Twitter and the Internet, at large, were all abuzz after Kobe’s impromptu, hour-long shooting session after the Lakers’ loss to the Heat on Thursday. The puzzling thing, though, is that in the ensuing days, the overwhelming majority of the coverage has disparaged Kobe for the act, rather than commending him for it. In the initial afterglow of the event (and it was an event) the media was all in a dither about Kobe and his dedication to his craft, but as time passed, more and more negative reactions came out.
It was pointed out that American Airlines’ Arena has a full, private practice court that Kobe could have used, which would have allowed the workers in the main part of the arena the ability to finish off their work for the night rather than having to wait for Kobe to finish his. These facts were used to support the idea that Kobe was being selfish and/or that he staged the shoot around solely for the sake of the media.
I don’t even particularly like Kobe, but I feel it necessary to defend him here. Kobe already has the reputation of the James Brown of basketball (no, not the godfather of basketball, but rather, the hardest working man in basketball). His workout regimen in China has already passed into lore, as has his desire to win/be the best. With that in mind, I question, what Kobe would have had to gain by staging this workout? It’s not as though anyone was threatening his claim as hardest worker and he needed to reassert his claim to the title. The English language doesn’t allow him to go from the Hardest Worker in the NBA to the Harder-est Working in the NBA.
Plus, even if getting a fluffing from the media (or perhaps erasing his closing performance from the headlines) was a motivating factor, he still went out and did the work. By all accounts, he was working really hard; he wasn’t just going through the paces. He went through his full repertoire of shots: 3-pointers, jump shots from the wing, corner jumpers, post-ups, and free throws. He reportedly even:
Slapped basketballs in anger more than once after missing shots. He swore under his breath after misfiring. He even yelled at himself angrily after making shots.
That doesn’t sound like a man putting on airs for the media. It sounds, more like, a pissed off athlete who was really eager to get back on the court and work out whatever kinks he thought he had in his game. Yes, Kobe screwed over the workers a couple hours of sleep, but in his defense, I don’t blame him for not thinking about that. If I was pissed about a loss and wanted to practice, I wouldn’t have spared a thought for the cleaning crew; it simply wouldn’t occur to me in the heat of the moment.
The other thing to remember is that Kobe is a basketball player. He’s not an actor. He’s not someone who was trained to give a portrayal of “ultra serious, pissed-off basketball player” for an hour. To try and keep up a convincing charade for the media while still building up pools of sweat sounds too elaborate for Kobe. Occam’s razor and all, makes me think this was merely Kobe working out his frustration with himself. Heck, if you really want to rake the guy over the coals, criticize him for his shot selection during the game, not after it.
I realize that talking about the MVP race is hardly groundbreaking blogging, but it is something that I want to address as the NBA season enters its last quarter. If I had it my way, the league’s MVP would simply be the best player in the league. Such a simple pronouncement takes out a lot of the opaqueness of the award and sets is up, in a historical sense, as a great barometer of whom, at any point, was amongst the best in the league. That isn’t to say that the MVP doesn’t do that now, (it does to a certain degree), but it’s often muddled by other factors. Wes Unseld was a great player; he’s a hall of famer. I don’t, however, think that he was ever amongst the very best players in the league, yet he won an MVP award. He won due to other vaguer factors that people often attribute to the award, such as which player if removed from his current team would see his team fall the farthest. I’m not trying to say one way or another if that’s the right way to look at the MVP, because there is no right way. The rules governing the voting aren’t exactly clear.
So with that at mind, I want to take a look at each MVP candidate through the prism, that it seems, most sports writers look through. That means I’ll take equal parts sheer basketball awesomeness, ability to raise teammates play, and irreplaceability (new word!) on their team. I’ll also take into account general development in comparison to past years, while de-emphasizing W-L record.
As I see things today, if I had a ballot, I would go:
3) Derrick Rose
4) Lebron James
Each day this week, I’ll take a look at a different candidate, starting from the top and working my way down. Today we’re looking at the one and only, Derrick Rose.
