1. Was that the best Finals you ever watched?
Jack Winter: Unequivocally, yes. It was the best playoff series I’ve ever seen.
Jared Dubin: Yes.
Derek James: That I have ever watched? Possibly. The ’98 Finals may have been better since it had fewer blowouts in the middle of the series (excluding game three, of course), but other than that it just might be.
Amin Vafa: Yes, yes, yes. Riveted every minute.
Eric Maroun: It’s so tempting due to recency bias to call that the best Finals I’ve ever seen but…OK yeah that was the best Finals I’ve ever seen. It was the two best teams in the NBA going at each other for the maximum number of games that a playoff series can possibly go. It was old guard vs. new guard. It was filled with iconic moments throughout. It was, in short, perfect.
Noam Schiller: Yes. Was too young to fully process those Bulls-Jazz series, and nothing since has come close.
Ananth Pandian: It was phenomenal to watch but stressful for me as I was rooting hard for the Spurs to win.
In recent memory, Dirk winning in the 2011 Finals will always be one of my favorites as he was just unbelievable that series.
Jordan White: Yes. Unequivocally.
2. What was the overriding theme of the season?
Jack: Basketball is smarter and better on both ends of the floor than it’s ever been before.
Jared: The battle of big vs. small. A lot of this season felt like a war for basketball’s soul, with teams like the Heat, Knicks, Rockets, Nuggets and (far too infrequently) Thunder blitzing defenses by going “small” with players who had traditionally played the 3-spot at power forward, while others like the Pacers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Clippers and Spurs mostly stuck to two traditional big men. The conference finals made it momentarily appear as though the small ball trend was about to die off just as quickly as it rose up, but when the Heat and Spurs met in the Finals, both teams shifted down in the back half of the series, and it resulted in beautiful, brilliant basketball. It’s fitting that the last two teams standing were two of the only ones that could easily shift back and forth between lineups featuring two “traditional” bigs and one, while mostly remaining equally effective. It’s even more fitting that the team that started the revolution in the first place was the one that prevailed.
Derek: The guys above me gave some good ones, but health was certainly an overriding theme to the season. The Timberwolves had a promising season derailed by injury and we also saw teams hurt by key absences such as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant and several others as well. You look at these Finals and the fact that the Heat and the Spurs somehow managed to be both the best teams and the healthiest teams, and that made a lot of the difference.
Amin: I think the theme of this season was “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This was a year filled with such uncertainty. I mean, yes, if you had to pick a team before the season began to win the NBA title, you’d have picked the Heat. Would you have imagined, though, that it would have ended the way it had? We all thought it was going to be a SuperTeam Lakers vs a SuperTeam Miami Finals, with everyone else in the league being roadkill. What we saw was something completely different. All of the predictions and assumptions I had at the beginning of the year were completely worthless as I watched the season progress. The Harden trade, the Spurs dominance, the Lakers fall from grace (not that they were really graceful), Indiana’s season, the New York Knickerbockers Retirement Community, the Maloofs going bye-bye, the Wizards having a top-10 defense all year, the Cavs picking first in the draft again, the 750 coach firings… I couldn’t have predicted any of it. And I’m so glad I got to see it all.
Eric: Injuries are the worst. Between Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, Irving, Love, Granger, etc. all missing significant time this year, you can’t help but wonder what incredible moments we were robbed of between those guys. In his last year as commissioner, David Stern should really turn the injuries off NBA 2K style.
Noam: 5 years after the Celtics rode completely new defensive principals to the title, those same ideals are either the backbone or supporting tenants of every self sufficient defensive team. Much like the SSoL Suns turning the league into a pick-and-roll, spread offense place, Tom Thibodeau has created a world where pick-and-roll spread offenses are just not enough. I’m fascinated to see where NBA offenses evolve to in the following years as a counterstrike.
Ananth: The Heat are very good. LeBron’s statistical brilliance and their 27 game winning streak seems so far away now but it did actually happen.
Jordan: Smarter basketball. Teams like the Heat, the Pacers, the Spurs and the Nuggets showed what happens when you eschew convention and embrace intelligence.
