In the Spurs Game 2 Finals loss Sunday that evened the series at 1-1 Tony Parker had five turnovers, one fewer than the entire Miami team, shot five of 14 and was crushed on defense as he had the poorest plus/minus rating of all the Spurs’ starters.
Which should hold off for at least another game Parker’s place ahead of Magic Johnson among NBA point guards.
What a player does in the Finals is magnified beyond reality, especially in this era of endless loop highlights. Parker’s Game 1 shot suddenly became an alltime moment. So even as Parker goes for a fourth NBA championship, it’s still time to hold off his sporting deification.
This comes up with the announced retirements last week of Grant Hill and Jason Kidd, who happened to be co-rookies of the year. Both should be Hall of Famers, and while Hill’s career was interrupted by injury, Kidd ends up among the top three in assists, steals and threes. So the debate began about where Kidd ranked among the best point guards of all time and whether given those numbers he could be the best. I even heard Magic Johnson mention him perhaps second or third.
I assumed that was with Magic first, though Johnson, like many today, doesn’t always have a good grasp of league history. Kidd’s place with his one NBA title, though late in his career when he was more role player, is perhaps among the top 10 alltime. But not necessarily.
- Oscar Robertson: Perhaps the game’s greatest all around player who really could do everything. Unfortunately in his division was the greatest winning team, executive and player of all time with the Celtics of Red Auerbach and Bill Russell.
- Magic Johnson: Never to be duplicated, the 6-9 magical guard didn’t revolutionize the game because there never could be anyone like him in the combination of size and imagination.
- Jerry West: Regarded as a shooter, he really was both scorer and playmaker and once led the league in assists despite routinely being among the league’s leading scorers. When the Lakers played the Royals, it was he against Oscar, perhaps the greatest least remembered man-to-man rivalry after Wilt and Russell.
- Isiah Thomas: The game’s greatest ever so called little man. Perhaps 5-10 or 5-11, he could score with anyone and run a team as well while sacrificing individual glory for team success as much as anyone ever.
- John Stockton: The least showy at perhaps the most entertaining position. He holds most of the records, and no point guard ever delivered as many tough interior blows to free teammates.
- Walt Frazier: Among the best two-way guards along with West for all-NBA and all-defensive honors. When Willis Reed was hurt, he was the one to outplay Wilt as the Knicks won the 1970 title.
- Bob Cousy: The original Magic as he basically invented entertainment with the ball when it was mostly disdained. Yes, Bill Russell was responsible for all those titles, but he was all-NBA 12 times and the league’s MVP, one of six point guards ever to win the award.
- Gary Payton: Basically, a Jason Kidd with a shot. They were the best defensive guards of their era, though Payton also was best defensive all-around one season and with a longer period of excellence after Kidd changed teams several times.
- Jason Kidd: He was perhaps the best ever at dominating and affecting a game from the guard spot despite being unable to score.
- Steve Nash: The only point guard other than Magic to win back to back MVP awards. Maybe also the best shooting point guard if not the most prolific.
And that leaves off some favorites. For any one game, I might take Earl Monroe. There also was Allen Iverson, though I’m not sure what position he really was. A 5-10 shooting guard like Calvin Murphy. There was Tiny Archibald, the only player ever to lead the league in scoring and assists. But he was hurt after seven seasons and not the same afterward. Similarly, likely the most entertaining and innovative ever was Pete Maravich, who also had a short run of greatness. And that’s not even counting a Hall of Famer like Gail Goodrich and perhaps the best pure passer in Guy Rodgers.
