Full Court Press: NBA Finals and Free Agents

Columns, Top Story

Just to clear things up, despite the name of this column, as well as my history for publishing large numbers of NBA articles, this weekly column is not going to only be about basketball.  It’s merely that the NBA the sport that I follow closely this time of year.  So, this is not a basketball column, but rather it’s a sports column.

I’m sorry to all you golf fans, but I do not write about golf.  I just don’t.  Maybe I’ll publish something about Tiger Woods every once and a while.  I like to stick to sports I know.  I don’t know golf.  I also do not follow NASCAR.  At all.  But otherwise, every major sport–college, pro and international–is on the table for this column.  I just wanted to make that clear from the beginning.

However, I’m focusing on the NBA today.  First of all, we have the NBA finals, which are going on as I write this.  I stated this in my article a couple of weeks ago and I still believe it now:  the Lakers will win the title.  I feel pretty good about this prediction.  If you disagree, feel free to tell me.  I’m completely open to commentary.

That said, this series is intriguing on many levels.  For starters, it’s Lakers-Celtics, a storied rivalry and a rematch from 2008.  These are two passionate fanbases, and based on what I can tell, they hate each other.  That’s always interesting.  However, there are several other things to like about this matchup.  For example:

1) Garnett:  He’s probably near the top of the list of best power forwards ever, he’s earned his career validating title, and now he has a shot at another.  Now, Garnett’s place in history is cemented.  He’s a Hall of Famer, he’s got a ring, he’s was a pioneer of the high school to NBA movement.  But despite Garnett’s secure status in NBA lore, make no mistake:  a second title will prove to everybody that the first ring wasn’t a fluke.  It’s not a necessary achievement, but I’m sure it’s motivating for KG.

2) The difference in personnel for these two teams is remarkable.  Boston likely cannot compete with LA’s superior size in the paint, with Pau Gasol leading a powerful front court.  However, the Lakers need to find a way to limit a perimeter trio of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.  It’s perimeter vs paint.  It’s often been said that teams with a strong frontcourt beat teams with a strong backcourt.  We’re about to find out.

3) In case I didn’t mention, this is a storied rivalry with passionate, hating fans.  Also, Jack Nicholson is deeply involved.  Just wanted to make that clear.

4) Kobe.  He’s got four rings, and a fifth with give him the most of his generation.  In addition a finals win would make him the undisputed best player on two title teams.  Bryant has the opportunity to vault himself higher and higher up the list of the best players ever, but after underachieving in the 2004 and 2008 finals, another finals flameout could damage his reputation slightly.  Here’s the point.  Bryant is already high on the list of the best of his time.  He can cement himself as the very best with a fifth ring.

That’s just four a several intriguing subplots for this finals.  I’m fired up, and I’ve got a strong feeling I’m not the only one.  Stay tuned for more analysis.

Now, I’d like to move on to this free agency controversy.  As you’re probably aware, it seems that Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire have made plans to discuss their impending free agency.  This alleged meeting, called the free agent summit by some analysts, has sent a shockwave throughout the NBA, as some wonder if the immediate future is at stake.

To begin, I highly doubt that these players are conspiring to form some sort of super team that will dominate the league for years to come.  I would guess that some of these guys want to play together, but they also want a big paycheck.  There is not a team that can support all of those maximum contracts.  So let’s dismiss the possibility of these five players plotting to form some massive coalition.  It’s not gonna happen.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if these stud free agents are hoping to pair together in certain places.  I doubt LeBron and Wade will pair up (unless the NBA plans on allowing two basketballs on the floor at once), but I wouldn’t count out the possibility of say, James and Bosh together and Wade and Stoudemire together (as poor Joe Johnson weeps silently).  I think those pairings would be more successful that a LeBron-Wade combo (as tantalizing as that combo would be for fans).

But really, the possible combinations are not the important part here.  I’m wondering if we could be facing a future where these conferences become the norm.  Let’s face it:  these players want to know where the top free agents are headed as badly as we do.  They want to know what teams are being upgraded, whether a star is considering a move to their conference, even their division.  And yes, I’m sure they want to consider the possibility of teaming up together.

It’s just the reality.  This isn’t the 80s, or even the 90s, when players didn’t necessarily get along and often rivalries held truly bad blood.  In modern basketball, the cream rises to the top early on, and between AAU leagues, travel leagues, All-Star teams, many of the best high school players become acquainted before they enter the NBA.  Add in the Olympics and we have a culture where the NBA’s become good acquaintances, even good friends.

I believe that this is the future of the NBA, a league where player communication is at a maximum and these “free agent summits” become more normal.  It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s merely a sign of the times, the state of the league as it is now.  Fans just need to make sure they can keep pace.

That said, I would kinda like for those five guys to put off free agency for a couple more weeks.  I’ve got the NBA finals to watch.