When the NBA Finals matchup was set – the Lakers vs the Orlando Magic, I knew it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. The Lakers would be champions again. I resigned myself to this and accepted the exponential increase of Laker flags on the 405. As much as I despise the Lakers as a rival team to the Suns, from a simple unbiased fan of basketball perspective, I was very disappointed with this year’s Finals.
Full disclaimer: I hate the Lakers. I enjoy when they lose. I enjoy being in the city of Los Angeles when the Lakers are losing. I hate Kobe Bryant. I know he’s one of the greatest players ever to play, but I don’t like him. He doesn’t appear to be a good teammate. He’s so image conscious it’s a joke. So there you go.
Besides my own personal hatred of the Lakers, this was an ugly series in general to watch. As Bill Simmons wonderfully covered a few weeks ago, NBA refereeing is at an all time low. The calls are so inconsistent. It’s like strike zones: sure, each ump is going to have to their own interpretation, but the players adjust. The umps don’t change their strike zone in the middle of the same game though. This is exactly what’s happening in the NBA. Players get roughed up until someone gets pissed and then the slightest touch is called a foul the rest of the way. Not only that, but home court advantage in terms of calls has reached WWE levels of ridiculous. The calls being made in this series were so frustrating to watch most of the time, for both teams.
The coaching by Stan Van Gundy was awful too. I hate listening to games on ABC and ESPN because it means being forced to hear the jaded, funny once every ten attempts musings of Jeff Van Gundy. Jeff Van Gundy goes out of his way to rip everyone he can – except of course his brother, even when playing the entire fourth quarter of a crucial game 3 without a point guard. Seriously, Stan Van Gundy couldn’t have screwed up his rotation any more than he did in his handling of bringing Jameer Nelson back. He overplayed him in Game 1, underplayed him in Game 2, and then had no clue what to do after that. Yet never a word from Jeff. If Stan had eased Jameer into the rotation, not thrown ball handling responsibilities onto Hedo in crunch time, and adjusted more quickly to the Lakers’ defense of Dwight Howard, we would’ve had a series. In spite of all his efforts, the Magic still came two tough shots (Courtney Lee’s missed lob layup and Derek Fisher’s clutch 3) away from a 3-1 series lead going into last night’s game.
The fact that it was closer than the final series outcome indicates goes to one other point that bothered me throughout the playoffs. Once it was down to the final four teams, it was clear there would be no great team this year. Every team had some flaws and none of the teams had that championship mindset that so many other great teams have had. We all knew Denver was full of headcases and would fall apart eventually, but during the regular season, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the Lakers or Magic get blown out by the Grizzlies on a lazy night. You couldn’t say that about teams like the early 2000’s Lakers, the Spurs, or even the recent good Piston teams. It’s been said better than me by many others already, but teams were so conscious of cost savings that there were no big trades this year for that “missing piece” on teams that were close. Everybody showed up to the playoffs with whatever weapons they had. That led to some close, exciting games at every round, but no great teams. It’s fun to watch a great team click, even if they do so finishing off the team you’re rooting for.
Finally, one thing I got sick of was hearing how badly Kobe wanted this. Sure Kobe’s great, but it takes a team to win it all. I don’t think he’ll ever know this, holding up four fingers and congratulating himself on a job well done at the end. Let’s not forget that this was a below .500 team with Kobe running the show until a highway robbery trade landed them Pau Gasol. Kobe’s personality reflected the image of the entire team. This Laker team was so boring to watch. They clocked in at tip off and clocked out at the final buzzer. They had the player talent to be a dynasty, but they’ll settle for flawed champion in a tough economic year. You want to see the anti-Lakers, look at the Cavs. They were fun to watch. That was a team that played as a team to exceed expectations. When you see the roster on paper, there’s no way they should have been so close to the Finals. Besides Lebron, there’s nobody on that team that can be considered a viable second option.
This year’s NBA Finals was definitely anti-climatic. I only hope that the league will take a long hard look at their referees and how they’re developed in the coming seasons. I also hope that the lack of a dynasty team and a more level playing field will continue to lead to some very exciting games next year. I just hope I don’t have to watch Kobe jut out his lower jaw and scream at his teammates because he really wants it anymore than I did this year.