Every week a group of writers from the Bad Man Bureau will discuss several topics regarding both the NBA and basketball at large with quick, paragraph-long responses. After taking a break last week, we’re back to discuss the first round of the playoffs now that they have ended. With the punishment from commissioner Adam Silver announced against Donald Sterling, we’ll also be talking about how this event might impact the Los Angeles Clippers’s future. The panel for this edition of the Fastbreaks column are Andrew Greer, Jordan Wolf, John Walker, and Jeremy Lucas.
Question 1: What has been the most exciting playoff series?
Andrew G: I know that the Houston-Portland series has been thrilling for each and every game, but unfortunately, my schedule has prevented me from being able to watch all of each game, so I haven’t seen every moment. So with that being said, I’ll go with the San Antonio-Dallas series as my most exciting. There’s nothing like seeing two old rivals once again clash in the playoffs, and Dirk and Tim are showing that they can still command respect even as they approach the twilight of their respective basketball careers. Throw on top of that the two best coaches in the game, including a combination of Rick Carlisle’s defensive schemes restricting San Antonio’s offense and Gregg Popovich working out a way to get his collective team out of their funk, and you have a series that has been great. The fact that we were guaranteed seven games of this will only increased the tension and excitement, even if Game 7 was a dud.
Jordan: The Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets series was the most exciting for me. Each game was a high scoring/exciting affair, with tumultuous twists and turns for both sides throughout. I went into the series hoping Portland could at least take the Rockets to game 6 or 7, as I thought Dwight Howard and James Harden could make some serious noise in the playoffs. However, we instead got to see LaMarcus Aldridge with a historic first two games, Damian Lillard become a household name, and it get capped off by a game winner by Lillard that will be in Blazers hype videos for years to come.
John: What’s better than 3 high scoring overtime games and a game-winning 3 pointer to clinch the series? Portland/Houston has been the most eye-catching series of many in this year’s playoffs. Trail Blazer forward LaMarcus Aldridge started the series at an unconscious level, recording numbers reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki while Houston’s star 2-guard James Harden struggled mightily throughout the series. Even with the odds against Houston down 3-1, the series had not quite felt over until Lillard effectively put the nail in the coffin with 0.9 seconds left in Game 6. If there is a first round series in recent history that could challenge the Bulls/Celtics series of 2009, Lillard and the Trail Blazers would be at the forefront.
Jeremy: I love all of the playoff series this NBA year; however if I were to choose one series out of all of them, I would choose the Warriors vs Clippers series. These two teams strongly dislike each other; the fans hate each other, NorCal versus SoCal, Warriors fans chanting BEAT L.A, all the famous and well-known people who pack Staples Center each game, etc. I could go on and on, I mean what else couldn’t you like about his Californian State battle for basketball supremacy?
Question 2: Which playoff series has been most surprising?
Andrew G: I have to go with the San Antonio-Dallas series here again. The other series all had fairly telling signs; Washington and Atlanta either won or tied their season series against their respective competition; Portland boasts one of the best offenses in the league, and Oklahoma City and Memphis just a few years back played a long, drawn-out slugfest in the playoffs. San Antonio, though, boasts an elite-level offense and defense as opposed to Dallas’s elite defense and below-average defense. San Antonio had one 10 straight meetings against Dallas as well. But from watching the games, you would think it was the other way around; Dallas looked better on offense and defense for much of the series, while San Antonio flipped between being unable to score, being unable to stop anyone, and being unable to take care of the basketball. There’s a very good chance that San Antonio could have been swept in this series, but they gutted out the series somehow. Did Dallas find the key to stopping the Spurs, or did the Spurs just get in their own way?
