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Second Round Musings, First Round Reflections

Is it just me or does the NBA really have to re-think this playoff seeding? This is the second year in a row that the best series will be played in the second round. Although the Miami Heat won the NBA title last season, there was no more entertaining series than that epic seven-game wonder between Dallas and San Antonio in the second round. The Mavericks built a 3-1 lead, San Antonio came back to force Game 7 and Dirk Nowitzki arrived as a legitimate superstar - or so we thought.

We appear to be headed down a similarly exciting tale this year with Phoenix-San Antonio. I'm looking forward to another seven-gamer. I hope I'm there for a few of them. This series has classic written all over it - a classic contrast of styles (the hyper Suns and sleeper Spurs), a classic duel of two-time league MVPs (Tim Duncan and Steve Nash have won four of the past five) - especially since top-seeded Dallas is history. That first game was a beaut - until Nash's nose met Tony Parker's head (I know Mr. Eva Longoria goes by the rap alias, T-Pizzle, but he might want to switch it to Busta HeadOpen after that collision. How does an NBA game draw more blood than De La Hoya-Mayweather?).

But back to my original point: Would it really hurt the league to re-seed these guys? I wouldn't mind seeing Phoenix-Golden State, San Antonio-Utah in the West, and Detroit-New Jersey and Chicago-Cleveland in the East right now. Otherwise, all of the interesting storylines are dried up by the time we get to the conference finals - which leads us to the other issue here: What does a star-driven league do when it has no stars?

This is no disrespect to LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash, but these playoffs are devoid of most of the must-see performers like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Nowitzki. I must say, the second round of those T-Mobile commercials with Wade and Charles Barkley aren't nearly as funny as the first round, but it's more frustrating when you consider that Wade's home watching these games just like me. Every time I see one of those commercials, I just shake my head and think, who can the NBA really promote right now?

It's crazy. The first round was about the elimination of the stars, but the second round might see the elimination of one or two of the better teams. It's a little bit ironic, don't ya think?

As for the first round, I can't think of a more painful image than seeing Tracy McGrady so choked up that he couldn't complete the post-game interview after the Houston Rockets lost in Game 7. Before the series began, McGrady screamed that if Houston lost in the first round, it was "on me." And when they lost, you could tell that we really shouldered the weight of the loss on his shoulders. He deserved better, but he didn't get much help. Dude scored 29 points with 13 assists and accounted for all but nine field goals for the Rockets. He gave it his all and came up short. He lost, but you really can't blame him.

As for Nowitzki? I know everybody is piling on Dirk right now, and he really has no alibi for disappearing against the Warriors. He will justifiably be named MVP soon. Look, the MVP is a regular season award, based on the player with the best regular season performance. Since there were no real standout performers this season, and there was a standout team that he led to the top, so he earned the honor. He went out like a chump in the playoffs, but MVPs aren't handed based on the playoffs.

Baron Davis was undoubtedly the best player on the floor that series, but this isn't the first time an MVP got showed up in the playoffs. I happen to remember Hakeem Olajuwon showing up David Robinson in the conference finals in 1995. The difference, of course, is that Olajuwon had already won the league's MVP award and Davis has never been in the discussion, but it just proves one point: I think you can win a title with Nowitzki, but you have to pair him with a pitbull or robotic destroyer (Robinson needed Duncan to get two rings).

Twenty-six of the past 27 NBA titles have been won by teams led by just eight men - Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Moses Malone, Michael Jordan, Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and Duncan. What does that tell you? Only a few guys actually have what it takes to lead his team to the top. The rest need a little help. This year, we learned that Dirk is among those that he needs a little help. I mean, Kevin Garnett didn't win a playoff series until he was teamed with a pitbull (Latrell Sprewell) and cocky, clutch shooter (Sam Cassell). And, if Cassell hadn't gotten hurt in 2004, Minnesota could've won it all. Is Garnett really a bum because he lacks those qualities? It just takes time to figure these things out. Maybe Dallas needs to do all it can to bring Chauncey Billups to town.

