2014 NBA Finals Aftermath
June 17, 2014 by Brad Oremland • Print Story •
This was the greatest sports weekend of 2014. We saw the end of the Stanley Cup Finals, the end of the NBA Finals, the beginning of the World Cup, and the entirety of the U.S. Open golf tournament. We also got dozens of MLB games, UFC 174, and any number of other events a little farther off the radar.
But wait — before we go any further, you should be aware: this column presents more questions than answers, and some of you will surely find that annoying. Proceed or not according to your pleasure, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Despite so many major events across the sporting landscape, I'm going to focus on the NBA Finals, because it presented a lot of interesting questions. The Finals themselves were surprisingly one-sided, with the San Antonio Spurs winning in five games, and by the largest margin of victory in Finals history. The air-conditioning malfunction that caused a minor controversy in Game 1 seems moot after the Spurs controlled the rest of the series so convincingly. So what questions could we possibly have after such a decisive series?
Is Gregg Popovich the greatest coach in NBA history?
My feeling is that Popovich is probably not the best coach in history, but he's certainly in the conversation at this point. On a roster with only one true superstar, the Spurs have posted 17 straight seasons with a winning percentage over .600. They've made the playoffs every year and won five championships. The Spurs have a talented team, and I don't mean to disrespect anyone, but it's just unprecedented for a team with only one real MVP candidate to establish a dynasty. What Pop has created and sustained, a team that overachieves so consistently it doesn't seem like overachieving any more, is remarkably impressive.
Seriously, during the Duncan/Popovich Era, San Antonio's worst record is 50-32, a .610 winning percentage.
Are Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili the best trio of teammates in NBA history?
The Spurs won NBA titles in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and now 2014. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili were together for four of them, and this year they passed Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most playoff wins ever by a trio of teammates. Are they the best ever? From where I'm sitting, no.
NBA history is full of dominant trios who won multiple titles. The 1980s Celtics featured Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish, while the rival Lakers had Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. The end of Oscar Robertson's career overlapped in Milwaukee with the beginning of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's and Bob Dandridge's, and the 1970-71 Bucks might be the best team in NBA history. From 1968-74, the New York Knicks won two titles with Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Dave DeBusschere. Any of them might be the greatest trio of all time. And let's not forget the team that defeated San Antonio in the Finals last year: the Miami Heat, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
For pure talent, I might go with the Bucks, the Heat, or Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman on the Chicago Bulls. But if it's titles you want, look no further than Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics. Bill Russell was the heart of the dynasty, a player similar in many ways to Duncan. He was joined by Bill Sharman (from 1956-61), Bob Cousy (1956-63), Tom Heinsohn (1956-65), Sam Jones (1957-69), and John Havlicek (1962-69). Russell, Cousy, and Heinsohn won eight titles together. Russell, Jones, and Havlicek captured seven NBA championships.
Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have excelled together for over a decade, and they've won four championships in an era that is more competitive than Russell's. But we've spent the past two weeks raving over what an exceptional team the Spurs are, and it's not just those three players. The Spurs trio isn't as important to the team's success as the Heat's. They're not as important as the heart of the '80s Celtics, or the late '90s Bulls. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are one of the best trios we've ever seen, but I don't believe they're at the very top.
Are the Spurs a continuous dynasty?
Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have won five NBA titles together. I thought the Spurs were a dynasty seven years ago, and it's even more obvious now. But is this the same dynasty that won three titles in five seasons (2003, 2005, 2007)? Is it still a dynasty if you go seven years between championships? The Spurs have been great every season, so you can make the argument. But dynasties are kings, and San Antonio spent six years as princes.
On the other hand, isn't it crazy not to count this year's championship team as part of the Spurs dynasty? It's the same coach and the same three stars. The '07 champs were led by Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. The 2014 champs were also led by Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. Both teams were coached by Popovich. But the rest of the roster has changed. The '07 team didn't have Boris Diaw and Danny Green. The '14 team no longer features Bruce Bowen and Brent Barry.
I don't know how I feel about this one, but the question interests me.
If LeBron leaves Miami, were the Heat a dynasty?
Here's every team to appear in four consecutive NBA Finals: the Bill Russell Celtics (1957-66), the Showtime Lakers (1982-85), the Larry Bird Celtics (1984-87), and the Decision-Era Heat (2011-14). The Heat are also one of only eight teams to win back-to-back championships, joining: George Mikan's Minneapolis Lakers, Russell's Celtics, Magic's Lakers, the Bad Boy Pistons, Jordan's Bulls, Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets, and the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers.
Can a team that only stays together for four years, and only wins two titles, really be a dynasty? Mikan, Russell, Magic, Jordan, and Duncan all won more than twice as many championships as the Heat. Bird's Celtics had the best record in the NBA six times, and won three rings.
I'm skeptical that LeBron will take his talents away from South Beach, but if he does, he'll leave behind an uncertain legacy: a crude, dishonestly engineered might-have-been dynasty that burned bright for a few seasons, but never built anything — a brilliant footnote in the list of basketball's greatest teams.