers by making decisions they assume will be pleasing to the boss.
So, is the NBA doing a good job of stamping out this kind of conduct when it occurs? Or is it subtly encouraged? I don't know the answer.
I do know it's a difficult thing for any organization to police itself in these kinds of situations, which is why Phil Jackson would like the referees to become a separate association outside the control of the NBA. (It isn't going to happen.)
I've never had the sense that the NBA completely understands how to oversee its referees or relate to them. The latest example is Stern's idea that players be penalized for flopping. There are so many difficult judgment calls that referees must make already, and now they'll be given another area to oversee? If anything, the NBA should be trying to simplify the game for its referees instead of making it more complex.
I see why Stern is anti-flopping: He is trying to discourage needless collisions that put $10 million players at risk to injury. But this kind of suggestion demonstrates that issues troubling to NBA referees are not the priority, even at the height of the Tim Donaghy scandal.
1 Place to be on July 4 weekend
1. Lithuania. At his lakeside summer home July 5-7, Sarunas Marciulionis will host a reunion of the Soviet Union's 1988 Olympic gold-medal team. Attendees will include Arvydas Sabonis and Rimas Kurtinaitis. The Soviets' Cold War thumping of the U.S. team of collegians led to the creation of the original 1992 Dream Team of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird at the Olympics four years later. It's hard to believe how much things have changed in so short a time as 20 years.