This great article from Dan Woike of the OC Register is a reminder of how fragile legacies can be. Is Chris Paul not amongst the best point guards in the league? What can he do if either his team is not as talented or he just keeps running into bad luck? In this case, bad luck is as a first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
The starting point guards of the past 10 champions, in order from most recent: Tony Parker, Mario Chalmers (x2), Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher (x2), Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, and Tony Parker. Doesn’t CP3 get drafted ahead of each one of these guys? At the same time, what happens if the Clippers lose in the first round again? What happens to each of these teams if they lose in the first round?
Let’s take a look, with my series predictions.
EASTERN “THIS ENTIRE BRACKET SHOULD BE ENTIRELY ON NBA TV” CONFERENCE
The Atlanta Hawks (1) vs The Brooklyn Nets (8)
Prediction: Atlanta in 5. I don’t buy that Atlanta is a soft #1 seed, they’ve had strong wins all season against really good teams, including this year’s historic Warriors. At the same time, they remain a tier below Cleveland. They’re extremely well coached, which has had them in 5th gear all along, the only problem is that each true title contender has a 6th gear ready to be unleashed when it’s needed. They should handle the Nets pretty easily, still.
What happens if Atlanta loses? As improbable as some of these scenarios are, they can be fun thought exercises. I think if they lose in the first round it will be because their role players who have been “over producing” due to a great system will cause the GM-less* Hawks to package assets to go after even bigger stars. With a new ownership group coming in (soon?), a first round exit combined with new-owner syndrome (Hi, Vivek), it seems like that would be the way to go.
*How stupid is it that Danny Ferry is still in exile? What is this accomplishing? The guy is good at his job, constructed a great team that fits his coach’s style, and he made a really dumb error and was caught. Let’s stop pretending that way worse isn’t being said on every conference call between the team’s upper management. C’mon, like the douchebags who own the Thunder haven’t said and done worse? Stop it.
What happens if Brooklyn loses? I think it’s time they trade all of their desirable assets and just re-build through the draft. Hehehe. They’re screwed, they’ll be screwed for a while. This team is going to be a 7-9 seed for the next 3 years. If I’m any team around the league I try to snag Brook Lopez, other than that this is one of those forest fires in which the best course of action is to just let it burn naturally, the nightmare will be over eventually. Good times!
The Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs The Boston Celtics (7)
Prediction: Cleveland in 5. Another gentleman’s sweep, because I’m a coward. Nothing much to evaluate here. Cleveland is the clear favorite to win the East and Boston is just happy to be here. LeBron and Kyrie will alternate dominating box scores while throwing Kevin Love goes on the Dan Patrick Show and picks the Warriors to win the championship because “they have the best players, best coach, and the best team”.
What happens is Cleveland loses? Again, not happening. But, Lebron and his camp have set up 2 pretty great scapegoats in case any of this goes South. As brought up in this great GQ article there’s a hilarious dichotomy between coach David Blatt and Lebron James in terms of their post game comments. Between all of the weird stories about the Cavs bench politics and Blatt’s prickly attitude towards the media, let’s just say that Blatt won’t be invited to coach this team again. 2nd scapegoat? Easy. Kevin Love. Either way, I’ve run out of scenarios in which Kevin Love comes back. I just don’t get why he would stay, other than an improbable major role change.
What happens if the Celtics lose? Nothing! This is all gravy. I still suspect that some of this Isaiah Thomas love from the Celtics camp is being set up to be able to flip him in the summer, but I like what they’re doing. This hybrid Hinkie-Morey rebuild is more the kind of rebuilding I like, but before we credit Ainge for anything, let’s never stop being angry at the gift they got from Brooklyn and Billy King in that KG+Pierce trade.
The Chicago Bulls (3) vs the Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Prediction: Bulls in 7. Milwaukee is fun! I love this team, and if I had the balls, I’d pick them in an upset. I have bought into Chicago way too many times, I have loved Pau Gasol too dearly, for me to not give them the edge. But, let’s not forget, when the Bulls look bad, they look REALLY bad. Their offense can look terrible, and Milwaukee’s strength is defense. The Bucks are too young and dumb to know that they have no business making this a series; this one will be back and forth, semi-entertaining, and ultimately Chicago will still win out.
What happens if Chicago loses? Thibs is out, as many have speculated, and the Bulls just hope that a new coach will shake things up. I don’t know how much you can change the roster, but a more offensive minded coach can re-invent this team on the fly in a effective way. Thibs is one of those Doug Collins type coaches, his shelf life can only be so long. As long as the Bulls don’t pinch pennies on their next coaching hire, I don’t necessarily disagree with that decision.
What happens if the Bucks lose? Nothing! This is all gravy. Like the Celtics, this is just part of the process. Jason Kidd and co. can really build something here, who would’ve thought?
The Toronto Raptors (4) vs the Washington Wizards (5)
Prediction: Raptors in 7. This will be one of the most depressing 7 game series in a while. Each team knows their ceiling is the 2nd round, each team knows that the losers will likely have a new coach, and that might actually be the best thing for their franchises moving forward. Blah.
What happens if Toronto loses? Casey loses his job, the Toronto media and fans turn up the pressure on Masai to get aggressive, package some assets, and take the next step towards being a contender and this roster goes through a little bit of turnover, but ultimately bring back the same core with a different coach.