So this is the post I’ve been waiting to write all week. I know my Chicago based readers have been gnashing their teeth over me putting Derrick in the 3-spot on my three-quarters MVP list, but it’s for good reason AND it’s definitely not permanent. Let’s start with why he’s on my MVP ballot to begin with, before getting into why he’s at number 3.
In my books (as I’ve written before, now that Chris Paul is in a knee brace), Derrick Rose is the best point guard in the league. (If you think Rondo is better, that’s fine, I don’t, but oh well). It’s a pretty strong claim, but Rose has brought the goods to back it up. He’s upped his points from 20.8 to 24.5 per game. He gets to the line more consistently, upping his attempts by 2 a game. His assists have jumped up to 8.1 per game which isn’t bad for a supposed “shooting guard in a point guard’s body.” Hell, his rebounds have even increased by half a board a game.
In terms of raw stats, the improvement is clearly there. It has pushed him toward the reaches of the elite players in the league. Digging beyond the numbers, Rose has met every criticism of his game and improved. The original knock on his game was lack of a jumper, but since his second year in the league he’s developed a strong mid-range game. The next concern was a lack of a three-ball. After a summer of hard work, he’s become a credible three point shooter (more on that below). As people began to notice his 3-pt capabilities this year the new albatross on his game was his avoidance of contact while driving; seemingly since the day those criticisms came to light, he has increased his free throw attempts.
Defensively, Rose has also made great strides. Some may argue that Coach Tom Thibodeau deserves the credit for this, but Rose is the one actually performing, so he gets at least half the credit. Derrick actually ranks 9th in defensive win shares. I mentioned in the Howard piece that this stat tries to quantify the number of wins contributed by a players defense. Whether you buy into the stat or not, you have to admit number 9 in the NBA is pretty damn good. I think his reputation currently underlies how good of a defender he really is.
Some people will argue that Rose is just a high volume shooter, much like Carmelo. The fact of the matter though, is he has tailored his game for greatest efficiency. While his shot attempts have risen, they have risen in an intelligent manner. The largest jumps are in his shots at the rim and from 3-pt range. He’s dropped his attempts from 16-23 feet, which are the least rewarding shots (in terms of points and efficiency) in the game.
On its face this all looks like a very strong MVP case. At this point, I think he’s the prohibitive favorite. The likes of Chris Bosh, Juwan Howard, and Michael Jordan have come out and said one way or another the award is his to lose. He even has a great narrative. The exceedingly humble, Chicago raised kid from a rough area, who had a 1.6% chance of ending up his hometown Bulls, kicks off the season by asking, “Why can’t I be the MVP?” Unfortunately, I can’t in good conscience give him the nod as the MVP to this point. He easily can move into the top spot, but he needs to pick up a few key areas.
The biggest concern for me, right now, is his shooting. It has abandoned him as of late. He’s shooting a career low 44% from the field. This isn’t terrible, but not not nearly the type of percentage you want your star player shooting. His shooting has been fairly consistent inside the arc, but his outside shooting is weighing down his overall percentages. In December, it looked like we had Derrick Rose, serious outside shooting weapon, on our hands. That month he peaked with a stunning 44% from 3-pt range, which improved on his slightly below average 34% mark in November. Since that high water mark though, his 3-pt shooting has seen a steady precipitous fall, going from 34% in January all the way down to the 23% he’s shooting so far in March. I’m not sure what to make of this trend. It’s possible that the wear and tear of the season has taken his legs out from under him as he shoots 3′s. I have noticed that as his 3pt percentage went down, his FT’s went up: Dec: FTA/g=4.4, 3pt%=44%, Jan: FTA/g=8 3PT%=34%, Feb: FTA/g=8 3pt%=25%, so perhaps the punishment he’s absorbing while driving is affecting his outside shot.
There is hope though; the last few games, Derrick seemingly has found his stroke again. After an 0-16 stretch to start the month, he’s made 6 of 10 from downtown. If he can keep his FT’s where they are while increasing his 3pt shooting back to a respectable level, he’d have a much stronger case for the MVP, at least in my books. As a Bulls fan, I can only hope he does ascend to number one on my MVP list.