Jordan: There is no answer besides Indiana/Atlanta. At the beginning of the playoffs I expected the Pacers and Heat to get through their first round series in 4 or 5 games, and then actually have a challenge in the 2nd round. Instead, the Pacers came very close to getting bounced by the sub-.500 7 seed Hawks. Paul George is a different player. Roy Hibbert has disappeared. George Hill is getting into fights. Something is wrong with this Pacers team. They should’ve been able to shut down a team lead by Paul Millsap, because, after all, Hibbert is the best rim protector in the league, right? Wrong. Millsap had an impressive series, and Jeff Teague played well also. Even though the favorite came out on top, this was a very surprising series.
John: I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to my 4-1 prediction favoring of Indiana versus the Horford-less Atlanta Hawks. Indiana, a team that was once considered the only team standing between Miami and a 4th consecutive trip to the NBA Finals entering the 2013-14 season, have imploded from within. But for as much as the focus has been on the Pacers, much credit should go to the Atlanta Hawks. Millsap has been nothing short of excellent in this series and Atlanta have played quality defense through this 7 game stretch. Offensively, the Hawks continue to space the floor (and essentially render 7’2 center Roy Hibbert useless). It was not until Game 7 when Indiana had made a cohesive and dominate game, closing out the series with an emphatic 12-point win to face the Wizards in the Quarterfinals.
Jeremy: The obvious answer here is the Pacers vs Hawks series. Roy Hibbert with his disappearing acts throughout this entire series, getting blown out at YOUR home court, your fans booing the hell out of you… I could go on, however I’m not going to say this series. No, I am looking at the Nets v Raptors series as the surprising one.
A lot of people–including myself–thought that the veteran leadership, playoff experience and championship mentality of both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were going to teach the young and inexperienced Toronto Raptors a lesson on playing basketball ball during the months of April – June; unfortunately for them and for us fans, we were wrong. The Raptors are no push over and with the support of their fans in the Great White North, they are letting the league on notice.
Question 3: Which coach of a team in the playoffs is most in danger of losing his job?
Andrew G: Frank Vogel has almost certainly all but been handed a pink slip at this point, so I’m going to go with the coach whose gameplan–or lack thereof–has come to a near-breaking point. Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is being shown not only as a below-average but possibly one of the worst head coaches in the league when it comes to creating an offensive strategy that works. It’s a testament to the wonders of having the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant that the Thunder don’t toil in mediocrity on offense. Without Kevin Durant on the court, Oklahoma City’s effective Field Goal percentage drops from 52.7%, which would have been fourth in the league during the regular season, to 49.2%, a mark that would have placed the Thunder alongside some playoff teams known to struggle in scoring–right between Memphis and Indiana. And with Durant struggling against Memphis’s multiple defenders (chief among them Tony Allen), we’re seeing just how uncreative and ineffective Brooks’s offense is. Memphis players have said that all they need to do is stop the first action, and the Thunder have no idea what to do next. Too often Oklahoma City’s offense devolves into “If you can shoot the ball, shoot it. If not, give it to Westbrook or Durant to shoot it.”, which is turning into a recipe for ugly, inefficient basketball against the Grizzlies. We’ve seen this kind of lack of ingenuity appear before under Brooks’s tenure, but he’s been able to get away with it due to either the team not being considered a championship contender yet or Westbrook’s injury last year. He doesn’t have that kind of excuse this year, and should the Thunder crash out early in the playoffs, I wonder if ownership thinks it’s time to move on.
Jordan: Scott Brooks. He’s been on the tentative hot seat for a while now, with fans calling for him to be canned…but they keep winning. A matchup with Memphis in the first was bogus, as, if you take away injuries, the Grizzlies are easily a top 5 team in the West. Brooks has been criticized by many, and rightfully so. Several offensive and defensive inconsistencies plagued the Thunder in that series, and Brooks is likely to blame for many of them. Plus, there are rumors that Kevin Durant is unhappy with Brooks, and GM Sam Presti likely will do whatever his superstar player wants, to an extent. Similar to Indiana, the Thunder were able to pull out a first round victory, but Brooks’ seat is still hot as ever.
