It Shouldn’t Have Ended That Way

The 2010 NBA Finals loss to the selfish Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers was the first ever heartbreak I experienced as a sports fan. I didn’t become integrated into the New England Patriots until 2011 – Just in time for the equally dreadful Super Bowl XLVI defeat. I HATED the Patriots before 2011. But I was always a Celtics fan. A young, pessimistic me didn’t take a seat on my cozy living room chair to watch, what I didn’t know then was the swan song for the era of Lakers dominance.

Ask anyone heading into the finals, even Bostonians would tell you the 2010 matchup meant so much more to Bryant than to the Celtics. In someways the loss in 2010 was a precursor to the Patriots loss to the Eagles in the 2018 Super Bowl. We entered the final dance calm and collected, “if we win: great! If we don’t, eh. Always next year,” little did we know there wasn’t to be a next year. It’s been nearly a decade since the Celtics made it to the final round. After 2008, the Lakers returned to being the Celtics bitch like in the days of Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. The best high-volume shooter the game’s ever seen bulldozed his way to a redemption championship the next year, then repeated himself the season after. At age 33, and with LeBron James looming in the shadows, in hindsight we were stupid for not seeing this as Kobe’s last dance, as well.

The old man Celtics that punched their way back to the finals, through an eastern conference that wasn’t deluded as it was two-years ago. The Miami Heat was the first casualty. Dwyane Wade was still in his prime, one year removed from averaging 30.2 points in the 2008-09 season off of 49.6% shooting. The Celtics took care of them in five. LeBron’s Cleveland squad was next. Many pegged the Cavaliers to stroll through the C’s en route to the much anticipated rematch of the east-finals a year ago against Orlando. After three games things were going as planned, Cavs lead Boston 2-1 and just took Game 3 at the Garden 95-124. Then something snapped in a bad way for LeBron; he shot just 34% in the final three-games as the Cavs dropped all of them, Brian Windhorst alluded to the organization is worried the pills Bron took to deal with his elbow pain was giving him depression. Things got messed up real fast is what I was saying. The improbable run bulldozed through the Magic Kingdom. Pierce shot 51.2%, averaged 24.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in possibly the best series of his career. Suddenly, the Celtics were back when nobody thought this unlikeable bunch of overpaid, aging, slow guys had a snow balls chance in Hell.

It wasn’t just “The Truth,” The 2010 playoffs birthed us “National TV Rondo.” The typical spunky little brother on the 2008 squad grew into arguably the best player on the AARP Celtics, getting the best of LeBron in a playoff series when things looked bleak during the semi-finals.

The decline of Garnett after his knee injury before the 2009 playoffs ended the hopes of repeating as champions. Garnett just wasn’t the same athlete after February of ‘09. The best player on the championship team fell to the third spot behind Pierce and Rondo. His offensive game dwindled, legs lacking the  bounce that nearly won him the MVP despite being in his early-30s.

The alternate outcomes that could have lead to Banner 18 basically go like this:

1. Ray Allen Doesn’t Croak in Game Three:
Yes. Perhaps the second greatest jump shooting guard of all-time, fresh off an 11 of 20 outing, including a record breaking 8 three-pointers, Ray-Ray followed that all-time virtuoso performance with the greatest dud of his storied career. 0-of-13. Zero shots made. In the crucial Game 4 Boston lost by just seven-points. The Celtics went on to win the next two to take a 3-2 lead, before, of course losing the final two games in Los Angeles.

Say, instead of the pendulum swinging all the way to the other side for Ray-Ray, he duplicates his outing from Game 2 making shot after shot. Alternate Reality Ray Allen shoots six-of-13, 3-of-8 from three and two free throws culminate to 27 points as the Celtics defeat Los Angeles 107-91. The Celtics go on to close the series in five-games.

2. Kendrick Perkins Doesn’t Get Hurt:
Okay. This is pretty played out, so lemme just set up the scenario. Celtics walk into the Staples Center, needing just one victory to sow this bad boy up. Things start off fine enough, then our lone reliable rebounder tears his ACL in the opening quarter then the game goes into the shitter REAL fast.