In my mind, going into the 2009-2010 season, Chris Paul was with out a doubt the best point guard in the NBA. He was unbelievable to watch. He had a quick first step, he could shoot, he could dribble, he could command an offense, he could do everything. Unfortunately for NBA fans everywhere, he tore his meniscus part way through that year.
The injury didn’t mark the end of Chris Paul, phenomenal basketball player. It has, it seems, affected the way he plays and has damaged his stake to the claim of best PG in all the land. Before we jump into things, let me establish a baseline for Chris Paul. The following table is a listing of some key stats from the 2008-2009 season, which I consider the peak of his basketball powers:
We’ll consider that the baseline of awesomeness.
Sadly, CP3′s numbers have all taken a tumble. The big box score numbers (pts/reb/ast) have fallen to 16.0/3.9/9.6. If those were the only numbers that had slipped from the baseline of awesomeness, well, I’d just chalk it up to Paul finding his game again after surgery and assume that by next year he’d be back to normal. Digging deeper, though, it looks like Chris Paul has fundamentally changed his game. It looks like he’s lost a great deal of his assertiveness. Compare these two tables:
After the formation of, for lack of a better name, (I’ll oblige them), the Heatles and now that Carmelo officially has become a Knick, it appears that the free agency landscape has changed drastically in the NBA. Throw in the impending (2012) free agencies of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Dwight Howard and it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that the (star) players now have all the leverage in terms of where they end up. The teams that these stars are leaving are desperate to get at least pennies on the dollar so they kowtow to the wishes of their star even as he orchestrates his departure. Inevitably, that star will leave for greener pastures in a larger market. That is, at least, the perception.
It is that perception that I want to take a look at. Do stars really leave their teams to sign larger contracts in a city they deem better? Plus, what qualities do these cities have that make them “better”?
So these are the rules, if you will, of the way I treated the data. I scoured the Internet for reliable lists of the highest paid players in their respective leagues. For the NBA, I used a HoopsHype list of the highest salaries of players for this season. This means that I wasn’t looking at the largest total salaries, just single season salaries from this current season. The site listed the top 30 players. For the MLB, I used the invaluable Cot’s Contracts. He had the top 33 total contracts in history listed, meaning the total value over the life of the contract. That means for the MLB, it’s more of a snap shot of the last 15-20 years rather than a single season snap shot. Finally, for the NHL, I used a listing from USA Today which had the top 25 salaries from LAST (2009-2010) season. (I ignored the NFL because things get hairy after including signing and roster bonuses).
So after choosing my lists, I parsed the names to find out which players either A) Signed with a different team as a free agent or B) Forced a trade/was traded and immediately signed an extension. Those in group B weren’t technically free agents, but things worked, to the same effect. It does, however, exclude players such as Matt Holliday who was traded to the Cardinals, played through the remainder of the season, hit free agency, and then resigned with the Cardinals.
Let’s take a look at the lists starting with the NBA since this is what set me on this line of inquiry:
NBA – 10/30 – 33%
Rashard Lewis (Magic)
Carmelo Anthony (Knicks)
Gilbert Arenas (first salary) (Wizards)
Amare Stoudemire (Knicks)
Kenyon Martin (Nuggets)
Elton Brand (76ers)
Peja Stojakovic (Hornets)
Lebron James (Heat)
Chris Bosh (Heat)
Carlos Boozer (Bulls)
Of the 30 highest paid players in the NBA, only 10 of them met my criteria. Bosh, Lebron, and Carmelo are all prominently on that list. They also, make up a sizable portion. The teams that the players signed with don’t seem to have any sort of correlation. For every Carmelo who wanted the big market you have a Peja who signed with the small market Hornets. For every Lebron James who headed for warm weather, there’s a Carlos Boozer who went to a cold weather city. I think what it comes down to is that the players went to the teams that could pay them the most. They also seem not to be (LBJ excluded) the premier talents of the league. Yes, Amare Stoudemire is a very good player but he wouldn’t be in your top 7 of players with whom to start a team with. Taking this all into account, it seems (recently) that star players usually sign extensions with teams that drafted them (2/3 of the listed 30). It means that the Heatles and Melo are breaking the mold, so to speak, with the way that they orchestrated their moves to their current teams. It’s impossible to say whether this is a trend or a blip, but if history says anything it is that you can expect some superstars to move about, but the vast majority will stay put.
