The NBA Finals ended a while ago but I haven't been able to comment on them because of the World Cup. Hey, even Kobe Bryant was in South Africa recently taking in the Mzansi Mundial. I was cheering for the Boston Celtics to win their 18th NBA championship banner but they lost out to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7. The Lakers won their 16th championship and more importantly defended their championship won in 2009. This was the first time the NBA champions had successfully defended their title since... yes, the Lakers of 2000-2002. So, I'll call it now, it is very likely that the Lakers will go for the three-peat. Some of these things in the upcoming free agency period may change that, but we'll see. But what does the Lakers win mean for Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Phil Jackson, the Lakers, the Celtics, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers, etc? Here are some thoughts.
The Lakers deserved to win the NBA championship more than the Celtics did. It's clear the Boston Celtics played above expectations coming into the NBA playoffs. Losing Kendrick Perkins for those last two games may have been a blow but the problems the Celtics had all season came to bear. The Celtics had trouble rebounding the ball all year. Against that Laker frontline, it was going to be tough to outrebound the Lakers all series long, no matter how mentally tough the Celtics were. The Celtics played excellent defense and executed well but Pau Gasol was two years wiser and tougher since 2008 and Ron Artest had become a better winner under the tutelage of Phil Jackson.
Kobe Bryant won his fifth ring (along with Derek Fisher), surpassing Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan and moving past them as the best player of this generation. He still has one less Finals MVP than those two which he will need to improve to move past some other NBA greats in the pecking order. Let's be real, Kobe didn't play as efficiently as he should have in the Finals and I could say Pau Gasol maybe won the championship for the Lakers in the end. He couldn't cope well with the Celtics defense and had the Lakers' rebounding superiority to thank. Inspite of that, Kobe is the best shot maker in basketball and because of his ability to deliver in the time he is needed most, it separates him for the rest of the NBA. He has a long way to go before he can be mentioned as better than Jordan. Since I am a big Michael Jordan fan, let me remind you Kobe fans why Kobe may never catch him. Jordan shot 50% for his career, won 10 scoring championships, and the most important stat, 6 Finals MVPs. He never lost in the NBA Finals. Word.
Phil Jackson won his 11th ring, sealing his title as the greatest coach ever. There's no debate here. Doesn't matter that he had MJ, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. He has an excellent winning record and he gets the best out of his players. There's been talk of Phil retiring, but the lure of a three-peat is too much. He must go for it. He's not leaving the Lakers, and it's not because of Kobe, it's because of his girlfriend, Jeanie Buss. He'll have to take less money though because Jerry Buss is bent on paying him less than $12 million a year. Talk of him going to Chicago or Cleveland to coach Lebron right after coaching Kobe to a championship should end now. I doubt Phil ever coaches another alpha dog like Kobe until Kobe has retired. Book it.
Pau Gasol was criticized heavily after the Lakers got pummelled by the Celtics in 2008. He was called soft. This year, he showed his toughness by matching Kevin Garnett (who was also two years older). He got put-backs and made big buckets. He proved he could play the big-man role even when Andrew Bynum had bad knees and Lamar Odom did his disappearing act. Spain should be proud of him.
Ron Artest has come a long way since he went into the Palace stands in Detroit in 2004. This is a guy who wanted to take time off the NBA to record a rap album. He's nuts. Have you seen him go nuts for the Lakers this way? Apart from taking some ill-advised threes, no. He even had a game winner and played some of the great defense he's known for. After battling with Kobe as a Rocket last year, he came good as Kobe's teammate to earn himself some redemption and Kobe some 'ammo' as a Laker great who could also beat the dredded Celtics in the Finals.
As for the Celtics, you could argue they overachieved in the NBA playoffs or they were just waiting for them to start. I think it's the latter. The Celtics are a mentally tough bunch who know how to win and a team in every sense of the word. They are at their best when the team is functioning at its best. The Cavs and Magic were favorites based on their regular season play but with Doc Rivers' coaching and the toughness of the men in green, the Celtics overcame them. Doc Rivers is a great coach and he nearly handed Phil Jackson another Finals' loss. The Finals came down to the last few seconds of Game 7! I love Doc. He's been thinking of leaving his coaching post to be with his family and that will be a big blow to the Celtics. Especially, after they lost Tom Thibodeau to the Chicago Bulls. I think Doc should take some time off and the Celtics should pursue Kevin Mchale to coach them. Yes, a former Celtic and former KG coach. I think he will do a good job.
Ray Allen had an interesting NBA finals. He made 7 straight 3-pointers and 8 in the first half to lead the Celtics to a Game 2 win and then couldn't get the threes to fall in the next 5 games. Jesus made a miracle and then failed to deliver. If he shot his 3s better, the Celtics would be champs. Now, he's a free agent. There's been talk of him going to another team. I doubt he goes anywhere else. He's too tired to the big 3. He should take less money so the Celtics can add more pieces. The Celtics will challenge next year and he, Paul Pierce and KG won't be much worse off. Besides, Nate Robinson will be fully immersed into the team and Rajon Rondo will be better.
Rajon Rondo became the star player of the Celtics this year. It wasn't even the Big 4, it was like Rajon Rondo and the Big 3. He's a great player and I think he is capable of carrying teams to the promised land. He has to work on his shot a bit more. Not too long ago, there was talk of the Celtics trading him because of chemistry problems. The whole Celtics organization knows he's the best player now so everything should fall into place around him. The Big 3's time will be remembered as a time when the Celtics put together a nice run. With Rondo, the Celtics can be set up for NBA dominance for a long time. He needs continuity and he could achieve some of the things Jason Kidd could not.
The first championship was sweet for Paul Pierce. He was the longest employed Celtic and had been with the team in the terrible times. For someone who grew up hating the Celtics and cheering for the Lakers, that will be interesting. I see him seeing out his career with the Celtics too. He should too and that's the Truth. He can become more of a spot-up shooter as Tony Allen takes on more of the offense. He's a definite hall of famer. He can enjoy the rest of his career playing with KG and Ray Allen while helping Rajon Rondo grow from year to year.
Kevin Garnett is one of my favorite NBA players. The Kid is definitely the Big Ticket. The passion and energy continue to dwindle with his age. He can't even rebound that well anymore. If he could rebound just as good, the Celtics will be champions again. He had said that if he had the chance to leave the Timberwolves earlier, he would have. That's why he should also stay with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the Celtics. He doesn't have to go ride anyone coattails to win a ring because he has one. I don't know what he wants to do after he retires, but hanging around great veterans and imparting his passion and knowledge into guys like Rondo, Robinson, Big Baby Davis and Tony Allen will do him and the Celtics some good.
Both the Lakers and Celtics are set up to be great for the next few years. As the NBA's best franchises, it should come as a surprise to anybody. The Celtics-Lakers rivalry must continue, both teams being good will be great for the sport. I love this game.