And with this, another NBA season goes into the books. Congrats to the Spurs, and, specifically, to the Pounding the Rock community. As an addendum, kudos to Matthew, who correctly predicted the number of games for every single series he picked (he forgot about the Jazz series). Now that's knowing your team.
It seems safe to say that this year's season and playoffs were about as far away from last year's as can be. The Eastern Conference was a joke all season, with Detroit winning the conference with just 53 victories. Injuries robbed significant portions of the seasons of Paul Pierce, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Jermaine O'Neal, the Lakers team minus Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Redd, the entire Hornets team, Ray Allen, and Gilbert Arenas. A year after the up-tempo revolution seemed to be in full swing, the conference finals featured four teams ranked 15th or lower in pace factor. The one rising megastar that did stay healthy, LeBron James, turned in a snoozer of a season. The tankapalooza for Greg Oden and Kevin Durant became a bigger story than the playoff races.
The playoffs were supposed to cure all, but they didn't come close. Three of the Eastern Conference first-round series ended in sweeps. The best series of the playoffs, Spurs/Suns, will forever be tainted -- incorrectly, in my opinion -- in the eye of the public because of the suspensions to Amare and Diaw. If those guys don't get hurt, that's a 7 gamer along the lines of last year's Spurs-Mavericks series. The league's best team was blown out by the 8th seed, while the defending champions looked even worse in a first round slaughter. Stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Yao, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Bosh, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, and Caron Butler were gone by the first round. The finals were a total mismatch, and the Eastern Conference finals, while entertaining, was a brutal slugfest.
But to NBA fans, there's no reason to point out the inadequacies of the league. Officiating has always been a problem, and it always will be a problem as the game becomes even faster. The Spurs should not be criticized for not being the Suns; instead, they should be appreciated for being themselves. Eleven years ago, a team playing the same type of physical defense took the league by storm, and they are romanticized for it. Comparing the Spurs to the 1996 Chicago Bulls is a tricky thing to do, but both teams won in the same way; with hard-nosed defense and efficient halfcourt offense. Tanking will always happen, even if the payoff fails time and time again.
Simply put, it was an off year. The stars of the game will not get injured as much as last year. Next year's rookie class will inject new life into the league. And the league will get back to it's 2006 level.
If there's one lesson to be learned from this season, however, it's that a good general manager is the most important element of success. More specifically, a general manager that isn't a former NBAer with poor front office experience is the most important element of success. Of the top six teams (record-wise) in the league this year, only one was built by a former player. R.C. Buford has managed the salary cap flawlessly, and with only the Big 3 under contract past next season, the Spurs will be in great position to land an impact free agent. The majority of the Suns roster was built by Bryan Colangelo, who has no NBA background. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson were never players, but they have maintained Dallas' status near the top of the league. The tag teams of Carroll Dawson and Darryl Mosley in Houston and Kevin O'Connell and Larry Miller and Utah have played a combined 0 games in the NBA. Only Detroit is managed by a former player, and some say Joe Dumars is more lucky than good after screwing up the 2003 draft.
Meanwhile, the teams that once dominated the market landscape of this league are struggling, thanks to poor management. Nine of the 14 teams that missed the playoffs this year were managed by former players. Isiah Thomas and Danny Ainge, two former players, are ruining the Celtics and the Knicks. Mitch Kupchak, a 10 year NBA veteran, is in hot water as the GM of the Lakers. Kevin McHale has officially wasted the immense talent of Kevin Garnett, and continues to dig an even deeper hole. Larry Bird was a much better coach than GM for the Pacers, and the man who ripped him off at the trade deadline, Chris Mullin, hasn't fared much better as GM of the Warriors, prior to this season. Elgin Baylor went back to his old ways with the Clippers, and the resumes of Billy Knight and Michael Jordan speak for themselves. Even Geoff Petrie, a normally competent GM, presided over a losing team this year.
The moral of the story is that being a former player should never guarantee you a spot as a GM. The GMs that will have success in the future are guys like Kevin Pritchard, Sam Presti, Mosley, and Tommy Sheppard (either here or elsewhere). Until those losing teams roll the dice with these types of guys instead of hiring retread former NBA players, they will continue to stink.
And until they do, fans will get nostalgic and remember the good old days, when Boston, LA, New York, and Phily ruled the league. They'll blame the NBA for this problem, when they should look squarely at those teams. They've done it to themselves, and it's bringing down the rest of the league.
The NBA will bounce back next year. I guarantee it.