And in defense of Nowitzki, he has taken a lot of criticism for some of his remarks against Golden State (he said that if the Mavericks lost Game 4 the season was pretty much over. Was he wrong?), but I like that Nowitzki is honest. I respect him for that. He tells the truth, even if the truth shows a sign of weakness.

But enough on the losers. Let's just enjoy the teams that are still here.

By Michael Lee  |  May 7, 2007; 1:37 PM ET
 
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Comments

The top seeds already have enough of an advantage as it is. The problem with your proposal is the chance that an interminable first round could be even longer. Because if the teams are reseeded would have to wait for every first-round series to end before you could start the second round. The first round is too long already, bring back the five-game first round and then I think fans would be more amenable to your proposal.

Posted by: George Templeton | May 7, 2007 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Ivan, I thought Yao Ming's performance was terrible. A huge non-factor. He was standing "under" the basket everytime a shot went up - lookin around like he was lost and Carlos " The Beast" Boozer or a much smaller player out rebounded him. Didn't Boozer have 14 or 15 rebounds to Yao's 3?

For a guy that big to only have 3 the entire game is tragic. I felt bad for Mac Grady. Nobody to help rebound or put up some points it was pitiful.

I too, like you would love to see a Warriors v. Suns match up or Utah v. Spurs but it is not to be.

But who can forget the shots of Mark Cuban during the final quarters of the Warriors/Mavs series? He looked like he was going to explode! Nothing tastes so terrible as having to eat your words.
Cuban said: "Nellie will never win because he fears winning. He doesn't know how."

Can't help but wonder if he was talkin about Dirk? Avery Johnson had to tell Dirk "Shut up whining and play!! YIKES!!!
MVP????? oh say it ain't so.

Isn't this like the 3rd year he's run scared in the playoffs?

Posted by: Robin | May 7, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

George is right the first round drags on forever. Either go back to five games or pickup the pace of the seven game series. Just plain too many off days now, I know the NBA's TV partners wouldn't want that, but as things are structured now the playoffs drag on in the first round.
Yesterday's Suns vs. Spurs was a Classic. Nash was amazing in that he came back and hit that three bleeding like a stuck pig! The Spurs aren't flashy, but what a great group of pro's. Micheal's right this could be the best series of the playoffs.
Back in the late 60's to early 70's the Bullets and the Knicks locked up in some Classic series in the early rounds of the playoffs. I think you just have to take them when they occur. Trying to reseat after an upset would just smack of the NBA trying to rig the matchups against an underdog. If Golden State makes it to the Conference Finals this year enough people will have jumped on that bandwagon that there will be plenty of interest.
Micheal,your point about the Stars of the League sitting at home by the second round of playoffs brings up an interesting problem that is just beginning to confront the league this season, and will be a growing problem in the future. With the NBA's new Luxury Tax kicking in teams seem to be treating that as a "hard" cap much like the NFL's Salary Cap.
With the stars of the league all as competitive as they are, "who's making the most" is just one more way that these guys compete with each other. With Garnett making the most right now at 23m, and Kobe, O'Neal and others around 20m. When LaBron, D Wade, Carmello, and Arenas all can opt out in the next couple of years aren't those guys going to be wanting to be the highest paid?
My question is how can you contruct a Championship Team with a 67M Luxury Tax level when the top stars of the game want to earn 1/3 or more of the cap? And can a league that has always marketed it's stars start having teams that follow the New England Patriots formula, of having a team of mid priced "no-name" guys that work together, win the title while it's biggest stars sit home counting their money? Garnett spends alot of time saying the "only" thing he cares about is winning a title, will he reduce is salary to allow the T-Wolves enough cap room to get him some help?
I'm wondering which of these young stars is going to get it and sign a cap friendly deal to help his team win a title? And which will want to be "the King" in the salary competition?
Our guy, Gilbert, has said in the past that he'd be willing to sign a cap friendly deal to help build a contender. He may get the chance next summer to put his money where his mouth is on that like Jordan did for the Bulls for so many years and walked then away with six titles.

Posted by: GM | May 7, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Three weeks ago it was the winner of the Phoenix/S.A. series wouldn't have enough gas to make it thru Dallas.