In the first six-games L.A snagged 244 rebounds to Boston’s 225; Perkins ranked first in the series (excluding Game 7) in the finals in TRB% at 15.7. In the ensuing decisive Game 7 L.A out-rebounded Boston 53-40. 8 Celtics offensive rebounds to Los Angeles’ 23.

Safe to assume the Celtics squeak out a victory, an extra title and save me a lot of misery if Perk is 100%.

3. Doc Rivers Manages His Rotations Better

Ah. This is truly the unsung reason for the Celtics crushing defeat: as the old Celtics legs waned as the game became a rock fight, the importance of young legs should have been prioritized. Glen Davis started off hot in the first quarter, knocking in six-points in the opening period. Doc went away from Davis in favor of the veteran Rasheed Wallace, who caused an awful lot of distress that season even though it didn’t look like that given his personable nature. Wallace turned back the clock slightly, finishing 5-of-11, 11 points and 8 rebounds, but fouled out with 25.7 seconds left  intentionally sending Bryant to the line.

The minutes tally went like this:
Rasheed Wallace: 35:36
Glen Davis: 20:50

If the workload was split up more evenly:
Wallace: 30:30
Davis: 25:56

An extra Davis basket changes the game dramatically. Sheed doesn’t need to internally foul Bryant if the Celtics lead L.A 79-80, as opposed to down 78-76. Davis finished the series with the best rebounding rate on the Celtics. The inability for Doc to see that playing Wallace 35-minutes wasn’t going to cut it against the younger Gasol will always perplex me. Big Baby Davis’ frame and patented strong finishes at the basket would have made the likes of Andrew Bynum pay in the post.

Now, let’s have some fun with a bonus rotational decision that surely would have won the game for Boston: Nate Robinson. Yes. Little Nate Robinson. He’s like a very poor man’s Isaiah Thomas. Robinson acted as a spark plug off the bench, doing so in Game 6 of the Orlando series and Game 4 of the Lakers series. Doc gave the three-time Slam Dunk champion just three-in-a-half minutes of Game 7, taking just 1 shots, missing it.

Robinson put up 12 solid points in Game 4, then followed that up with 4 assists off the bench in Game 5. There was something to be unlocked within the tiny leaping point guard. A jolt of life to a dying light begging to shine just once more.

Say, if Robinson takes five of Ray Allen’s 45 minutes and knocks in a couple jump shots in the third quarter (Hell, just one would have done the trick) and the Celtics win Game 7 by the score of 85-83. Is that feasible? I don’t see why not, and you better not try to convince me otherwise.

In the end: the Celtics lost out on a chance to cement themselves as the dominate team of the era. After the ‘04 Pistons crashed and won the finals, a new era of rough and tumble ball seeped all the way to the 2010s before being chased away by pace and space basketball. Throughout those six-seasons following the last Kobe/Shaq season there have been only one team to have won more than one title in that span: the San Antonio Spurs, and that’s it.

The Lakers added to themselves to that list, even with Kobe’s 6-of-24 shooting night that would have ruined his legacy if Gasol didn’t save his ass.

An extra title for the Pierce/K.G Celtics means Garnett probably has enough juice to pass Karl Malone on the list of greatest power forwards ever, behind only Duncan and McHale. Perhaps he’d be the series MVP, despite his age he was still able to garner 4 blocks in Game 7 and be the Celtics best option on offense finishing 8-of-13 for 17 points.

If Pierce bagged the extra chip it’s likely in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball makes an argument for him being the best player from the 1998 draft, not Dirk Nowitzki. Let’s see the argument:

Dirk versus Pierce, up until 2010:
Dirk: 21,111 points, 10 All-NBA selections, 9 All-Star appearances, 1 MVP, 1-Finals Runner-up
Pierce: 19,899 points, 4 All-NBA selections, 8 All-Star appearances, 2 championships, 1 Finals MVP

Hmmm… the only way someone could make this argument is if they were unabashed homers.