After the jump we’ll take a look at the NHL and MLB.
As I’m sure you’ve all heard, Deron Williams was traded to the Nets (or Nyets, if you prefer). I’m not going to break this one down like I did the ‘Melo trade (check our Zach Lowe for that), but I do want to address some of the questions this trade brings up.
1) Would the Nets really trade for Williams without a stipulation that he sign an extension?
At best, I would put Williams resigning with the Nets at 50-50. He has no personal ties to the area being, from Texas and playing college ball at Illinois, the Nets are a terrible team, and, well, for now, they’re in New Jersey. It doesn’t seem like there’s much to keep Deron there instead of bolting come 2012. There are two reasons he may stay. First, with the new CBA, it may be unpalatable for him to leave. The new CBA may heavily stack things in favor of teams resigning their own free agents. The second reason is also tied to the CBA. The Nyets and Williams may be able to lure a second free agent, ahem…Dwight Howard. Suddenly you have a way better version of the Kidd-Martin pairing of the Nets recent glory years.
2) So it’s possible the Nets could get nothing out of this deal come 2012?
It’s quite possible. The way in which the media has painted owner Mikhail Prokhorov is that of a risk taker. So, as far as I can tell, he took a risk. He knows its easier to retain players than to woo them on the open market. He knows his Nets team sucks. He knows that star players shape NBA teams. He didn’t have to make this move, but it does, at least, seem like a reasonable gamble. If Williams leaves, and they don’t sign a different 2012 free agent, they’ll be back to where they are now.
3) What does this say about Williams that the Jazz dropped him so quickly?
Well, clearly something went down that hasn’t been reported. We just had Sloan up and quit after 20+ years on the sidelines, due, we’re told, mostly to Williams. So did Williams do something so atrocious during the game against the Bulls that it made Sloan want to leave and force management to seek a trade or has he done something in the intervening days? Something is rotten in the state of Utah.
4) Will whatever baggage Williams bring play in New Jersey?
Your guess is as good as mine.
5) When was the last time we saw a huge NBA trade with no media buildup?
I’m having trouble comping up with a comparable trade. The Gasol trade was surprising, I suppose, but in a different way. He was clearly on the block, but I don’t recall (I may be wrong here) much buildup about him going to the Lakers. 3 years ago, though, is a loooong time in terms of the 24 hour news cycle that we now have. This one is pretty shocking, the Jazz traded a franchise player, under contract and I didn’t hear a peep about the possibility.
6) Does Sloan come back now?
I doubt it. He rode his tractor into the sunset and I think he’ll remain retired for at least this season. I read that he also felt undermined by management, so perhaps Williams wasn’t the only issue.
The Bulls finished up their 5-game West Coast swing. They may not have proved themselves to be road warriors, but they did at least confirm that they can beat good teams in their buildings. The 3-2 record was what I was expecting from the Bulls, but they didn’t quite arrive there in the manner that I would have guessed. They dropped a couple winnable games in the middle at Golden State and Portland. I suppose this served as a wake up call, as they won fairly impressively in what figured to be the two hardest games of the trip at Utah and at New Orleans.
Those last two games, against Deron Williams and the Jazz and Chris Paul and the Hornets combined with the Bulls/Rose’s performance against Rajon Rondo and the Celtics on January 8th has boosted both Rose’s candidacy as best PG in the game and MVP of the season. The following table, while not encapsulating every facet of the game, sums things up nicely:
(ORtg is a stat that tries to estimate points produced per 100 possessions. DRtg does the same but for points allowed. If you subtract the DRtg from ORtg you get the Net figure.)
