NBA Goes Awol: Playoff Parity

Playoff Parity

The salary cap probably isn’t structured to keep a team together, hence the OKC Thunder trading James Harden last offseason, but it has increased parity around the league.

Sure, many discussed the decision by the Thunder was between two standout guards, Harden and Russell Westbrook. In hindsight, you notice how the two players that received new contracts were Harden and shot-blocker, Serge Ibaka. For on-court reasons, it seems that there just weren’t enough basketballs to go around for Harden, Westbrook, and three-time scoring champion, Kevin Durant. However, it is the business side that usually motivates any action to be taken.

About that parody thing, the big names on the Miami Heat are all scheduled to hit free agency next offseason. As for this offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers will most likely amnesty one of their starters, Metta World Peace, while finally trading another, Pau Gasol. Kobe Bryant has one year remaining on his contract, and Dwight Howard is their top priority to resign this summer. You very well could have  an entirely different starting lineup surrounding Howard in a couple seasons.

Now check out the original playoff bracket, before teams were eliminated.

And yes, I am a fan of NBA 2K13.

Beginning in the Western Conference, of course you know about the Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. OKC has catapulted into one of the elite teams in the NBA, somewhere the Spurs have played on a consistent level. So, the top two teams the past couple of seasons reside in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, interesting. Two bigger cities known for their professional sports teams, the Lakers and Houston Rockets, were the opponents that struggled to make the postseason. Moving up the ranks, you have a Denver Nuggets team that made the jump from being a middle seed to third, courtesy of  both Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year. Denver isn’t a team that stands out as a championship contender, but they made strides.

California Knows How to Party

Three of the four NBA teams representing the state of California reached the postseason. The historic Lakers’ franchise last won a title a few years back. The thing is, when you’re on top the only place there is to go, is down. Unless you repeat of course, but we all know that’s not the easiest task to accomplish. So the “Lake Show” has gone awol and they’re trying to piece everything together. In the same building they play in, are the rival Clippers. This was the year that the Clippers had the better record in Los Angeles, and the edge in head-to-head contests. Star point guard Chris Paul sounds like he will sign an extension, but that remains to be seen. You can’t deny the fact that Lob City traded several young core players to acquire CP3 and turn their fortunes around. These Clippers aren’t looking up to anybody in the standings, not even looking back at the cellar they once called home because they have arrived. As have the Golden State Warriors, a team in a sports town that is the Bay Area. They have a superstar guard on the rise in Steph Curry, all-star big man David Lee, and Curry’s other half of the splash brothers, Klay Thompson. With a masterful motivator in Coach Mark Jackson, the best shooting backcourt in basketball, and a solid mix of youth (Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green) and veterans (Andrew Bogut, Jarrett Jack), I bet most would not recall the last time the Warriors were relevant.

A team like the Dallas Mavericks, who won a championship a couples years ago and have been in the finals twice in the past decade didn’t even make the postseason and they got swept last year (by OKC). The Utah Jazz made a playoff appearance last year, but despite being neck and neck all season for a spot, they came up short. This time around they were replaced by Golden State and Houston, two teams that have made themselves relevant again after some success in the 1990s (Warriors were good, Rockets won back-to-back titles).

And last but not least, my favorite to win the West and reach the NBA Finals, the Memphis Grizzlies. That’s right, Memphis, definitely known for basketball, right? They are certainly clicking at the right time, with the biggest and the baddest inside the paint. Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol, is showing those that don’t know his game that he can do it all. You see guys like Mike Conley stepping up, while Zack Randolph has been doing his thing, all this after trading all-star swingman Rudy Gay. They couldn’t keep everyone in tact under the cap and on the court, but so far so good as they lead OKC in the second round.

How about these faces over in the Eastern conference? The average fan might know half of these players before the playoffs started, at best.

Everybody knows the King of the Court, at least since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and has earned his fourth MVP award. Miami is the powerhouse of not only the East, but the entire league. Yes, that’s the team with Dwyane wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, and Chris Andersen. Chris Andersen? Oh, excuse me, as the future Hall of Fame player and current TNT Analyst, Shaq would say, “Birdman, Birdman!” That’s the team to beat, they are the defending champions, you know who they are.

Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. This storied franchise has the roster makeup of players who should be in NY, if you are familiar with their styles of play you could agree: Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd. Whether they win or not is one thing, but the shoe fits them. The media is happier when NY is successful, and they just got past the first round of the playoffs.

Trickling down the list, the Indiana Pacers put themselves on the map the past couple of years. The one player you might have known about coming into the season, all-star forward Danny Granger, was sidelined due to injury. There’s a new sheriff in town by the name of Paul George, winner of the Most Improved Player of the Year award. The front office has done a remarkable job of rebuilding, and you can tell they play and get their identity from coach Frank Vogel. Again, not a big market and they’re finding consistent success.

Teams you are more familiar with, the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls, they’ve been a fixture in the postseason but its the blue-collar work ethic that makes some root for them like underdogs. With the Celtics, you have memories of Paul Pierce willing Boston to victories, which is why they call him “The Truth,” while Kevin Garnett was nicknamed the “Big Ticket” playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves and winning an MVP award. With an eclectic and magnetic personality in coach Doc Rivers, and the injury to Rajon Rondo, some were hoping that the emergence of Jeff Green and Avery Bradley could upset the Knicks.

Everyone and their mother, Happy Mother’s Day by the way, has heard about the Chicago Bulls and former MVP Derrick Rose’s anticipated comeback. Let’s not beat a dead horse here, Rose became a household name but consider the team right before your eyes in these playoff games. Nate Robinson is a household name, from winning two Slam Dunk contests to leading the Bulls past the Nets in a seven game series, the little engine that could gives dreamers a slogan to live by, heart over height! A physical team that rebounds and defends as good as any other team, also displays unselfish offense and former Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau, has given players and coaches a blueprint for success at any competitive level. Even if the physicality elevates into some mind games and questionable fouls, that’s just how it goes between rivals and that’s playoff basketball. It would be at its finest if Chicago wasn’t so banged up, if the Heat actually played again their full team, but nonetheless, they don’t play pretty but it’s hard to root against them unless you hopped on the Miami bandwagon.

The Western Conference may be deeper, but the teams in the East are behind an 8-ball because Miami is a clear-cut powerhouse and favorite. Which is where the pretenders come in, but its great that they made the playoffs. The Nets just moved to Brooklyn, and although their run ended in bitter fashion, they have a bright future as attention turns to who the next head coach will be. The Milwaukee Bucks will continue shuffling players until they can take that next step and improve internally. One of their exciting guards might not be around for long, between Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but they’ve quietly formed a foundation build on. Atlanta, I don’t understand how they don’t attract more players, but aside from the point, they are consistently a middle-seeded team in the playoffs. Remaining a constant is better than missing out, however they just might have the assets and financial ability to take a leap into the upper echelon.

All in All

Nothing against the bigger cities and franchises like Lakers and Knicks, because they were underdogs in their own right this season, and not to take anything away from Boston and Chicago going through adversity, or the powerhouse that is the Heat favored to repeat. Not to brush the Spurs under the rug because they never truly get the attention they deserve anyway, its just great to see other franchises like the Clippers , Warriors, Nuggets, Grizzlies, and Pacers excel with consistency and possibly being championship contenders. Its cool to see the Bucks enter the picture and for the Nets, they have a playoff team in the first year they call Brooklyn home.  The Rockets have gone through a similar drought the Bulls went through in the 2000s.

Teams that suffered multiple injuries, like the Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers, could give their fans something to root for by competing for playoff spots next season. You could throw Utah in that category. Some other teams that would benefit from the health factor alone are the New Orleans Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Washington Wizards.

Parity doesn’t always translate to the championship picture, unless the Grizzlies and Warriors make even more noise, but jockeying for playoff position will bring balance in the standings and place a greater urgency on the regular season. For a few years now, the season hasn’t meant much and you could basically fast-forward to the postseason because you generally dispersed the pretenders from the contenders.