Phoenix Suns, a team to watch
-- One of the potentially intriguing teams to watch in the draft may be the Phoenix Suns. The Suns, with a new general manager and coach and in position for a major rebuild, have the No. 5 and 30 picks in the first round. New general manager Ryan McDonough told Phoenix media: "The issue might be too many good choices rather than not enough at No. 5. We've talked to a few teams about getting in the draft at different ranges. We have good assets, I think, to do that.“ The Suns could be in interesting position to use this draft as a base to begin building and provide the beginnings of a new foundation to garner fan support again. The Suns bottomed out last season, but in Goran Dragic have a point guard who has appeal. Yes, the Suns drafted Kendall Marshall last year, but that was then, and a different management team. The Suns had Michigan’s Trey Burke in among a group of guards, and several teams like him as a young leader to grow with. One issue with Burke is he’s refusing to work out against other players on the advice of his agent, his father. You’d like to think kids would want to play. But Burke will be drafted high no matter and it’s not like the workouts should show teams more than they saw in a player all season other than an excuse to charge their teams a lot of expense account dinners with players. One interesting proposition for the Suns might be to trade Dragic to point guard hungry Utah to go with their core of developing young, big men. The Jazz has No. 14 in the first round and loads of cap room to take on Dragic. Perhaps the Suns also get a future pick. Plus, the Suns could be in the market to move center Marcin Gortat, who has expressed displeasure with Phoenix and will be a free agent after next season seeking a big contract. They’ll be a team to watch.
What's next for George Karl
-- George Karl will one day be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s coached more than 1,100 NBA wins and a winning percentage of about 60 percent, certainly among the most successful coaches ever. But in being fired last week after a 57-win season and his first coach of the year award, it perhaps spoke volumes of the characteristics of Karl and what it takes to be in this pressure cooker of NBA coaching. They all talk about how it is one of the great jobs ever, only 30 worldwide and an average annual salary of at least $2 million. And yet like Karl, so many of these men often are enveloped in bitterness and antagonism that inevitably leads to their professional destruction. Which also suggests the stress may be even greater than considered or manufactured to be. Though few are like Karl, who has gotten himself run out of yet another great job. Nuggets management fired Karl with a year left on his deal, the rumors that Karl, who has fought and seemingly won a valiant battle with cancer, was demanding a long extension the team wasn’t ready to pay. There also were leaks of unhappiness with player rotations and usage in the first round upset loss to the Warriors, in which Karl did seem to get outmaneuvered when he tried unsuccessfully to match the Warriors small early in the series. But that happens. Karl’s Nuggets had a great season without an All-Star. But Karl apparently began making demands on the team like private flights to games separate from the team that were so unusual they suggested he wanted out. But this is a pattern with Karl. The Nuggets, by the way, probably acted as they did to free Karl to get another job (perhaps Memphis or the Clippers, whom Karl seemed to be pursuing while he had a job in Larry Brown fashion) so they could get the offset salary to cover what they’d have to pay Karl. Karl’s an innovative, though mostly on offense, coach and motivator who often has been ahead of the curve on offense. But he blew himself out of his first job with the Cavs in the mid-1980’s in trying to push for personnel control. He coached the Warriors, but also had a drinking problem then and went to coach in the CBA and Spain. Bob Whitsitt brought him back in 1991 when it was considered a big risk and Karl was believed to be the only coach in league history with a no drinking clause in his deal. Karl saved the ‘Sonics in replacing K.C. Jones and had one of the great runs, including a 1996 Finals against the Bulls and some playoff disasters that became typical of Karl, who tended to so over prepare and put so much stress on his players they’d routinely be upset. His teams had a playoff success record of about 43 percent. They only made it out of the first round once in making the playoffs all nine seasons in Denver. Karl averaged 59.5 wins in six full Seattle seasons and then his feud with general manager Wally Walker became so severe he was fired after a 61-win season. Karl then resuscitated the Bucks and took them within a foul call of the Finals in 2001 before he blew up the team in demanding they trade Ray Allen for a declining Gary Payton and bring in the disruptive Anthony Mason. Karl then went to Denver in 2004 and said he intended to retire there because it was such a good city and organization. Maybe he did, though few expect Karl’s coaching career to be over.