As the chart shows, Rose dominated his match-ups against the other top tier point guards. He, as expected, played excellently on offense (so you have an idea, the 10th best ORtg in the NBA is 122.0), even against Rondo where he had his best offensive night. He also played really well on defense (10th best ORtg is 99.6 and the stat skews towards bigs), which, if you believe Nicolas Batum, is an area that Rose is no good at.
I think it is evident that in these games Rose put forth just that much more concentration and effort. He is a very competitive person, and I’m sure he wants to be considered the best PG (if not best player) in the NBA, which led to such spectacular performances. The thing to keep in mind is that though these three games (all in a close time span) are impressive, they do not necessitate a significantly large sample size. To put it another way, where I, a Bulls fan, may use these numbers to support a case for Rose as the best PG or MVP worthy, a Celtics fan may use the first two match-ups where Rondo outperformed Rose (according to NetRtg). What I think we can take out of all of this, is that there’s no denying that Rose is one of the best PG’s in the league and there is no denying that he is a serious MVP candidate. Let’s see how the rest of the season plays out, before we crown him.
Over the weekend the Orlando Magic lost at Boston which marked their 7th straight loss against a team with a winning record. The loss also brought their record down to 32-20 and has inspired fervent discussion whether it’s time to demote the Magic from the East’s top tier to its second tied. It’s certainly a frustrating time in Orlando; their recent stretch of play has them at 3-5 in their last 8 and 7-8 since their 9-game winning streak. Their poor form has dropped them below the Atlanta Hawks in the standings and has seemingly (operative word is seemingly) locked the Magic into either the 4th or 5th seed.
The question at hand is whether or not the Magic, in their current iteration, remain a legitimate title contender. Since the trades that brought over Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark, and Gilbert Arenas, the Magic have compiled a 16-10 record which is good for a .615 winning percentage. The Magic, coincidentally began the season 16-10 as well. This clip clearly pales in comparison to the 59-23 (.720 WL%) record the Magic compiled in each of the last two seasons. Clearly, the Magic aren’t playing up to their past standard, you don’t need me to tell you that. Now that we have established that fact, lets take a deeper look into the numbers to see why they are struggling and what we can expect in the future.
The first thing to note (and which greatly simplifies our comparisons) is that Orlando has maintained the same pace (qualitatively, speaking) over the last three years. This year, they average 92.1 possessions a game which nearly matches the 92.0 and 92.3 mark they put up in 09-10 (referred to as 2010 from here on out) and 08-09 (referred to as 2009 from here on out) respectively. The table below sums up their offensive and defensive outputs over the last three years:
|PPG||Lg Avg||Diff||Opp. PPG||Lg Avg||Diff||Score Margin|
|2011 Post Trades||103.54||99.3||4.24||96.55||99.3||2.75||6.99|
|2011 Pre Trades||96.57||99.3||-2.73||92.85||99.3||6.45||3.72|
(Note: I did not recalculate the league average values for before and after Orlando’s trades. I assumed it to be the same, which should only have a marginal effect on the analysis; this isn’t baseball after all)
If you take 2011, 2010, and 2009 all at face value, you would be absolutely lost as to why Orlando is struggling so mightily this year. In all three instances, Orlando appears to be an elite defensive team with a decent offense. Taking 2011 as a whole, however, masks the two halves that have made up the Magic’s season, so far. Before the trades, the Magic were a defensive juggernaut ranking near the top of the league coupled with a very poor offense. After the trades those two profiles reversed; the Magic would now rate as a top-7 offensive team but only a top 10 defense. That isn’t to say that the Magic aren’t still a good defensive team, they are, but they no longer are elite. That eliteness on defense is what carried them in the past to their gaudy regular season records.
