Give And Go: Reminiscing on our favorite moments from the NBA’s 2013 offseason
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Offering some final reflections on the best moments of the offseason, as training camp and the preseason loom.
1. The 2012-13 season ended on June 20 and training camp starts next week. Let’s get nostalgic: What was your favorite moment of the offseason?
Ben Golliver: Without a doubt, I’ll go with Dwyane Wade’s Instagram note to Kevin Durant this week, which came in response to Durant’s assertion that James Harden should be ranked higher than Wade in The Point Forward’s “Top 100 of 2014″ list. Selecting this as the summer’s best is definitely subject to recency bias, but it was an enjoyable moment for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that we poured dozens of hours into our rankings and engaged in the “Wade vs. Kobe Bryant vs. Harden” debate, plus many others (Mike Dunleavy vs. Chandler Parsons vs. Kyle Korver, etc., etc.). To see this particular comparison explode like it did, with some of the league’s biggest stars and highest-profile media personalities weighing in, felt like validation for the ranking process, regardless of where people lined up on the subject.
There’s nothing better than when a sports bar’s hot topic is being stoked by the people who make up that very discussion (Harden and Wade) and others who are separated by just one degree (Durant and Dwight Howard). That direct involvement crystallizes the key points, answers some questions and often raises new lines of thought.
The big-picture importance here, though, is the symbolism of Wade’s message. His underlying sentiment is similar to one of the deciding factors The Point Forward used in keeping him atop the two-guard rankings, and keeping other stars like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant ranked fairly high despite age and injury issues. It seems to me that there is a fundamental unfairness in crowning someone before he’s fully proved that he deserves the recognition, and that ties or close calls between players should go to the incumbent. When Wade said it was time for him to make Durant “respect [Wade's] place in history again,” he’s clearly talking not only about himself but also about the Heat.
Make no mistake: The Heat are in the middle of some serious history. They’ve made three consecutive Finals and won two straight titles. (Wade, meanwhile, is in position to give himself the dopey nickname of “Four” come June.) The only teams to three-peat since the 1960s Celtics are Michael Jordan’s Bulls and the Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal Lakers. That’s it. Not Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Hakeem Olajuwon, Duncan or anyone else.
The No. 1 story of the 2013-14 season is simple: Miami, a ruthlessly efficient organization and team, is seeking that rare place in history while being chased by the deepest pool of legitimate contenders it has seen during the Big Three era. Go down the list: The Thunder, Spurs, Bulls, Pacers, Nets, Clippers, Warriors, Grizzlies, Rockets and Knicks could all potentially win the title if things break properly. Some teams in that group are more ready right now than others, but all seem fully capable of a run to the conference finals, and at that point you’re knocking on the doorstep. None of the teams in that group took major steps back this summer, and a number of them significantly improved their outlook. This is a heck of a chase pack.
And that brings us to the best part of Wade’s note, which was the unflinching response. Durant, who we know is “not nice” and “sick of finishing second,” didn’t apologize or back down. In true competitive fashion, he requested that Wade go ahead and prove it one more time. Harden, meanwhile, said without flinching that he should be considered a top-10 player right now. This movie has played out in a thousand old Westerns: The gunslingers are moseying forward, sizing each other up, before it’s time to draw. The offseason, ultimately, is about setting the table for the new year, and we couldn’t have scripted a better prelude to the 2013-14 season than the one sparked by Wade and Durant. Let’s eat.
Rob Mahoney: I’ll take Mark Cuban’s blog post explaining — in unprecedented detail — the motivations behind Dallas’ moves of the past few seasons. He may not break down each acquisition or departure item by item, but Cuban dedicated some 3,300 words to detailing the team’s actions on the whole as clearly and simply as possible. Few, if any, other owners in professional sports would do the same. The end result is an explanatory missive that doesn’t read as an exercise in spin (though Cuban, naturally, does find room for PR), in which the Mavericks’ owner walks us through his point of view while taking responsibility for some of the franchise’s missteps. It’s surprisingly forthcoming, even by Cuban’s standards, and as thorough a clarification as you’re likely to get from the highest level of a basketball front office.