3. What was your favorite under the radar story of the season?
Jack: It’s not exactly under the radar and relates back to the previous question, but more teams realizing the expected efficiency of certain shots and tailoring offense and defensive strategy to get, limit, prevent and force them.
Jared: The sheer volume of young, athletic wings that blossomed into stars or sub-stars. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard announced themselves as likely All-Stars for the next half decade or so. Nic Batum, Jimmy Butler, Iman Shumpert, Harrison Barnes, Chandler Parsons, and others I’m probably forgetting made convincing arguments that they belong in the next tier, whether with strong regular season play, breakout playoff performances, or both. If the last five years brought the point guard revolution, the next five will bring the wings.
Derek: This may not be very under the radar, but people appreciating teams like the Golden State Warriors or Indiana Pacers that they hadn’t really been exposed to before. Neat to share in even the casual fans’ newfound admiration for guys like Klay Thompson and Paul George although many of us had those players on our radars already.
Amin: That Miami wasn’t invincible and their victory wasn’t preordained. That’s a story that we saw play out until the last 30 seconds last night. Miami may have won, but they fucking earned it and fought for it. They had a lot of challengers–most importantly Indiana and San Antonio–and the fact that they weren’t invincible made them all the more intriguing to watch.
Eric: That David Stern managed to rig the NBA championship again for the 29th consecuti…*is electrocuted*. But for real, and maybe it’s because I got to see a ton of them due to living in Indianapolis, but the Pacers were really under the radar this year. I don’t feel like anyone really appreciated how good this team was until they pushed the Heat to the brink in the Conference Finals. For a team to be that good with a team constructed the way they were, that is without a high draft pick on their entire roster, was incredibly fun to see.
Noam: I wish there was actually a story of Michael Beasley doing NSFW things under an actual radar so I could make a bad joke, here. But since there isn’t, I’ll go with the re-emergence of the big man in a supposedly centerless world. Even before Roy Hibbert’s excellent conference Finals, we saw excellent regular seasons from Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Al Horford, LARRY SANDERS! and Joakim Noah. Andrew Bogut finally looked healthy in the playoffs and affected things dramatically. Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas had very encouraging rookie seasons. It’s easy to call it a PG’s league with all the depth the position has, but the big men we have are awesome, even if posting up has become harder and harder against swarming defenses.
Ananth: This happened near the end of the season but John Wall got the Wizards to be a pretty good team in the East. Am interested to see how the Wizards continue to improve with a healthy Wall and another high draft pick next season.
Jordan: The emergence of several young defensive stars: Marc Gasol, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LARRY SANDERS!
Jack: Treatment befitting the sports world’s only king.
Jared: It was great right up until Drake started talking. Even the Phil Knight cameo was cool.
Derek: Ugh, Drake? Anyway, considering how people have been talking about him for the past few years I think it’s a pretty bold move to put a phone number of his up there, but it’s probably not going to be any worse than his Twitter mentions. Anything featuring Bill Russell is automatically awesome to me, too.
Amin: Hahahaha what an awesome ad. And they included a phone number in the description so anyone could call and leave a message? That’s some badass marketing, Nike.
Eric: I would pay all of the money to see Warren Buffett’s hook shot.
Noam: Bill Russell’s second (third? Fourth? Fifth?) career as curmudgeony NBA old guy in commercials is hilarious to me. Although, this one is much more in character than him telling Uncle Drew that the game is about buckets.
Ananth: Simple and beautiful but am curious where they picked up a pristine old school answering machine from. Are answering machines going to make a comeback like vinyl?
Jordan: LeBron has made countless of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why is his answering machine from the 1970’s?
5. Where do the Spurs go from here?
Jack: Right back near the top of every preseason forecast for 2014. This group is hardly done yet, and Kawhi Leonard making even greater strides towards reaching his newly limitless potential is the development that could get San Antonio right back to where they were before Game 7.
