Boston. Celtics. The two are intertwined like peanut butter and jelly and can be just as tasty, especially if you’re into watching a once great franchise not win a championship. Danny Ainge is the Svengali and Brad Stevens the ringmaster of the current show and so far not so good. Expensive offseason acquisition Al Horford suffered a concussion and consequently has missed some games. Key piece Jae Crowder got hurt and has also missed some games. The Celts are trying to win a title with the same model that rarely wins titles – a lot of very good players but no superstar. The last team to win a championship this way was the Pistons in 2004. That team was coached by Larry Brown, one of the seven greatest coaches in NBA history. Is Stevens as good as Brown? Is his team tough enough to make Cleveland, Toronto, and whoever else bubbles up in the East sweat bullets?
Kemba Walker is a phenomenal player and his team the Hornets has some other very nice pieces. Michael Jordan owns this team and either gives his head coaches short leashes or, once he realizes somebody isn’t working out, won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. While Jordan was winning titles he was coached by another top seven coach in Phil Jackson and flanked by the legendary Scottie Pippen, some very good players, and some very smart role players. Those Bulls teams were fueled by defense and by Jordan’s nonpareil offensive skills and desire to win. This Hornets team, as deep and as seemingly well constructed as it is, doesn’t have the supporting cast necessary to lift Kemba to Michael’s championship level.
Memphis looked good Wednesday night while beating the Clippers. The Grizzlies are very well constructed and have some nice young players to complement a roster that had grown stagnant. Mike Conley, the team’s point guard, signed a max contract that pays him an unbelievable amount of money. Conley’s no spring chicken and lacks Westbrook’s explosiveness and Harden’s flair. At his best he’s much more than solid and can hurt teams in a number of ways. He can play good defense, shoot the three, pass, and penetrate, and he is quick. The Grizzlies bet that he’ll lead them to where they want to go. With this roster they won’t get there because they’re in the formidable West. If they were in the East they’d give Cleveland and Toronto very tough times and getting to the Finals out of the East wouldn’t be a shock. A very nice surprise on this team is the continued excellent play by the ageless Vince Carter who was once compared to Jordan and that comparison is always foolish and demeaning to the person making it.
Gregg Popovich, another top 7 coach, likes to talk about societal issues, drink wine, and disparage media members. The media has deified him and helped him make many millions of dollars yet because he is who he is he treats reporters with contempt and disdain. Gregg instituted and popularized the practice of resting players for complete regular season games with the reasoning that these players would be less likely to get hurt and more likely to be fresh during the playoffs. This practice is so widespread and common that LeBron James sat out an entire game on Wednesday to rest his already tired self.
Since fully implementing his vision and probably not coincidentally, Gregg’s teams have won but one title since 2007 and gagged away a championship to the Heat a few years ago. In 2015 his fresh, healthy, and rested team got bounced out in the first round of the playoffs by, of all teams, the Clippers.
The solution to the problem of trying to keep players healthy and fresh for the playoffs is of course to have players practice less and to play fewer minutes during games. The noxious and repellent practice of resting players for entire games treats fans who pay great money to see Popovich’s players, LeBron, and others play like pawns in a game they can’t win. This innovation demeans those who let and make players do this, the players involved, and the NBA. A commissioner acting like a strong leader like Kenesaw Mountain Landis or Teddy Roosevelt who once wanted to ban football would have stopped this practice in its tracks. Alas former commissioner David Stern had grown fat and comfortable when Pop sprung it on us and current leader Adam Silver likes making a lot of money, enjoys burnishing the league’s brand, and doesn’t want to make waves. We are all worse off for it and somebody must stop it from continuing.
This piece was written by Jim Swigart. Jim has been seriously writing for at least eight years and previously wrote about music for a now defunct online magazine for about two years. Jim briefly blogged about sports for an online site and currently blogs weekly about sports on his own site.
His academic background is in business and math. He has done numerous work tasks besides writing. My interests include exercise, sports, music, and politics.