Even with the stark split of the stats between the pre-trade Magic and the post-trade Magic, the results, as mentioned before, are the exact same: 26-10. Removing random chance as a legitimate factor, I believe relative strength of schedule can explain this anomaly. Before the trade, the Magic played 11 teams with (current) winning records and 15 teams with (current) losing records. After their trades, that split is 13 and 13. 2 games doesn’t mark a huge difference, but it does contribute. If you designate the Celtics, Bulls, Heat, Hawks, Thunder, Lakers, Spurs, Mavs, and Hornets (all teams with a winning percent greater than .600) as “elite teams” an analysis of the strength of schedule becomes slightly more significant. In the Magic’s first 26 games, they played one of the “elite teams” 6 times, constituting 23% of their games. In their most recent 26 game stretch, the Magic have played an elite team 10 times (39% of their games). If you do the reverse analysis and look at the number of games played against the bottom of the league (say the worst 10 teams: Nets, Raptors, Cavs, Wizards, T-Wolves, Kings, Pistons, Clippers, and Bucks), you find that the Magic played more poor teams (11) before the trade than after (8). I believe this imbalance in their schedule, when it comes to elite and abysmal teams, is the main factor in why the post-trade Magic have the same record as the pre-trade Magic.
From what we’ve seen, I feel confident in saying that the Magic, before their trade, were a mediocre team compared to their 2010 and 2009 versions. They defended well, and pumped up their record courtesy of an easier schedule. The post-trade Magic are much improved, yet, have been held back by a tougher schedule to date. All this leads me to believe that the Magic are, in fact, no longer an elite team. They are still a good team, and are better than they were earlier this year. It is possible that they improve over the home stretch, but if the playoffs were to start today, I wouldn’t put any money on them advancing to the Conference Finals. At this point, it would be questionable whether they are even able to beat an Atlanta team whom they absolutely massacred in last year’s playoffs. It isn’t time to abandon ship in Orlando, but unless their defense picks things up a bit, it certainly is time to start tempering expectations.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look at something that’s underrated or overrated
Bottom line, Amare Stoudemire is not going to be the MVP.
Before I get into things, I want to say that I think Amare is a pretty darn good player. He has surpassed my expectations and proven false the idea that 50% (exaggeration alert) of his production was due to Steve Nash. With that out of the way, I think it is farcical that he is being touted as an MVP candidate. Let me lay it out in different words; the idea that Amare is the MVP of the National Basketball Association is ABSURD!
There are a number of ways to attack his MVP case, and well, I guess I’ll start with his production. The case for Amare as MVP, I suppose, begins with his scoring average; it is, after all, his flashiest stat. As of today, he is averaging 26.2 points per game, which is good for 2nd in the league behind Kevin Durant. I’ll admit, 2nd on the leaderboard is fairly high, but is it necessarily indicative of MVP play?If you look at Amare’s number throughout his career, this is by no means his best statistical season. I will point you to 2004-2005 when Amare averaged 26.0 ppg on 16.7 shots per game with a 56% shooting percentage and 8.9 rebound per game; compare that to this year, where Amare is averaging 26.2 points per game on 19.5 shots per game with a 50% shooting percentage and 8.8 rebounds per game. Is this year really that much more impressive that 04-05? I would argue that it is significantly less impressive. Amare is taking nearly 2 extra shots a game (with an extra turnover per game thrown in) to average a whopping .2 ppg more. If everyone is so enamored with Amare as MVP this year why wasn’t there more momentum behind him then? He finished a distant 9th in the voting that year; he was a mere after thought. Yes, Steve Nash won the MVP that year, but it seems that Stoudemire didn’t even dent the national consciousness.