If the seeding held to form there would be the best 2 teams in the west meeting in the conference finals. No amount of seeding change will change that. Sometime in life there are upset. Thank God other wise we watch the number one seeds from each conference play every year. Yawns, How boring is that?

I'm looking forward to attempting to stay up late enough tonight to watch Golden State. It looks like the match up of Speed and slashers versus the Powerful front line of Utah. It was priceless watching Boozer abuse Yao off the dribble the other night. Everyone says size matters. Well not if you can move. Tracy Mcgardy is this century version of George McGinnis. He NEVER going to win anything. EVER.

Looking like a Detroit versus Spurs finals.

Posted by: dc | May 7, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Remember a couple years ago when Stern extended the first round of the playoffs to a best of seven format? Some grumbled at the time it was done to benefit the Lakers and minimize a first-round upset.

But what it seems to say now is that the team that performs better over seven games gets through (e.g., Warriors), not always the team with the best star (e.g., T-Mac, Kobe) or the team that has all the pieces but hasn't jelled (e.g., Miami).

It looks like that move has created *just* enough uncertainty to keep the classic series spread throughout the playoffs and not just at the conference finals/Finals level.

But GM, you got an interesting point there. Who of these high-priced stars will eventually decide that a restructured contract can pay off in the long run with titles if it gives their team an opportunity to bring in a skilled journeyman, a talented rookie or a spot player who can get you over the hump?

Maybe some of these guys will realize that stars with big contracts mean nothing without the supporting cast to back them up. When you see it that way, it makes sense to the player to avoid collecting the last dollar from the team payroll.

Posted by: iceberg | May 7, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Not even the guys you mentioned won championships by themselves. Magic had one of the most talented teams in NBA history during his championship run. Jordan always had two great on ball defenders with him. Shaq couldn't win with Penny Hardaway but when he got with Kobe or Wade he won titles. Moses Malone had Dr. J!!! I say all that to say the only way to win a title is to build a strong team around one or two game changing superstars.

Posted by: Juan | May 7, 2007 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a big fan of the 7-game first round because, except for the occasional 4-5 seeds, the matchups are so lopsided that the outcome is usually a given. It's just dragging out the inevitable. Some may point to the G.S./Dallas series as an exception, but G.S. would have still won it, even if it had been 5 games.

Posted by: kalorama | May 7, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting point you raise GM,, but isn't the flip side of taking less money, that superstars might ask for less years or an earlier opt out so they can recoup some of that money in their next contract? That might be another thing to watch for.

Posted by: George Templeton | May 7, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

It's not really an either or proposition, GM, in regard to star salaries versus team building.

People point to Minnesota and say that they never won because Garnett's contract kept them from spending money on good players to surround him with. But that's not really true. The problem wasn't that they couldn't/didn't spend money (they did). The problem was that the spent money stupidly and made bad decisions overall. They lost out on keeping Chauncey Billups, a future all-star and finals MVP, because they spent a load on an aging, injured Terrell Brandon. They threw money at career disappointments like Olowokandi and Ricky Davis. They were penalized multiple first round draft (lottery) picks because they got caught trying to make an under the table deal to circumvent the cap and give superstar money to Joe Smith, one of the most disappointing overall number 1 picks in recent memory. Garnett's contract was never the real problem. It was all of the bad contracts they doled out after Garnett that really hamstrung them. If they'd spent THAT money more wisely, things would have turned out differently.

Posted by: kalorama | May 7, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

And it's something of a dead issue because, as a result of Garnett's deal, the collective bargaining agreement was altered so that limits were placed on the upper level of player contracts. As a result, no other player can get a deal the size of Garnett's. Under the revised CBA, however, teams like the Lakers, Miami, and San Antonio have managed to win titles while paying top-level star money to one guy and surrounding him with the appropriate talent.

