NBA All-Decade Accolades
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So how’d you like that decade? Usually this time of year media relate the highlights of the previous year, though mostly because not much goes on around the holidays and we don’t have much else to say. This is a tougher time because it’s the end of a decade, though 1999 was more difficult as that was a century and I had to list my favorite two-handed set shooters.
We in Chicago head into the next basketball decade pretty much how we went into the last with an anticipation of a free agent bounty and hoping it doesn’t end the same way. The Bulls spent their cash and six draft picks and went 15-67. Ouch.
It was a much longer way down, however, as the Bulls recovered in 2004-05 and went on to have three terrific playoff years, losing a close series to the Wizards in 2005, getting bounced by eventual champion Miami in 2006 at a time the Bulls seemed on the verge of taking a 3-2 lead and then sweeping the defending champions the next season before losing in six games to the Pistons. The Bulls fell back in 2007-08 with a coaching change, but recovered last season to play in what most agree was one of the best playoff series of the decade, if not ever in the NBA in the seven-game seven-overtime classic the Bulls lost to the Celtics.
So we’ll start with that for a look at the NBA in the first decade of the 21st century:
-- Best Playoff Series: I probably go with the Lakers and Kings in 2002 for drama, the big Robert Horry shot, the controversy in the amazing foul disparity in favor of the Lakers for Game 6 and overtime for Game 7. The Bulls/Celtics probably may have been better sustained theater, though the stakes were less as the Lakers/Kings winner was going to sweep the overmatched Nets for the title. Runners up include some of the Spurs/Suns series, though the famous Horry cheap shot suspensions ranks high in 2007, the Mavs and Spurs in 2006 and the Trail Blazers blowing that 15-point lead in Game 7 to the Lakers in 2000.
-- Dramatic Shot: I go with Derek Fisher’s game winner with 0.4 left after the forgotten Tim Duncan falling away to the left shot that seemed to have won it in the 2004 conference semis. Duncan also made a memorable three to effectively end the Suns terrific run in the first round in 2008. Horry’s three to win it in Game 4 in 2002 when the Lakers were about to go down 3-1 is there also.
-- Biggest Story Involving MJ: It’s always MJ. So he came back again to play, amazingly enough, in 2001 for the Washington Wizards after becoming general manager. It was an unremarkable finish to Jordan’s storied career as the Wizards failed to make the playoffs twice and Jordan needed knee surgery, finally. But there were highlights, and one last 50 pointer with 51 against Charlotte Dec. 29, 2001.
-- Biggest Off Court Story: The brawl at the Palace in 2004. It was the lowlight of the decade as Indiana players led by Ron Artest went into the stands to fight fans in what became perhaps the worst brawl in the history of American professional team sports. Otherwise, there was Kobe’s assault charge and eventually dismissal and the Tim Donaghy claims, which seem to have turned out to be more imagination and guy talk than reality.
-- Best Individual Game: LeBron James scoring 25 straight points and 29 of his team’s last 30 in Game 5 of the 2007 conference finals as the Cavaliers went on to win in double overtime. Because of the stakes, it probably overtakes Kobe Bryant’s 81 points against Toronto in January 2006.
-- Biggest Upset: Warriors, who likely were the worst team of the decade along with the Clippers with one playoff appearance, beating defending conference champion Dallas in the 2007 opening round.
-- Worst Injury: Jay Williams’ motorcycle accident that effectively ended the career of the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft. There’s no reason he wouldn’t have been another Gilbert Arenas. Add to that Greg Oden’s knee problems which figure to derail a career many thought could rival David Robinson’s.
-- Feel Good Departure: The Spurs’ classy Robinson having a huge game with 13 points and 17 rebounds in the final game of the 2003 Finals to win the NBA title.
-- Clutch Player: Reggie Miller. Most of his actually were in the 1990s in those memorable series against the Knicks, and you’d probably pick Horry off the top of your head with the shots against the Kings and against the Pistons for the Spurs in 205 to keep the Pistons from repeating. But Miller’s a personal favorite and he had one great moment left when he almost eliminated the eventual conference champion Nets in the first round in 2002 in the final, Game 5, when he banked in a 40 footer to send the game into overtime and then dunked over three Nets to send the game into double overtime before the Nets won.
-- Jaw Dropping Highlight: It had to be the 2000 All-Star game in Golden State when Carter put on the most spectacular series of dunks anyone had seen before or since.
-- Worst Draft: Darko Milicic as the No. 2 overall pick in 2003 when the Pistons passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The Pistons got something of a pass for pulling off one of the top trades of the decade in getting Rasheed Wallace, then toxic, for Chucky Atkins, Lindsey Hunter, Zeljko Rebraca and Bobby Sura. It set up the Pistons championship in 2004. Which should earn its own heading as the Biggest Finals Upset over the Hall of Fame Lakers of 2004 with Kobe, Shaq, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
-- Biggest Trade: That would be what was the culmination of the Lakers collapse in 2004 when O‘Neal was traded to the Miami Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant, and the Heat went on to win the 2006 championship. That would be barely ahead of the twin Celtics killings of getting Ray Allen and then Kevin Garnett and a championship their first season together. You’d also put in there Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury, which got the Nets to the Finals twice and Pau Gasol to the Lakers, which made the Lakers champions last season and remains the biggest complaint among Western Conference coaches.