This begs the question, if Amare’s season to date is no better than a number of his previous seasons, what has changed to make 2 out of 6 SI writers choose him as their half season MVP’s and 5 of 6 put him amongst their top 5? It seems the only difference is that Steve and Farouq, taxi drivers in NYC, are talking up his game this year. In a handful of pieces defending Amare as an MVP candidate, I’ve read people list, “He’s revitalized basketball in the city of New York!” as a reason. The absurdity of that notion is off the charts. I agree that the whole of New York is talking about Amare, but tell me, pleeease, tell me, when the hell did name recognition in New York City become a legitimate MVP attribute? I think it’s cool and neat that the Knicks are semi-relevant again after being run into the ground by Isaiah and James Dolan, but have we really sunk to level that general word of mouth in NYC is a legitimate barometer of MVP relevancy? Is that what we’re at? I apologize for all the rhetorical questions, but I just can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t know why Amare doing what he’s done for a formerly moribund Knicks team is any different than if he did it for say, the Pistons or better yet what he did do for Phoenix.
Stats aside, the historical precedent is working strongly against Amare. If you want the voters to vote for you, you need your team to win at least 50 games. 50+ wins and an MVP go nearly hand in hand. Only 7 people have won an MVP with less than 50 wins for their team (excluding Karl Malone in the lock-out year). Those players are Moses Malone (twice), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Petit, Bill Russell, and Bob Cousy. That’s it. To put it another way, unless your last name is Malone, no one in 35 years has won an MVP without their team winning 50 games. As I type this, the Knicks are 25-23 which puts them on pace for a much improved 42 wins. Even if, in your heart of hearts, you think Amare deserves the MVP because the guy who drove you home from LaGuardia talked about him non-stop, the Knicks’ record and Amare’s inability to elevate them to a better winning percentage basically precludes him from consideration. I recommend focusing your attention instead upon the likes of Dwight, Dirk, Derrick, or LeBron.
As the season wears on, the Miami Heat have given fans of mediocre NBA squads a reason to look forward to the playoffs, if only to root against the new evil empire (think David Stern is happy about that? Yep). But leave it to the Heat to temper the expectations of their, ahem, fans? (wouldn’t want to seem overconfident. After all its not like the organization ever put up a banner that said “Yes We Did” after acquiring the two most outstanding free agents in the 2010 class and parading the “Big Three” around a stage with smoke machines and a light show)
Lebron had this to say in comparing the playoff chops of the Heat to those of more seasoned teams like the Boston Celtics:
“We’re way behind those guys,” Lebron James said following the Heat’s practice on Wednesday. “Just look at the number of games played, the number of playoff series those guys have had. We’re only a few months in together — 40-something-plus games. I’ve seen the statistics. Boston has like 250-plus games played together. We’re way behind those teams.”
It’s as if Lebron wants spectators to hear, “yes we know we are awesome, but we can’t guarantee a championship.” In fact, the heat seem to be displaying pretty solid chemistry so far this year, at least as its reflected in scoring differential (+7.8 points per game, highest in the NBA). And now that it appears Lebron’s bad tweet karma has worn off (the team is 4-1 in the last four games), there doesn’t seem to be a real cause for concern in Miami. Of course, knowing Lebron’s Hindu Guru reputation (thanks, Jeeves), we’ll have to keep our eye on his next few tweets to see if there’s any indication of a sudden dip in performance.
But this strategy of “managing expectations” really gets at the heart of the struggle the Heat will always face. Right at the moment that the franchise decided to go all out with a carnival of arrogance (“Yes We Did,” “Karma’s a Bitch,” etc.), or even earlier, at the moment the team signed James and Bosh, expectations were sky high, and for good reason. I remember saying at the time that anything less than a championship would be seen as a failure by most fans (many of whom will be rooting for MUCH less than a championship for this team). It’s too late to prepare the fans and haters for potential failure, because the Heat invited those high expectations from the beginning. I’m not one of these guys who claims Lebron jeopardized his legacy by joining the super team, but it is true that such high expectations (something he faced to a far lesser extent in Cleveland), are likely to lead to an emotional letdown of some sort.
There is simply no way the heat can justify the hype (and silence the haters) without a championship. But Lebron seems to be trying to find a way to do just that. His quote reads sort of like: “Just so you know, if we lose to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, it won’t be because we’re not as good as they are, just because they’ve played together more.” Maybe he should have saved this for the Eastern Conference Finals. Let the letdown (or uplift, for most fans) commence.