Diss Guy: Lakers, Knicks & Celtics whiff on the Playoffs
It had to happen eventually and 2014 is as good of a time as any to have no Lakers, Knicks, or Celtics in the playoffs for the first time since the league began back in 1947. What does it all mean? Let’s try and find out.
The well of history runs deep with these franchises and dates back to the pre-NBA Basketball Association of America which included the Celtics and Knicks and concluded with a Minneapolis Lakers title. But all the Mikans, Russells, Chamberlains, Wests, Havliceks, Magics, Birds, Pearls, Fraziers, Reeds, Ewings … and of course, Melos, Rondos, and Bryants weren’t enough to propel these proud (and wealthy) franchises into the 2014 playoffs.
According to Forbes, these franchises make up three of the top-four valued NBA franchises and between the three, they’re worth over $3-billion. With the mega media opportunities in New York and Los Angeles, it’s hard to fathom anything less than an extended drought impacting their overall values. Even the starved for success small market Kings and Bucks have recently sold for over $500-million in the past 12 months.
Back in 2011 when the owners were split between the small market madness of Dan Gilbert and Michael Jordan and the big spending Jerry Buss and Micky Arison there were cries for controls to limit the power of big market teams. In some ways, that’s been effective as the Lakers and Celtics appear to be curtailing spend. But the Knicks and their new deep-pocketed Brooklyn neighbors don’t seem to be bothered by trivialities like the financial penalties that accompany habitual luxury tax offenders. So in these three different franchises, we have a tidy spectrum of experience that’s all ended the same in 2014:
- The Conformist (Boston)
- The Straddler (Los Angeles)
- The Inept (New York)
But we know the Celtics missed by design. As the lone conformist of this group, Boston wrung all they could out of the KG/Pierce/Allen troika before shipping them off and going all in on a rebuild approach that appears to be en vogue at the moment.
The Lakers are a bit more complex. Their problems started back when they insisted on going about business in the traditional Lakers way: Acquiring the biggest star available: Dwight Howard. We all know by now how miserably that turned out, but that deal in concert with adding an over-the-hill Steve Nash to an already aging core with a coach unable to get the most out of their combined abilities has resulted in a pair of un-Laker like seasons. Catastrophic injuries to Kobe Bryant sped up the acknowledgement of a rebuild of sorts, but more than anything, Bryant’s injuries revealed how poorly this roster was constructed. Once Bryant fractured his kneecap in December, it seemed like the Lakers were finally willing to acknowledge the need to shed salary by trading Steve Blake and at least exploring the opportunity to move Pau Gasol’s expiring contract for future assets.
And of course the Knicks of New York are the resident jesters of the NBA court. Unable to adapt, unable to conform, unable to blaze a meaningful trail under owner James Dolan, the front office has refused to accept the mediocrity so obvious to everyone else. It’s as if the buzz of the Manhattan nightlife has Knicks employees existing in a delusional fog where they insist they are championship contenders despite all evidence indicating the opposite. Now they’ve gone all in on a General Manager with no GM experience. It wasn’t by choice, but rather by the unexpected grit of the Atlanta Hawks that forced the Knicks into acceptance that the future is now.
I somewhat struggle to pinpoint exactly where this mini event lands, but it’s definitely a mile marker on this long road of NBA history. Something is changing as old owners (Dr. Jerry Buss) and old players (Kobe, KG, Pierce) move on while the franchises they leave struggle to reclaim old success in this new version of the league. Whether 2014 is just a blip on the radar or the early stages of a power shift away from the history of big markets is something we’ll start to learn in the next few months as lottery balls bounce and players make decisions about whether or not they want to chase bright lights and glamour in coastal media capitals, get paid in small markets, or maybe do both with the Lakers, Knicks, or Celtics.
Miss Guy: The Playoffs
I couldn’t resist. Everyone’s kicked up dust, given a motherfuck about this topic from the second we realized the grotesque competitive imbalance between East and West and now that we’ve arrived at this Suns-less darkness, I wanna get my licks in.