John: With rumors swirling that Vogel is in a do-or-die situation for not only the series against the Hawks, but any potential future series up to the NBA Finals (should they advance), Frank Vogel’s seat may be the hottest. The pressure is eased with a Game 7 win, but if the team continues to display the same lack of cohesiveness on the offensive end and poor body language that was present against Atlanta, the temperature on Vogel’s seat might dial up again. The Pacers finished the season at a mere 16-14 post All-Star break to close out the regular season. Add in a mix of in-house altercations and evident lack of chemistry late in the season, and Vogel’s job security may not be as secure as initially assumed.
Jeremy: Easily Mark Jackson: the amount of scrutiny he has had to face this entire season including these playoffs is at an incredible high. You can blame the high standard the Warriors fan base has placed on this team for a Western Conference Finals or bust type of season. You can blame management from the reports you hear about coach Jackson publically firing then-assistant coach Brian Scalabrine, only to be demoted to the D-League, the reports of Darren Erman secretly recording conversations between players and coaches, and the reports of Jackson telling NBA legend Jerry West, a high-level adviser for the Warriors, not attend most practices and team activities. You could blame the part of the country of where they play, the Bay Area, where MLB, NFL and NHL teams are all fighting for a championship in their respected sports. With all that said, if he is bounced in the 1st round, he could get the ax.
Question 4: How does the NBA’s investigation–and subsequent sanctions of owner Donald Sterling–affect the Clippers franchise going forward?
Andrew G: Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Donald Sterling from all NBA activities, essentially turning him into someone who just reaps the benefits of being an NBA owner without the public exposure while also calling for Sterling to sell the team. Even with the votes from the other owners (which, by all reports, appears to be a unanimous decision), this is going to be a long, drawn out process. My belief is that the impending ownership issue for the Clippers (not the one that Sterling is a racist, the one that the franchise isn’t quite sure who’s in charge) is going to have an impact on the team, but it doesn’t do much harm the team. Doc Rivers will stay on as coach and general manager. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are locked up long-term, and the team still controls the fates of rotation pieces like Jamal Crawford, JJ Redick, and Deandre Jordan. Honestly, there’s little that will hurt the team in the short-term. Free agency might become much more difficult if Donald Sterling is still clinging to ownership, but the team already has a solid foundation going forward.
Jordan: I’d say its positive for the Clippers. Sterling has been considered one of the worst owners in all four major professional sports for a while, purposely fielding bad teams with the intent of simply making money. Instead, now the Clippers are “up for sale” assuming the NBA is successful in making Sterling sell. Many potential owners such as Magic Johnson’s Dodgers group and boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. have sprung up, so it is certain that the team will have no trouble being sold. In addition to the owner rumors, many people have speculated that this could mean a return of basketball to Seattle. This is unlikely, as I doubt Adam Silver and company would allow a team to relocate because of the league taking action. Overall, Sterling’s exodus pleased many Clippers fans, and should be beneficial for the franchise going forward.
John: This will likely become a long, drawn-out process between the NBA and Donald Sterling. The future of the Clippers is largely undetermined because of the probable lawsuit Sterling will place against the league and, if Silver’s holds true in court, the next owner of the Clippers has yet to be decided. Depending on the time of resolution, players and coaches within the organization may still be malcontent with Sterling still having ownership of the team until he is forced to sell, if that indeed comes to pass. But until we know the answers of some of the major question marks going forward, the Clippers future is still TBD.
Jeremy: For the playoffs, this will rally its players and its fans to help them get past this troubling period during their season and motivate them to play and come closer as a team. Going forward, I believe that the Clippers organization–and the NBA as well–will best utilize this moment as a time to educate those who are not familiar with the events that have happened. As for the impact on the game, the Clippers should be just fine. They will still be the organization that have turned the corner into a winning culture, looking for its first Championship in franchise history. This could be the turning point this team could look back on if they win it all.