What happens if Washington loses? Paul Pierce blogs for the Players Tribune about how crappy Wittman’s gameplans were and how he would have done them better. The rest of the team celebrates their historic quitting on their coach, and Ted Leonsis wakes up from his coma, realizes his signature has been forged on the Wittman and Grunfield extensions, and fires them both.
THE WESTERN “GAME OF THRONES LEVEL BLOODBATH” CONFERENCE
The Golden State Warriors (1) vs the New Orleans Pelicans (8)
Prediction: Warriors in 5. This is a good tune-up for the Warriors. I’m not sure running up the score on OKC in a sweep would do this team well before getting smacked in the mouth early by whichever team in the 2nd round. Anthony Davis is amazing, he will create mismatches, but the Warriors have shown all season that they are the favorites to win the title. Pelicans steal one game in New Orleans, compete in every game, but this series still goes 5.
What happens if the Warriors lose? Not happening. But, the level of noise around the “jump shooting teams can’t win the title” would be reach a level of annoying that we haven’t witnessed yet. If this were to happen, I would assume it would be due to injury or some other bad luck scenario, and this management has proven with not trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love that they are well-reasoned enough to not panic and do anything drastic.
What happens if the Pelicans lose? Please, Basketball Gods, get rid of Monty Williams and Dell Demps. We need Anthony Davis to flourish and let his Pelican wings loose. How is a team with Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Jrue Holiday not a top defensive team? What could Thibs do with this team? Or, anybody else?
The Houston Rockets (2) vs The Dallas Mavericks (7)
Prediction: Houston in 6. I understand that Rick Carlisle is a great coach, will hack-a-Houston to maximize his team’s chances of winning, but I just don’t see how Dallas is going to flip the imaginary switch and become dominant. Houston isn’t a fluke, and Harden isn’t relying on getting to the line as much as people think he is. They’ve built a real team, Josh Smith has surprisingly fit in well, ultimately Dallas isn’t good enough at both ends to pull this series out.
What happens if the Rockets lose? Hm. This one’s a weird one. I think the Rockets certainly explore trading Dwight Howard, I think they’ll be a little surprised at how little interest there is for him. If the Rockets do lose this series, I think they bring back the band for one more year and wait for the cap to jump before trying to bring in another player. I don’t see McHale being scapegoated for this one, he has done a better job than last year and clearly kept his job.
What happens if the Mavs lose? Mark Cuban’s over-thinking the post-title roster will officially be a disaster. There’s no shame in losing to Houston, but I use the word “disaster” because the only way to justify not bringing back a special championship team is to be able to rebuild on the fly and create a dynasty a few years after. Well, we’re a few years after, and all we have to show for it is the Tyson Chandler sequel, Rajon Rondo (who will bolt), and Chandler Parsons. The Mavericks shop everybody unsuccessfully in the offseason and the roster comes back even weaker than it’ll end this year.
The Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs the San Antonio Spurs (6)
Prediction: San Antonio in 6. Holy crap. What the hell. 1st round? This is a Conference Finals level matchup. I didn’t overthink this one. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green will make CP3’s life MISERABLE. Tim Duncan and that frontline make Blake Griffin a complete jump shooter, Deandre Jordan gets hacked throughout the series, and the Clippers just fizzle out as the starters have to play way too many minutes to compensate for a lousy bench. This isn’t on CP3, but time is running out on this Clippers team, his career, and his legacy.
What happens if the Spurs lose? Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire. Pop announces that he’s coaching the next two seasons to establish the new head coach. The Spurs surprise the league by signing Marc Gasol to replace Tim Duncan, because it’s too perfect for everybody involved, and the Spurs will be contenders again next year. They’re the Spurs, what do you expect?
What happens if the Clippers lose? The Internet will greatly enjoy the “leaked” cell phone video of Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan trashing CP3 in the same parking lot Kobe was in when he was trashing Andrew Bynum. Doc gives up the GM role, Ballmer hires a good GM, and they shake up the “Big 3” in LA.
The Portland Trailblazers (4) vs the Memphis Grizzlies (5)
Prediction: Memphis in 5. This Memphis team has been through so many battles, developed the grit and grind mindset, and are totally ready for playoff basketball. The Blazers lost Wes Mathews to injury at the worst possible time (for his career and the team), but I honestly don’t think that would change the result too much. The Grizz may have looked like they’ve been in a funk, but I think this team has 2 more gears to get to and the Blazers will be the first victims of it.
What happens if the Grizzlies lose? Marc Gasol goes to the Spurs (see above). I keep coming back to this. If Pop sits you down, tells you that he wants you to replace Tim Duncan as the defensive and leadership pillar of the next great Spurs core (Kawhi, Marc Gasol, and Tony Parker), how the hell do you say no? How is this not a perfect fit? I know it won’t happen, and that Marc is happy in Memphis. But if you flame out in the first round to at team you should beat, and the Grizzlies core isn’t getting any younger, how do you say no?
What happens if the Blazers lose? The Blazers recreate the embarrassing James Harden on defense YouTube videos, pass it around in the hopes it goes viral, and shame Lillard into becoming a better defender. The core returns, no drastic changes happen, and the Blazers pray for the health that for some reason they are cursed to never have. At the same time, they sniff around ways to package some of their assets to add another star to the roster, but no major shakeups necessary.