Posted by: kalorama | May 7, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

The point I raised was not what Minnesota did or didn't do in the past. But today with the 67m luxury tax how can you build a title contender around today's biggest stars and highest paid players.
Look at Kobe's situation in LA, unless the Lakers decide go over the Luxury Tax they are going to have a difficult time building a title contender around him. Garnett is stuck in the same situation if he stays in Minnesota or if anyone trades for him unless they decide to go way over.
The point I was making was in relation to Micheal's comment about so many of the game's biggest stars sitting at home in the second round. The effect of the NFL's hard cap has changed that league. They love their parity. Other than New England and they way they have choose to manage the system many teams have been faced with having to blow up their rosters shortly after getting to the Super Bowl because their players want a payday.
For a League that has always marketed their stars, will having a franchise that chooses to assemble a team of moderately priced good team players establish a New England style model sell?
And will any of today's young guys figure out like Jordan did that in order to climb to the top of the league they may have to except a little smaller portion of the 67m that teams have to spend under the Luxury Tax.
Guys like Jordan and Cal Ripkin and their agents looked at their long term legacy and earning potential over a lifetime and not just the short time they're in the game. Jordan played the majority of his career at what was regarded to be an undervalued deal. But he didn't exactly end up in the poor house.
Didn't bring it up to get into another who's right and who's wrong debate. Just trying to provoke some thought and discussion.

Posted by: GM | May 7, 2007 7:11 PM | Report abuse

"The point I raised was not what Minnesota did or didn't do in the past."

And to make that point you used the example of the T'Wolves and their failure to build a contender around Garnett, implying that they were an example of why it couldn't be done. I was adressing your point by pointing out that their failure was not systemic, but rather a result of a series of prior poor decisionmaking on the part of McHale.

"But today with the 67m luxury tax how can you build a title contender around today's biggest stars and highest paid players."

And I responded quite directly to that point by noting that the Lakers (Shaq), the Spurs (Duncan), and the Heat (Shaq again) all managed to build title teams around players with max contracts. It can be done. It has been done. And the failure of Minnesota to do it only proves that THEY couldn't do it, not that it can't be done.

"Didn't bring it up to get into another who's right and who's wrong debate. Just trying to provoke some thought and discussion."

And I was attempting to foster said discussion by directly addressing the very question you posed with some factual evidence.

Perhaps if you took a somewhat less defensive stance when reading my responses you wouldn't feel the need to try and explain your posts after the fact. I can't imagine what (other than the fact that we often disagree) gives you the impression you need to explain what you meant when my response are pretty clearly keyed to what you said (regardless of whether you agree with me).

Posted by: kalorama | May 8, 2007 1:59 AM | Report abuse

I agree with kalorama on Minny. Kevin McHale is the Matt Millen of the NBA. They are like GM twins separated at birth.

While Cassell and Spree help get the team into a decent playoff run they were not the long term answer.

Then they go out and get Ricky Davis, Eddie Griffen, Olowokandi and Marko Jaric.

ICK those look like Wes Unseld moves. Reminds of R. Wallace for Strictland and Webber for Richmond type moves. )~)

Maybe if McCants and Foye are able to step up there games Minny might return to something with adding a few more piece thru the draft.

Posted by: dc | May 8, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Actually Kalorama - I don't think GM or anybody else is "defensive." Your're highly critical and your posts are written with such a critical tone as though you're an "expert" at everything. Can anyone post anything without your editing or sharp, sarcastic, critical comments?

It would be most appreciated if all posters could share a comment or two w/out your negative EDITING of their thoughts and comments. Everything doesn't need to be a "debate."

Posted by: Wizfan2 | May 8, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I can understand the desire of some to see PHX v. San Antonio in the finals, etc. But why does the league bother with an interminable 82 game regular season if are then going to turn around and re-seed the playoffs?

Obviously some teams haven't played as hard as they could during the regular season in recent memory, like this year's Detroit or last year's Miami. The point of the regular season is to put yourself in the best possible seed, get home-court advantage, and try to make it as far as possible in the playoffs. Changing this system would be the league conceding that the regular season no longer means anything as compared to a chance to promote superstars and boost ratings.

Posted by: tmc | May 8, 2007 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning, everyone! Stayed up to watch GS v. Utah. Good game but got a question - thought maybe you guys could help me.