-- Biggest Collapse: That was when the Heat won the 2006 championship. The Mavericks would post the biggest collapse (choke?) when they were up 2-0 and leading by 13 in Game 3 in Miami. They lost that game, panicked, changed hotels, got into feuds with the media and league and spent the last few games watching Dwyane Wade shoot way too many free throws, which is probably why Mark Cuban has been a lot quieter since.
-- Worst Idea: A new microfiber basketball in 2006 that had most of the top players whining and complaining and soon was discarded and replaced with the old ball.
-- Biggest Rules Changes: The zone defense which has opened up the game and the limitation on the use of hands on the perimeter, which had made it a guard oriented game. I’m not thrilled with the latter as players thus come into the NBA more than ever pulling up for threes.
-- My Favorite Moment: Mo Cheeks bailing out little Natalie Gilbert forgetting the words to the national anthem before a Portland game in 2003.
-- Best Rant: Allen Iverson’s “practice” press conference in 2006. You know he was talking about practice.
-- Best Comeback: Alonzo Mourning from kidney disease and a kidney transplant to be a major contributor to the Heat’s championship.
-- Most Entertaining Regular Season Game: The Suns beat the Nets 161-157 in 2006 in the midst of the run of the most entertaining team of the decade. The Suns didn’t win the ultimate prize in the end, though I’ll always believe they would have if not for David Stern’s Worst Decision of the Decade to suspend Amare Stoudemire for leaving the bench to pick up fallen teammate Steve Nash, who was assaulted by Horry at the end of a Suns win in San Antonio with the series now tied 2-2 and heading back to Phoenix. Stern chose to follow the rule the league set up and thus reward the perpetrator. Still, the Suns provided more fun and inspiration than any team of the decade.
-- Best Free Agent Signing: Steve Nash. The Mavs let him go in 2004, inexplicably as Mark Cuban has always spent money. It was a fatal mistake and who knows what they would have been with Nash and Nowitzki. The Pistons also made up for that Darko pick with Billups in 2002 after he’d kicked around and he was Finals MVP in 2004. Among the worst were the Bulls with Ben Wallace, though it seemed to make sense at the time, Eddie Robinson, Jerome James and Larry Hughes.
-- Player of the Decade: Tim Duncan. Yes, we debate Kobe and LeBron, and Kobe is probably next in a tie with Shaq for that run of three titles between 2000 and 2002, including arguably the best team of the decade when the 2001 Lakers went 15-1 in the playoffs. But Duncan had much less help and endured and made big shots as well. You have to add Steve Nash to that list with back to back MVPs.
-- All-Decade Team: Nash, Kobe, Garnett, Duncan and Shaq. I know, I know. What about LeBron? Great player, sure, but no titles as yet and not even a win in the Finals. Had Garnett not gone to Boston and won LeBron probably would have been in there at forward. But the tie breakers in NBA history are championships, and Garnett led his team to one.
Second Team: Kidd, Wade, Dirk, LeBron, Yao.
Third Team: Iverson, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Chris Webber, Amare Stoudemire.
Coach: Phil Jakcson, of course, though Gregg Popovich is right there as the Lakers and Spurs were the teams of the decade with the Lakers winning four titles and the Spurs three. Miami, Detroit and Boston won the others.
-- In Memoriam: Bison Dele, Bobby Phills, Malik Sealy, Jason Collier, Eddie Griffin, Chuck Daly, Johnny Kerr and Norm Van Lier.
‘Tis the season…
-- Meanwhile, back to the present, we all know how cranky people can get around the holiday season and it’s no different around the NBA.
There’s Philadelphia, where our old buddy Elton Brand isn’t all that thrilled about being a reserve and noted last week to Philadelphia reporters that the 76ers continue to get off to slow starts and noted after a loss that “We had out there, certain guys didn't box out, didn't rebound, weren't tough, (but) certain guys have a longer leash than others, so they played longer and the mistakes were shown. No one should be on a long leash if you don't box out, don't rebound or play 'D'. You shouldn't be out there." It seemed to everyone Brand was referring to the guy often replacing him, Marreese Speights. The previous week Brand said after Speights missed a long jumper midway through the fourth quarter against Boston that, "Speights got the ball you knew he wasn't going to pass. He doesn't pass.” Speights responded that, "I was kind of upset because I wouldn't think my teammate would throw me under the bus like that. I would never say nothing like that about him. But, hey, he's been in the league longer than me, so I can't say nothing about it." Speights said he had no intention of talking with Brand. Coach Eddie Jordan said all seems fine. Oh, right, Allen Iverson is due back this week into the suddenly crowded back court with Lou Williams now starting again. Fellas, fellas.