-- One of the great stories of the 1-1 split in the opening Miami portion of the NBA Finals is the kidnapping of LeBron James. After all, who is that guy wearing No. 6 for the Heat? Yes, James participated in that Heat late third and fourth quarter run that broke open Game 2 with a block on Tiago Splitter and a fast break and a three after the Spurs pretty much packed it in. But never likely in the last 50 years of NBA Finals have analysts commented on the effective screens of the league MVP in the Finals, or the relatively unemotional and indifferent play of the player who is being compared to the greatest in the game. I saw Michael Jordan in every Finals game he played and never once was he celebrated for screening. I know Wilt wasn’t, and neither has been Kobe. I don’t even recall that being said about Russell and certainly not Kareem. I talked to a coach who said he thought James was hurt the way he’d penetrate and keep passing the ball out, seemingly to avoid contact. I know this unselfish LeBron make-the-right-play debate has been a part of James’ career, but this is the Finals and James continues to mostly look disinterested at a time when you’d assume any player would be their most enthusiastic.
NBA news & notes
-- If Jason Kidd gets the Nets coaching job — and so much for learning the job — they may as well change the name to the Brooklyn Williams. Deron Williams, who got Avery Johnson fired last season in publicly undermining him, has vacationed with Kidd. The New York Daily News said they spent last summer at the Hamptons in Long Island. They also have the same agent, which certainly would provide discipline for the moody Williams ... The USA Men’s National Team will host a camp July 22-25 in Las Vegas basically comprised of possible future additions. Chairman Jerry Colangelo said Derrick Rose “might be invited to hang out, but he’s not in that group.” The mini camp group is expected to include Bulls forward Taj Gibson. Colangelo suggested Rose will be a part of the 2014 team that plays in the World Championships in Spain. Jimmy Butler is not expected to be part of the young group despite a strong close to the season, but USA Basketball staffers are said to be watching him closely for future additions. This group for July 22-25 was mostly put together from earlier events of last season before Butler got hot ... Is C.J. Watson coming to haunt the Bulls? The former Bull reportedly will forgo his option and become a free agent. There have been rumors the Pacers would look at shooters like Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick, though cap space would be limited as long as they plan to resign David West. He’s said he wants to return rather than be a free agent. Watson would be an interesting pickup as a guard who also can make plays off the dribble, which was an issue for George Hill. Though coach Frank Vogel said he’d want Danny Granger returning to the starting lineup, with one season left at $14 million look for the Pacers to try to dump Granger into some team’s cap space and perhaps take back a lesser, if longer, salary and maybe a low draft pick. The Pacers obviously need scoring, but Granger’s casual defense doesn’t seem to fit their style. An intriguing question may be what they’ll do with restricted free agent Tyler Hansbrough, who appears to be morphing into the least effective ever former ACC and national player of the year.
More NBA news & notes
-- One of the more interesting draft cases will be that of Glen Rice Jr., who bears a reasonable resemblance to his multiple All-Star father. Rice Jr. was kicked off the Georgia Tech team for a variety of attitude and worse issues. But the 6-6 swingman went to the D-league, sat patiently on the bench and then in the playoffs led his team to the title, averaging 25 points and 9.5 rebounds in the playoffs. He’s still considered a second round pick, but could prove an interesting risk ... Not that this can’t change 50 more times, but the latest seems to have Dwight Howard headed to Houston and the L in Lakers standing more for Lottery. With cap room, players will come to Los Angeles. But it could be a tough season or two with Kobe Bryant coming off Achilles surgery. It’s a long way off, but with Kevin Durant changing agents to entertainment star Jay-Z, does that suggest staying in Oklahoma City? Durant is under contract three more seasons along with UCLA player Kevin Love, who can opt out after two more seasons ... This past weekend was the 20th anniversary of the auto accident death of Drazen Petrovic, whose shooting skill was one of the big reasons the NBA began to accept European players and set the stage for players like Dirk Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic. Petrovic shot almost 44 percent on NBA threes despite limited play when he was in Portland and probably would have been one of the best three point shooters ever ... What if Shabazz Muhammad falls to the Bulls at No. 20? There’s usually one player in the draft who slips a long way, and this year it could be Muhammad, a talented scorer whom many executives question whether he would fit in a team concept. But if he does fall it becomes whether you can pass on potentially great talent, like Paul Pierce who fell to No. 10 for similar reasons and the likes of Monta Ellis, Rashard Lewis, Michael Redd, Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer into the second round.