Along with basketball, boxing is one of my favorite spectator sports. As a fan of the sweet science, you realize that your sport’s Super Bowl may never happen. The best don’t always fight the best because of longstanding feuds between promoters and fighters or promoters and promoters. The current cold war has driven a wedge between Top Rank Boxing which has been run by Bob Arum since 1973 and Golden Boy Promotions of Oscar De La Hoya fame. Top Rank fighters don’t fight Golden Boy fighters and haven’t for a few years. The result is that two of the sport’s most talented, marketable, profitable, and popular fighters (and any other superlative you want to apply) will likely never meet in the ring. Undefeated Floyd Mayweather is in the Golden Boy camp while Filipino part-time Congressman and full-time welterweight battering ram Manny Pacquiao is loyal to Arum’s operation.
Imagine a basketball world where the ABA and NBA never merged. Julius Erving becomes a high flying dunk champion who embodies the ABA’s freewheeling style while never ever crossing paths with the NBA’s great white hope, Larry Bird. Moses Malone dominates the ABA while a tailor made opponent named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar goes unchallenged beneath the boards of NBA games. And meanwhile, we all shake our heads in disgust that the controlling business interests can’t figure out a solution beneficial to one and all. That dark alternate pro basketball universe is what boxing fans endure while Floyd and Manny prove and re-prove themselves two or three times every year. Meanwhile, father time stalks both, boxing fans grow apathetic, and mainstream media continues to come up nonsensical falsehoods like “Boxing is dead.”
However poor the Association’s playoff setup may be, it’s nowhere near as dysfunctional as the present state of boxing, but for completely different reasons. From a principled viewpoint, stubbornness or slowness to react to present conditions (the NBA) is maybe a little more forgivable than desperately clinging to old grudges (boxing), but the outcomes are the same: fans and competitors lose out to poor decisions from the powers that be. Looking at the table below, the playoff format has a decent success rate, but if we have the power to ensure the best teams make the playoffs, why wouldn’t we? If we want to press the issue further, research shows that five teams in league history have made the Finals with records worse than this season’s Suns. Two of those teams went on to win titles. This isn’t to suggest that the Suns were a Western Conference contender, but how is history rewritten if the eventual 1995 champion Rockets never even make the playoffs? Does Orlando win a title? Does winning help Shaq and Penny find a common ground? Oh Dragic and Bledsoe, why couldn’t you have been born earlier, met up in 1995 and rewritten NBA history?
Supposedly sports offer the playing field as the ultimate equalizer where competitors of diverse racial and economic makeups, different body types and genes, varying degrees of skill and ability, agree to a certain set of rules and compete to determine a winner. But the NBA’s outdated playoff structure wherein the power of geography carries just a little less fate-determining weight than actual wins and losses fails to deliver on the fundamental agreement of the game: The best play the best to determine the best. As fans, do we conceptually prefer the East/West rivalries to pure wins and losses? The vocal chorus of playoff naysayers make me think we prefer sensible equality to arbitrary geographic alignments. Are there still fans clamoring for divisional and conference playoff rivalries? Perhaps seamless movements like Ray Allen to Miami or KG and Pierce to Brooklyn or Shaq all over the country should stand as symbolic reminders that today’s NBA isn’t on par with the Lakers/Celtics or Bulls/Pistons of the 80s.
Maybe we should just ingest our favorite psychedelic substances and let our imaginations take us on a Timothy Leary-piloted magic carpet ride where the 13-seeded Suns get the wobbling Pacers in the first round. Or the defending champion Miami Heat are matched up with Thibodeau’s grinding Bulls. Or just an alternate place where Danny Ferry’s Hawks are granted their wish – a coveted spot in the lottery in exchange for a playoff spot their front office is indifferent about. Just because the playoffs aren’t broke, doesn’t mean they don’t need fixing.