From start of game..GS's 3's were not going in. But noticed in 3rd qtr. S. Jackson pentrating several defenders - going in for lay up to rim was clearly struck & pushed Utah players complely off court. No fouls called either time.
BUT!! end of 4th qtr - Utah's Deron Williams went down court same scenario - heading in for layup thru defenders - whistles came from everywhere. A 4 pt play. On another, Richardson heading in same - fouled as he then passes the ball out to Davis but they only threw in. The announcer questioned that but it appeared the other person kept cutting him off from discussing it. Is there something I'm missing? I am absolutely NOT an expert at this game but I could clearly see the same play and action but different calls. Or were they two different actions?

I do understand if you live by the 3 - You will die by the 3. Which they did but I wonder if this is contributory?

Thanks.

Posted by: Robin | May 8, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

GM - Just noticed this article by Wilbon. This expert touches a bit on what you were discussing(just a tiny bit)

This interview was by M. Wilbon discussing the league with Charles Barkley to M. Wilbon.

"I'm in the business of talking about basketball . . . talking about the NBA stars," former megastar Charles Barkley said in a conversation last night. "But the truth of the matter is, maybe the league doesn't have as many stars as people think. The truth of the matter is, some of the guys we've been identifying and talking about as superstars are not superstars. They're all-stars and there's a difference. LeBron, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Wade . . . and obviously Kobe . . . those guys are huge stars. But you can't lose in the first round to a number eight seed [are you listening Dirk Nowitzki?] and be a true superstar. The problem is, these guys we're calling superstars . . . if they don't score, they can't help their teams win. Kidd and Nash help their teams win, even if they're not scoring."

"I think if Golden State can win one more series [against Utah, which started last night], people will follow them," Barkley said.

"It's hard for people in the East to fall in love with Golden State when their playoff games don't start until 10:30 in the East and 9:30 in the Midwest. Kids can't start watching games at that hour, and that's who you want to reach 'cause they're your future audience. If Golden State can win one more round, though. . . . "

The NBA can't control which teams win (despite the myriad wild conspiracy theories that arise every postseason) and whether stars live up to their billing -- or are simply overhyped.

But there is something the league can control but didn't.

The NBA should re-seed the playoff matchups after every round. The NFL does it. MLB does it. The NHL does it. The NBA tinkered with the postseason format after last season (when Dallas and San Antonio met, absurdly, in the second round), but still failed to get it right. If the NBA re-seeded, as it should, right now the league would have Bulls vs. Cavs and Pistons vs. Nets in the Eastern Conference . . . Suns vs. Warriors and Spurs vs. Jazz in the Western Conference.

Not saying anything specific - just noted his comment regarding certain players who are considred "Super Stars" when he stated they should be considered "All Stars" instead - especially if they're not making their team winners. I tend to agree.

Posted by: Rob | May 8, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

tmc is correct. If the Bulls wanted to avoid a possible second-round matchup with the Pistons, then they needed to play a little better against the Nets in their final regular season game. Had they won that game, they would have been the No. 2 seed in the East. And no one would be complaining in the West had Dallas not gagged against Golden State.
The regular season doesn't mean much and now we want it to mean less. Do you think it helps the NHL one iota that they reseed after round one.
And if we want to get technical the MLB and NFL do not reseed. Only 4 teams make the playoffs in each league in the MLB so they are only two teams left in each league after round one. If they did reseed, the Tigers and Cardinals would have played in round two and not the World Series. And for the NFL the top two seeds in each conference don't play the first week and it is already set in stone that the lowest remaining seed plays the top seed and the next highest seed plays the second seed. That is not reseeding.
The bracket system has been fine for umpteen amount of years, changing it because of what happened this year is dumb. The NBA made the right tweak by allowing a non-division winner to be seeded No. 2 if they have a better record than the other two division records. Enough messing around with the playoffs, the first round has been screwed up already, lets not mess up the rest of it.