Jared: I really, really hope they just run it back one more time. They came too close not to. But I can’t help but feel like the team will look at least a little bit different next season. Pop’s rotation was cut down to about 6.5 guys by the end of the series, so new blood is likely to be infused. Splitter’s a free agent, and he might go get paid elsewhere. Gary Neal and Matt Bonner are free agents, too. Manu… well, we’ll get to that. The starting five probably will be back, and so will Pop, but Budenholzer won’t, and the bench could have a bunch of new characters.
Derek: It looks like they’ll have some cap space, so they might be able to make some moves or bring back the guys that they want to, which will help. I don’t think this is when you blow it up as long as you have a healthy Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, but I think they can still stay the course since there are many other Western Conference teams like Denver, Oklahoma City, and Memphis that are facing some big changes this offseason that may keep San Antonio in the hunt for another year.
Amin: To their cryo-freeze chambers? I dunno. They’re going to have to assess a couple of things on their roster–Manu possibly retiring as the biggest one. I mean, they did everything right. This whole series came down to one possession here or one possession there. San Antonio just has to trust the process that got them this far… and then do a bunch of flagrant fouls. So I guess they need some bruisers like they used to have?
Eric: They’ll use their cap space wisely, find an absolute diamond in the rough with the 28th pick, and reel off a 51-31 season next year because of course they will.
Noam: I believe they give Manu a short, small deal that expires with Duncan’s contract (something to the tune of 2 years 10 million), and then either re-sign Tiago Splitter, or, if he gets too much on the open market (and I think he will), go for a free agent second big. Personally, I’m rooting for Paul Millsap. Then they try and get another guard for cheap and count on continued internal improvement, mostly Kawhi-related.
Ananth: Greg Popovich will always have the same plan, “I get them on the bus. It arrives at the ramp over here. We get off the bus. We go on the court, and we play.”
Jordan: They’ll be fine. The only player they/we should really worry about is Manu Ginobili, whose history of bumps and bruises is unfortunately catching up with him. Luckily, Kawhi Leonard is a star in the making, and will likely take a more prominent role in the offense next year.
6. Who is Miami’s biggest challenger next season?
Jack: I’ll cheat – these very Spurs and the looming Thunder.
Jared: In the East – Indiana. In the West…. well, it depends how free agency shakes out, and how long it takes Russell Westbrook’s knee to heal.
Derek: Themselves? A healthy NBA? No, I’m going to say themselves. The Heat have Birdman, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, and Mike Miller who are all vets in their mid-30s that they were key parts to this championship team that they will need to figure out if they can stay healthy andproductive for another season. Figuring out how to conserve Dwyane Wade so he can remain healthy and productive will be integral to their chances next year as well, and so will finding a way to get Chris Bosh involved more just in case anything I mentioned above goes wrong.
Yeah, the Pacers will be back next season, and still should be tough, but they also have matters to address this offseason and the Heat have beaten them two postseasons in a row. Even though the Thunder and Bulls will be healthy you still have to like the Heat’s odds going into next season. Of course, a lot could change through the draft, trades, and free agency, so a dark horse could eventually emerge, but as of now the Heat are their biggest challengers for next season.
Amin: I’m going to say Indiana. They’re on the up-and-up. All they need to do is beef up their bench a bit, and they’re good to go. Especially since all of the scotch tape holding Wade’s joints together will probably peel away by the next time they see each other in the playoffs.
Eric: Indiana, provided they are able to bring back David West. Oklahoma City, provided Westbrook is healthy. And a hypothetical team that somehow manages to land both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul this summer.
Noam: Can I wait to see where Dwight Howard is and how healthy he is? Because I think the answer could be Houston if the Dwightness aligns himself correctly. Ditto for Derrick Rose/Chicago’s offseason. Otherwise, usual suspects – OKC, Spurs again, Clippers (maybe?), Pacers (maybe?).
Ananth: Themselves, right? Be interesting to see what happens to their bench especially if Shane Battier and perhaps Mike Miller retires.
In the East right now it is the Pacers and in the West the vengeful Thunder and Spurs.
Jordan: The Pacers. They gave Miami a hell of a series, and seem to be best equipped to dethrone the Heat.
