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The NBA Finals Could End Tonight…
I’ve been covering the Chicago Bulls for HOOPSWORLD for six years now, but it wasn’t really until this season that my wife became a basketball fan. It was definitely fueled along by a great season for the Bulls and a very likeable young star in Derrick Rose (she loves Derrick Rose), but I think it started with “The Decision.” Derrick has been her hero all year long, but 2010′s free agency gave her a villain.
Now, even though she doesn’t have the Bulls to root for anymore, she’s still got someone to root against. In Game 2, during that historic comeback, she was yelling “Beat the HEAT! Beat the HEAT” at the television, and not in some facetious way; she was spitting venom at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and I get the feeling she’s not the only recent NBA fan who’s enjoying herself more than ever with these Finals.
And now they’re one, maybe two games from being over, maybe for a lot longer than any of us would like. There’s no point trying to guess who will win tonight’s Game 6 because, let’s face it, what good have predictions been so far? But the hype leading up to tonight’s game does raise a number of important questions, such as:
If Dallas loses Game 6, have they essentially lost the series?
Whatever the criticisms may be about the Miami crowd, the HEAT have an undeniable homecourt advantage this playoffs, having gone 9-1 at American Airlines Arena in the postseason. Of course, the one loss was the most recent one, to Dallas, and with as tight as every game in this series has been, there’s really no reason to think that the Mavericks couldn’t win another one.
But it’s definitely not going to be easy, and if they hang close with the HEAT but lose in Game 6, it’s just going to be all the more difficult to come back and win a Game 7 on the road against three players like James, Wade, and Bosh. If the Mavs can’t close it out tonight, things get much more difficult. Not impossible, but a lot harder.
If LeBron doesn’t come alive for Game 6, is his legacy tarnished forever?
It’s hard to say “forever” when we’re talking about a 26-year-old, but eight years into the league we almost always know what kind of player we’re looking at, and LeBron apparently isn’t a guy that does great on the biggest stage the league has to offer. The way he’s been neutralized during the fourth quarter of Games 4 and 5 (both losses) doesn’t speak well for his legacy, even if the HEAT do win the series.
We’ve had the argument all season long about how LeBron’s decision to link up with Wade speaks volumes about what kind of competitor LBJ is, but we always assumed that winning a championship with his new team would put some of those things to rest. Yeah, he didn’t win it on his own, and yes, he needed Wade to help him, but without a huge game tonight and probably Game 7 (if there is one), it will be hard to call James one of the all-time greats, even if he is one of the all-time talents.
Let’s just say, for example, that the HEAT do some retooling and win the championship in 2012. You know what will be said? ”You mean he needed even more talent around him to win a ring? The Big Three weren’t enough?”
That’s tough when, usually, one or two players is enough. Jordan and Pip were enough. Kobe and Shaq were enough. In this series, it looks like just Dirk will be enough, but not LeBron. Apparently, you can’t win a championship with him and only him. You’ve got to put him alongside loads of other talent to have a shot. That, folks, tarnishes a legacy.
Has American ever wanted a team to lose more badly than the Miami HEAT?
There have been years where we’ve thought, “Can somebody please knock off the Yankees/Cowboys/Bulls,” but there’s never been a professional sports team more polarizing than this one. The American public wants to see Dallas win this series only because they can’t stand to see Miami win it. Going back to “The Decision,” die-hard hoops fans made the HEAT their villains, and over the months casual fans like my wife have jumped aboard the league and done the same.
People want to see Miami eliminated, and they may get their opportunity to see that happen tonight. Or, the might not. Not yet, at least. Either way, expect Game 6 to be the highest-watched game of the series, and expect it to be just as good as the five games leading up to it. Meanwhile, I’ll expect my wife to continue chanting and hating from our couch.
Monta Ellis and the Chicago Bulls
Bulls fans are trying their hardest to connect the dots. Two separate news articles on Saturday pointed at the Chicago Bulls acquiring high-octane scorer Monta Ellis from the Golden State Warriors, and while neither one said much individually, together they made the Windy City faithful get their hopes up for something that’s much more difficult to make happen than they realize.
The first article was a Tim Kawakami piece in the Mercury News in which he spells out the fact that Golden State is not only shopping Ellis, but that Chicago is very high on his list of teams to which he’d like to be sent.
Of course Ellis would want to play in Chicago. What shooting guard in the entire league wouldn’t jump at the chance to latch on with a team that young, that talented, that successful, and that in need of a starting two guard? The fact that Steve Greenberg of Sporting News followed up with an interview with Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf saying, “We probably would have won the Miami series if we had a 2 guard who could score the ball,” made all the puzzle pieces fit together rather nicely.
We’ve got a team who needs an upgrade at shooting guard, an influential owner stating publicly that he plays to have his team president and GM pursue one, and a really good guard that could potentially be a really good fit being shopped right this very moment. Seems like a perfect storm.
But here’s the problem: In order to make a move like this, Chicago has to be able to put together a package for Golden State that makes them a better, more well-rounded team for their new head coach, Mark Jackson. The Bulls likely don’t have the pieces to make such a deal work.
The Kawakami article suggests that Golden State is most interested in Luol Deng, whose contract comes pretty close to matching Ellis’s in both years and money. But Chicago isn’t trading Luol Deng, for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious is that Deng is really the Bulls’ only small forward. He led the team in minutes last year (yes, more than even D-Rose) mostly because there just isn’t anyone as effective behind him. What’s the point of upgrading at one barren position, just to leave another one equally empty?
The second reason is that Reinsdorf and the rest of the organization are very loyal to Deng—loyalty that’s likely at an all-time high after Luol’s best season as a pro. To move him would require the return of a transcendent talent. Ellis is very good, but he’s not that.
So if Chicago is to acquire Monta Ellis and won’t trade Deng to get him, how exactly are they supposed to get it done? That’s a good question, especially when it comes to lining up salaries. Perhaps the most attractive trade asset Chicago has is Taj Gibson, but Golden State has little need for him with David Lee in the lineup, and Gibson’s paltry contract would require Chicago send a few other pieces the Warriors’ way, and they don’t need Taj badly enough to do that.
Omer Asik holds some value, and the Warriors do need help at center, but he’s not the reason you send off Monta Ellis. There’s nothing Chicago has (that they’re willing to trade or that Golden State needs) which is going to make this deal work.
So will this deal work? Probably not. If a third team gets involved with a need for Carlos Boozer, sure, but I think we all know how unlikely that is. For Chicago to find their shooting guard, they’re going to have to part with Gibson and maybe Asik, plus someone like Kyle Korver or Ronnie Brewer plus draft picks. It’s a decent package, but not one that’s going to have teams racing to hand over their starting two guard.
Yes, the team needs a new shooter, but the market isn’t as easy they’d like it to be. Their best hope is still for Richard Hamilton to get bought out. Short of that, this isn’t going to be an easy thing to get done.