It seems former Bulls big men can’t get a break as Charlotte’s Gerald Wallace complained to the Charlotte Observer, "The 4 (Boris Diaw) and the 5 [Tyson Chandler] got eight rebounds (against New York). Individually, we're not taking pride in defensive assignments. We're not taking pride in helping teammates.'' Asked how the Bobcats could fix the problem, Wallace said: "Can you fix somebody's heart? That's a personal thing.''
Chandler told ESPN it all was “bull” and "When you lose and play like we do, you can't say that someone else is the problem. I don't feel like we're good enough to point fingers.'' Fellas, fellas.
Chandler, by the way, is out now with a stress reaction and still is having problems from ankle and toe surgery last May and the Thunder is celebrating its doctor for rejecting the Chandler trade from New Orleans.
There’s always Washington now, which had a big loss in Minnesota Saturday with Antawn Jamison storming from the locker room saying to the Washington Post: “We played selfish basketball” as Gilbert Arenas continued to fire with 28 shots for his 26 points. "I'm sure other players got frustrated because he took a lot of shots," said coach Flip Saunders. Arenas also is being investigated by the NBA for bringing guns to the locker room, and it sounded like Caron Butler can’t wait to get away when he posted on his blog: "Every time I was dealt, I had better years with my new team than I had with the old one.”
There’s Tracy McGrady, who left the team last week because he was upset with his playing time, which the Rockets don’t care to increase. When the Rockets were in Orlando last week, McGrady said he was looking forward to being a free agent after this season (so are the Rockets) and might be interested in returning to Orlando. Big change. That’s where the local media nicknamed McGrady “Me-Mac” for his self involved attitude and pointed out how McGrady was demanding the Magic not select Dwight Howard in the draft because he wanted veteran help and preferred Emeka Okafor.
And they had to love that in Timberwolves’ headquarters when Kevin Love said on the Dan Patrick radio show he wishes the Timberwolves would have drafted Stephen Curry instead of Ricky Rubio. "We are toward the last spot in three-point percentage in the league, and he would have just been great in the triangle,” Love said. “He would have been dynamite coming off screens and shooting that three ball," Love said. "I love his game."
Williams following Stockton’s lead
-- But those are the exceptions, we know, as happiness usually reigns in the NBA, and here’s some happy stuff:
Deron Williams, the University of Illinois’ own, is about to get his 3,000th assist. If he averages 10 assists this week it will come in his 341st game, the same game John Stockton got his 3,000th. Stockton, of course, is the all-time league leader, though he played most of his first three seasons behind Ricky Green, who with Karl Malone are the only other Jazz players ever with at least 3,000 assists. Williams has more than 300 starts while Stockton got his 3,000th in his 137th start.
A little bump in the road, though, in a sign of things to come as the Jazz traded first round pick Eric Maynor so the Thunder would take the contract of Matt Harpring, which saved the Jazz about $9 million in luxury tax and suggests they’ll probably keep Carlos Boozer this season. “We’re saving a lot of money,” said Williams. “I know that’s important to a lot of teams right now. It makes sense business-wise. But as far as helping our team, it doesn’t help our team at all.”
Howard’s impact in Portland
-- "We don't win this stretch of games if Howard is not doing what he's been doing," Portland coach Nate McMillan told reporters about veteran Juwan Howard moving into the starting lineup with injuries and getting his first back to back double/doubles in almost four years. Portland beat Miami, Dallas, San Antonio and Denver.
The Mavs are raving about the professionalism of Tim Thomas, who rarely plays, but then subbed for the injured Dirk Nowitzki and had 22 points and seven rebounds as the Mavs beat the Cavs. Said coach Rick Carlisle: "I talked to him before the Miami game that Josh [Howard] being back was going to affect everybody's minutes. It may be erratic when he plays. But he just said, 'Hey, I appreciate you talking to me about it and I'll be ready.’”
Get these guys some votes!
-- The Spurs seem to be getting themselves straightened out as they’re using rookie DeJuan Blair in the starting lineup and Antonio McDyess off the bench for shooting. … Not only isn’t Joakim Noah on the All-Star ballot as he remains among the league leaders in rebounding, but neither is Memphis Zach Randolph, who has helped propel Memphis into the playoff race in the Western Conference averaging 29 points and 18 rebounds the last four games. "What else do you want me to say?" said coach Lionel Hollins. "The guy has been great. He's rebounded, he's scored and he's even defended."
-- I winced when I read about all the dental surgery for Houston’s Carl Landry, who after having five teeth broken and literally have come off in Dirk Nowitzki’s arm and after six hours of surgery, Landry missed one game and scored at least 20 in three of the next four in his role off the bench. Landry is a leading contender for Sixth Man as I’ve heard coaches say their players were literally afraid to play against him.