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On the Heat, Leonard, and McGrady

  • I’m so relieved that the Heat managed to hold on and win the title.  It means we’re spared a summer of trite platitudes reminding us of Lebron’s flaws.  I should also mention that I was amused by how what seemed like the entire internet (or at least my newsfeed on Facebook) picked the 4th quarter of Game 6 to triumphantly play the ‘Not Jordan’ card in all its effervescent profundity.  How’d that work out?
  • The most remarkable thing about Lebron isn’t his greatness or what he’s accomplished: it’s that he actually came into the league with these expectations thrust upon him.  Really, has there ever been anyone, in any field, that completely lived up to the hype?
  • Can we please give it a rest about the Kawhi Leonard blunder?  The Rockets obviously picked the wrong guy (having chosen Marcus Morris over him), but that’s never been in dispute.  The issue is that it doesn’t naturally follow, as most have assumed, that Leonard would have turned out the way that he has on any other team, particularly the Rockets.  Oh, he still would have been a better player than Marcus Morris – that doesn’t take much.  But it’s no secret that the Spurs place unique emphasis upon player development in ways that other organizations cannot afford.  Their young guys get the reps and are able to learn to play the game the right way and that in turn leads to results.  Which brings me to my next point…

  • The Spurs are amazing; Tony Parker is amazing; Pop is amazing; Duncan is amazing; Kawhi has arrived.  This is all irrefutable.  But can we stop evaluating everything in a vacuum?  The Spurs—and everything related to the Spurs—are the Spurs because everything fit into place perfectly in ways unprecedented in the modern era.  You had a transcendent #1 pick fall into the lap of an already tailor-made championship supporting cast.  From there, a legacy was spawned.  Everything must be viewed from within that prism and its corresponding effects.  Take Pop: he’s amazing, I get that.  I’m not disputing that.  But it really bugs me when he’s discussed as some sort of infallible God, unmatched by his peers.  He’s able to do things that no one else can because of that aforementioned infrastructure.  Take a minute to read the Grantland piece on Tracy McGrady from yesterday.  (I thought the premise was unfair, but I digress.)  In it, it’s mentioned that McGrady didn’t learn the right values because they weren’t taught/stressed by his coaches.  And that’s really the point here about Pop.  He’s able to demand the ideal because he has that cache; Duncan has his back and if Duncan has already bought in, nothing else matters.  No one in modern history, even Phil Jackson, has had that luxury.  Look at it this way: let’s say you want your kids to be perfectly healthy and great at school or whatever.  So the ideal way of ensuring that occurrence is outright restricting their sugar/junk intake, making them take piano lessons from age 5, etc al.  But if you live in reality, you know that’ll never work.  Why?  Because the kids will rebel and the bubble will burst.  So you know you have to take the moderate ground and pick your battles.  I compare that to Pop.  He’s able to demand the bubble ideal because Duncan bought in.  He’s able to scream at the likes of Ginobili and Parker for minor errors—and consequently also younger players—demanding perfection, because Duncan bought in.  There’s no risk of rebellion because Duncan bought in.  It’s literally Pop’s way or the highway and that breeds the ideal and execution of the ideal.  Rumor had it that during his stint with the Rockets, Tracy McGrady was often allowed to rest on the sidelines during practice.  He certainly rested on the defensive end during games.  Why was this allowed?  Because Jeff Van Gundy knew he had to pick his battles.  He didn’t have total rule and knew he’d completely lose McGrady if he didn’t tread carefully.  That’s also the case with every other coach in the NBA.
  • There will be discussion in the coming months of the merits of the efficiency approach (in eschewing midrange jumpshots.)  I think a few points are being missed, however.  That a team should prefer close and long doesn’t necessarily mean that its individual players should neglect the midrange aspect of their game.  And this statement is not inconsistent with the overarching philosophy.  Seek out shots from close and long, because they are mathematically preferable, but when they are taken away (as we saw last night), resort to taking what is given (the midrange).  Why is the argument sprouting up that these paint-packing schemes are debunking the philosophy?  That close-range shots are being taken away doesn’t somehow mean they’re not preferable.  They’re still preferred and should be sought out (along with 3 pointers.)  You just need to also be able to hit midrange jumpers.  To that point, I hope James Harden was watching last night.  Too often last season, he was bottled up when the outside stroke wasn’t falling and the gimmick moves to the hoop weren’t working.
  • The Heat are very beatable and that is encouraging.  But it depends on how they reload this summer.  As Chris Mannix mentioned last night, the Greg Oden situation will be an interesting one to watch.  But Dwyane Wade is clearly on his last legs and no longer invincible.
  • A final note: I felt a certain sadness last night, at the culmination, watching Tracy McGrady extend congratulations to Lebron James and Dwyane Wade.  They weren’t the extended exchanges that you saw James/Wade partake in with Tim Duncan or often see take place between opposing stars after a series finish.  You know, the ones where they hug it out and are still talking and you can see the mutual respect – the type that you would have once expected for a man of McGrady’s stature.  No, it was just a quick, fleeting acknowledgment, the kind you’d give to someone like Matt Bonner.  But that’ s essentially what/who McGrady has become.  Even worse, through this Finals and playoff run, he’s been a punchline, a spectacle.  Late in blowouts, I’ve cringed when the home crowd has cheered for him to get a hoop, as if in the same manner one would encourage their 5-year-old brother.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  At the least, shouldn’t he have gone out with the same dignity as other greying stars riding the bench in the Finals?  I don’t remember anyone laughing when Mitch Richmond played out the last few seconds of the Lakers’ first title clincher.  But that’s just how it is and I guess it makes sense.  T-Mac is still just 34, a shell of an NBA player, yet a man who once was considered the very best the entire league had to offer.  That striking juxtaposition is really all that’s needed to make sense of the jeers.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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