Beyond that, Cuban shared his take on some the macro-level trends in the NBA, largely addressing the complications associated with tanking. It’s a dicey systemic issue, but Cuban raises some salient points — that the popularity of tanking could compromise its effectiveness, that teams going in a different direction are able to capitalize on the trade and free-agent markets as a result, and that an established culture might not be worth upending for a high draft pick. All his claims are debatable, but well worth considering. They’re also hashed out in greater detail than the vague, self-serving justifications that most franchises give for their aversion to a tear-down rebuild. Cuban’s perspective obviously coincides with (and thus affirms) the water-treading, cap-flexible approach that the Mavs had taken in recent years, but that’s understandable given that he has bottom-line approval on all that Dallas does.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much if you agree with Cuban’s perspective. Basketball thinkers — whether front-office mainstays, up-and-coming personnel evaluators, amateur trade-machine eccentrics or even us lowly media types — all have different opinions on the way a team should be run and the kinds of moves that should be made. What’s of value here is getting a peek behind the curtain. We shouldn’t go too far, though; for all of Cuban’s efforts, we still glimpse the Mavs’ process as painted through relatively broad strokes. But Cuban’s brushwork is at the least more layered and nuanced than we’ve come to expect from other owners and GMs, and for that alone his dispatch was a welcome surprise.
2. Basketball never stops, as the marketing slogan goes, and the last few months saw the Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, a host of pro-am games, a USA Basketball minicamp and EuroBasket in Slovenia. What was your favorite on-the-court moment of the offseason?
Mahoney: While EuroBasket offered plenty of legitimate basketball to parse and enjoy, I’ll opt for something a bit more frivolous: Jeff Taylor’s punishing dunk over San Antonio’s Aron Baynes in the Las Vegas Summer League. Over the last year, the Bobcats’ Taylor, 24, has established himself as one of the NBA’s sneakiest athletes. He doesn’t play a particularly explosive game, and if anything is being groomed as a 3-and-D type — the wing player subset with the slightest demonstration of applied athleticism.
But if given the space to get a running start, Taylor can get up and throw down. Observe:
Baynes may still be shell-shocked. Let this be a lesson to all of you young shot-blockers out there: Late defensive rotations bear the risk of serious trauma.
Golliver: Two moments really stand out for me on the court. First, Tony Parker’s leading France to its first international gold medal, at EuroBasket. The French’s signature moment came when they ran off the court at full speed, celebrating their insane comeback victory over Spain in overtime during the semifinals. This was primal happiness that was more than a decade in the making, and it was particularly sweet because Spain had been the Bad Boys Pistons to France’s Bulls for years. Parker has lived a charmed NBA existence, winning his first title at age 20, but here he finally slayed a dragon that had been haunting him for all of his adult life. It was his game that powered France to the gold this year, but it was also the force of his personality and fame that helped France build its program in the first place. That’s a real triumph.
The second moment, and the one I’m picking as my answer to this question, came under completely different circumstances. Sure, there was a title at stake for the first time, but the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t exactly EuroBasket when it comes to the quality and intensity of the competition. Don’t tell that to the Warriors, though, and definitely don’t tell that to Kent Bazemore, who was phenomenal on both ends throughout the tournament. I’ll remember the 2013 summer league for years, in part because of the Warriors’ wire-to-wire focus but mostly because of the hammer dunk Bazemore threw down during a comeback victory over the Lakers. That moment — and that game as a whole — stands as one of those “You had to be there” sequences that you rarely see in a tournament that amounts to an extended tryout for fringe players and a showcase for the league’s top rookies.
The first sensation that you feel when going from Game 7 of one of the most riveting Finals of the last 25 years in June to summer league in July is obviously an emotional letdown; here was Bazemore single-handedly combating that feeling, while expressing Golden State’s franchise-wide desire to be taken seriously, no matter the venue. If only every player and organization put as much into their offseasons.