Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fire Flip (Among Other Things)

Congratulations to the Cavs. They're in the Finals about three years ahead of schedule which, as Steve Kerr noted, might be indicative of a permanent power shift in the Eastern conference. A few thoughts:

1. Flip Saunders has to be fired. He simply has to. I didn't get to watch all the games but those I did left me with no choice but to conclude this fact: this guy is a horrible, horrible coach. Lost in the hullaballoo over Lebron's unreal performance in Game 5 was the fact that, with the game on the line, Detroit didn't double Lebron. They didn't double him! The guy had scored 27 of his team's last 28 points, was standing about five feet behind the three point line, keeping his dribble alive, working the clock and surveying the situation calmly. And Detorit let him do all this! Why they didn't send three guys and make someone, anyone, else beat them is completely beyond me. At that point (end of a second overtime), half of Cleveland's team was either injured or fouled out. The other half, save for Lebron, had not hit a goddamn shot in something like 20 minutes. You think a double team might be in order, smartass?

That wasn't his only mistake in the series; far from it. His substitution patterns were completely out of whack. He refused to run the old Rick Carlisle/Larry Brown plays for Rip, where he'd come off a bajillion screens and spot up from about 17 feet (I think Simmons talked about this too). And he never, not once, looked like he was in control of that team. I just don't think anyone on that team respects him the way did Brown or even Carlisle. The final nail in the coffin came at the beginning of the fourth quarter tonight, where for some bizarre reason he sat both Rip and Billups down and had Flip friggin Murray and Lindsey friggin Hunter playing at the same time. In about three minutes, Gibson hit 14 threes and that was that. I really want to give credit to Lebron and the Cavs, but as a complete neutral, I can't shake the feeling that Detroit would have won this series with a halfway decent coach. This guy has completely bombed with every single team he's led to the playoffs (this series makes me feel even worse for KG than I did previously). He'd make a great assistant somewhere but he doesn't deserve to be the head coach of a team, not one with championship aspirations anyway. Besides, he's actually capable of making facial expressions like this:

Do it, Joe. Fire Flip.

2. The Detroit era is over. It's not as dramatic as the Bulls run ending (6 rings in 8 years followed by a .300 team for the next five years) but, make no mistake, it's over. They lost their heart and soul last summer to Chicago, Billups is a free agent, Rasheed was outplayed by the Varejao/Gooden combination, Hunter's a year older and their bench sucked (just like last year). But that brings me to my question: how dumb does Joe Dumars feel right now? Through five years of exceptional health, a high quality team, a bunch of guys who genuinely like each other and like playing with each other, a weak conference, and just the right amount of stupid GMs around to make their life easier (that would be you, Danny Ainge), they won a grand total of one title and made the Finals twice. Does that sound like a fair return for a team of players who happened to be in their prime at the same time in a watered down league and never got injured? I don't think so.

Which brings me back to my question: how dumb does Joe Dumars feel right now? Can you imagine if Carmelo was on the Pistons, and Lebron actually had to play a little defense in this series? Or imagine if in last year's playoffs Wade was on their team, instead of tearing their collective heart out. Or imagine if they had another big body to battle Duncan in the '05 Finals - a guy by the name of Bosh. If Dumars hadn't made the Darko pick, this team could have rivalled the Bulls dynasty for league-wide dominance. Now? It's probably going to be judged, fairly or not, as a team that got lucky once but was otherwise merely very good. That's sad, and it's Dumars' fault.

3. The coaching matchup in the Finals is going to be really, really funny. It's going to be The Office combined with South Park combined with Jon Stewart combined with Chris Rock combined with Chaudhry Shujaat saying anyone criticizing the Army should be shot. As bad as Saunders was in this series, Mike Brown was just as bad. Now he's going to be matching up with the smartest coach in the league, a guy who speaks Russian and knows more Soviet history than Condi Rice (okay, maybe not, but he knows a lot), a guy who always has his team prepared, who never lets his team get too high or too low, who commands the respect of everyone on the team, who uses his timeouts correctly, and (gasp!) knows what situations call for particular types of players. In short, a guy who happens to be the best coach in the league. This is going to be like Malcolm Gladwell debating social psychology with Paris Hilton. And I can't wait.

4. Lebron James is 22. Just thought I'd state that for the record, in case anyone forgot.

5. Cleveland has no shot against the Spurs. None. Lebron, in his infinite brilliance, might get them one game on his own. Maybe, maybe, guided by the hand of God Himself, he gets them two. But that's it. This series is done, which is sad, because it hasn't even started yet.

6. Good luck with your new job, Steve Kerr. It's a pity for us fans, because there really wasn't anyone better behind the mike than this guy. He always had an interesting or funny comment to make, and always made the game more enjoyable simply with his presence. He will be missed. As for his new job, how about getting started with a Marion and Bell for Kobe trade? I know it appears Buss and Kobe have made up, but can't they do this, just for me? Please?

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