@JADubin5 As we watched Manu fall apart before our very eyes, is this it? Is Ginobli finished?
— Chris Barnewall (@ChrisJandB) June 21, 2013
Jack: God, let’s all hope not. I was openly pulling for Manu down the stretch, trying to will errant passes to his teammates and stray shots through the net with audible cheers of encouragement. The league won’t feel right without him, and he showed a few fleeting glimpses in Game 7 of the player we’ll all remember him as. Manu can’t go out like this, and I don’t think he will.
Jared: I hope not, but I fear he might be. The last two games were just so sad. I’d hate for him to go out that way, but he just looked exhausted. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hang up his kicks for good.
Derek: Finished as the Ginobili that we’ve long-known, yes. He’s 35 years old, missed 32 and 22 games the last two seasons, no longer a starter, and his diminishing production makes it hard to keep playing him even 25 minutes per game anymore. Perhaps the Spurs can still extract some more out of him by diminishing his role further and hoping that Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green can step up to make up for it.
Amin: No. The thing I liked most about Ginobili in this series was that he was basically the counterpart to Wade. Both of those guys have bodies that betray their spirits, and they’re going to (have to) figure out ways to preserve themselves. I think they can both do it.
Eric: I want to say no in the worst way possible but yes, I think this is the end of the line for him. These last two games were so hard to watch. I was nervous for the Spurs every time he set foot on the court Tuesday and Thursday. He may continue to play another season or two, but he’s finished as far as being a guy you can count on as part of San Antonio’s Big 3 is concerned.
Noam: I don’t think he’s finished, but I expect a diminished role from him going forward. He can still contribute – his “horrendous” Game 7 was an 18-3-5 affair on 12 shots – but he can no longer consistently fill the role of secondary creator offensively.
Ananth: Ginobili won’t stop playing until the fat man sings and since the NBA on TNT won’t return till next season, Manu will still be around.
Jordan: I can’t answer this question right now. It’s too tough to see such a brilliant and creative player decline so sharply. I don’t think he’s finished, but I don’t think he improves from his current state. Maybe, at the beginning of the season, we’ll see some vintage Manu, but the toll of an 82 game season may be too much.
8. Describe your personal season at HP in exactly six words.
Jack: “Better to be timely than good.”
Jared: I hope we didn’t embarrass Matt.
Derek: Excuse me, I’m new around here.
Amin: Started from the bottom; now we’re here.
Eric: Lion Face, Lemon Face, 15 Footers.
Noam: I don’t understand what’s going on.
Jordan: Awesome Thanks Connect Four Beef Magnet
@JADubin5 no one has went to the finals 4 straight times since the mid 80s Celtics, so will the Heat join this list or not?
— Ryan Rodriguez (@filosofiser) June 21, 2013
Jack: Yes. They’ll get another dogged fight from Indiana and Chicago remains a potential sleeping giant, but betting against LeBron James these days seems unwise.
Jared: Sigh. Yeah. Fuck Pat Riley, man.
Derek: It’s not LeBron I’m worried about being up for the challenge of a fourth consecutive trip. No, I’m more concerned about their role players being able to help them get back there. Obviously, they’ll still be a great team, but with the age of many of their key players (Allen, Birdman, Miller…etc.), as well as keeping Dwyane Wade healthy for another long run, the Heat do have some strategizing to do. If their vets can stay productive and healthy while LeBron keeps doing other worldly things, then they can get back here again.
Amin: I think this depends on Wade’s health and Bosh’s contributions. But it’s definitely possible.
Eric: Can we wait til we see how free agency and the draft shakes out first before answering? Oh this post is going up in an hour or so? OK then. Then yes, yes they will.
Noam: It’s so, so early to answer that question… but since our society requires immediate reactions I’ll go out on a limb and say yes.
Ananth: Probably, but it depends on so many factors, didn’t most of the general public think the Thunder were going to be in the Finals again this year?
Jordan: Yes, but I say that with a very low confidence level. The Pacers could very well be the Roy Hibbert-manned wall that prevents the Heat from their fourth straight appearance.