Posted by: George Templeton | May 8, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Rob, but I think the point is similar in that how many of these guys that think they deserve max. dollar deals are going to get them in future years?
George also brought up an interesting point that has already occurred. D Wade, LeBron and Carmello all signed shorter deals instead of max. contracts for max. years. As I understand it, they, their agents and their teams were all unsure of the effect that the Luxury tax will have.
Has it had an effect as it has kicked in? It sure has! Dallas's former backcourt is playing in the second round for two different teams while Dallas got knocked out in round one. And now people are blaming Dirk for not being able to carry a team that had two of their three top gaurds under their rookie deals. Dallas cut Finley and didn't resign Nash directly because of the Luxury Cap. And according to a recent interview that Nellie gave he'd still be the coach there if Cuban hadn't decided to make those choices to get under the cap.
The Lakers were forced to make a decision to break up their Championship run in part due to pressures of the Luxury Cap. Grant's 15m deal was written off, they're still paying him this year, and Buss said in deciding which max. figure guy to build around he choose Kobe because he was younger. Sure, if Shaq and Kobe weren't acting like two kids in a sand box management could have worked at sqeezing their contracts under the 67m, but having 40m in two roster spots would make it really hard.
The Heat won a title while D Wade was still under his rookie deal, in order to stay under the luxury tax they are going to have to start shedding vets as Wade's extension kicks in. The Suns have 77m committed next year if Thomas doesn't opt out. And why would he, nobody will have more than a Mid Level Exception to give him and he has a contract 8m +. If Atlanta doesn't get into the top three in the draft when the lottery is choosen the Suns will also have three first rd picks that they have to allocate signing money for if they sign or not. So if they can't shed Thomas's deal he'll cost them 16m for a guy that's not in the rotation much of the time. And they will pay a matching amount of tax for each of the three draft picks.
The Spurs(Some anylasts are comparing them to New England) have managed to pick up other team's cap casualties and to bring in vets to fill in slots around their core seem to be a contender year after year. They may end up being the model that other teams follow in this new era.
Talking about what has occured in the past or who did what under the NBA's old Swiss Cheese Salary Cap, which every team in the league with the exception of the Bobcats is over is irrelevent. My question pertained to the effect of the Luxury Tax which is just fully kicking in this year.

Posted by: GM | May 8, 2007 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Agreed GM. The only problem with the NBA is that sure everyone wants to be like the Spurs, but that style doesn't work unless you have Tim Duncan. It's like in the NFL when people say "why can't we be like New England every year" well because you don't have Tom Brady and Richard Seymour. I'm sure the Suns look like they got it all figured out until Nash goes down then its all over. Some pointed out here that in the last 25 years championships were won by 8 men and 6 teams. That's domination homes. So unless you're Detroit that can take all-stars and field 6 of them at the same time, you better hope you luck out with a superstar and try to build around him.

Posted by: The Owl Wizard | May 8, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

"It would be most appreciated if all posters could share a comment or two w/out your negative EDITING of their thoughts and comments. Everything doesn't need to be a "debate."

Last I checked, this blog didn't have an EDIT function, so that takes care of that. As for the rest...

It's unfortunate if the idea of someone having an opinion other than yours is so upsetting to you, but the exchange of differing ideas in a free society fosters critical thinking. If someone expresses an opinion, they run the risk of someone else expressing a different one. That's simply the way things work.

And last I checked, it took (at least) two to debate. I can only enter discussion with those who enter discussions with me. If someone expresses an opinion (e.g., Haywood is a good player) and I express a different opinion (e.g., Haywood is a mediocre player), there's no reason it has to go any further than that. It can end if both parties simply accept that they disagree and move on. And the only reason it ever does go further is because people feel the need to justify/defend/explain their opinions in the face of my differing one (e.g., Haywood IS NOT a mediocre player and here's why...).

But guess what? They don't have to. They can simply accept from jump that our opinions differ and move on. But if (as is often the case) they feel the need to further explain or justify their opinion, then that invites me to do the same. It's a pretty fundamental exchange. And everyone is free to opt out (or refuse to enter) at their own discretion. I have no control over what other people say and neither expect nor want any such control. But that works both ways.

Posted by: kalorama | May 12, 2007 1:50 AM | Report abuse

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