In all seriousness, maybe Pierce soars above Drexler, Payton, Thurmond and Kidd to just outside of the top-40. The Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest ate Pierce’s lunch on defense the entire series. Pierce countered by locking Bryant up for the most part. However, Pierce let Meta World Peace fire off the three-pointer that ultimately served as the dagger.

If Rondo gets the Finals MVP it only further highlight his fall from grace. But he shot 45.4%, averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists, was the most consistent Celtic of the series. After the 2010 run the media would attach Rondo to the C’s Big 3 core, naming it “The Big Three… AND Rondo.” Maybe the shine of Rondo would consume even Paul Pierce and things would get toxic real fast. On the flip side, maybe the New Orleans Hornets are seduced by the mystic of Playoff Rondo and wish to trade Chris Paul for him.

Either way, we’ll never know. We didn’t know then, but that was the last time the Celtics  have appeared in the finals. Maybe 2018-19 will end the drought?




The New Look Cavs

By Vinny @sailboatstudios

Visit the @goodtimebball Twitter account.

From constantly working the Trade Machine we now shift to fruitless attempts to getting into the psyche of one Joe Johnson. The Cavaliers dominated the Trade Deadline. Wheeling and dealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the table (LeBron, Love, BKN pick). It was a “Everything Must Go” sale that required collateral. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and Rodney Hood are now in Cleveland and expectations have been risen from the dirt by Koby Altman. The Cavaliers tossed out Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, basically punting on all of what they’ve received from the Kyrie Irving trade – besides the Brooklyn pick.

It’s a tough sell to fans saying the aforementioned names are going to save the Cavaliers season… well, they need to. Course, they have LeBron who’ll be reenergized, reengaged and whatnot. Perhaps they’re now in prime position to win enough games not to drop further than the third seed and then LeBron takes over come playoff time. Certainly that has to be the plan, it happened last year.

Rodney Hood is the wonderful player I’m still shocked Utah traded him for Jae Crowder and the corpse of Derrick Rose. Hood is enjoying career highs in FG (42.4), 3P (38.9), FT (87.6) percentage and points per game (16.8). A starter in Utah and considered a valued prospect until Donovan Mitchell’s ascension ruined his life. In 2015-16 Hood stared 79 games; out of the fifty-nine he was able to suit up for the following year, 55 he started, and this year the number has dwindled to 12 starts. There’s also the issue of his ability to stay on the court, missing thirty-two games his rookie season and twenty-three this season. Course the injuries that sidelined him weren’t ever serious. Just bumps and bruises, but there’s a point to be made that the Cavaliers will need to handle Hood carefully. In Boston Stevens mandates that a player of Irving’s importance is only allowed to play 32 minutes a night and no more. This helps avoid anything cataclysmic *knock on wood*. Cleveland doesn’t have the infrastructure to do this. But, maybe they’ll turn over a new leaf?

On the floor, Hood is a fine shooter and can elevate off the dribble. Unfortunately, consistency isn’t one of his strong suites. For every 12 of 24 or 10 of 18 shooting night, there’s a 1 of 10 and 4 of 17 stinker.

Last year’s Jazz team will never be recognized as anything more than just a forgettable solid team, in part because the core players were never healthy at the same time. But you look at that roster and see the quality of players, none of them outstanding, just solid, helpful guys who’d help you win, that’s what the Cavaliers did to their roster from top to bottom by snagging Hood. They have hope again. And it starts with Rodney Hood.

 

I find it hilarious during Dan Gilbert/Koby Altman’s wheeling and dealings they inadvertently created the necessary cap space L.A pined for to sign to max contract free agents in the upcoming summer. Props to Jeanie Buss or Rob Pelinka… or dare I say… Magic Johnson(?) for managing to get rid of Jordan Clarkson’s contract, due $37.5 million for the next three seasons, and getting a first round pick. Though it did cost them a young, rookie scale contract player in Larry Nance, Jr., the move to take on Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye’s expiring give the Lakers $46.9 million in cap space next summer, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The cap space will increase to a whopping $69 million if the Lakers let fourth-year forward Julius Randle walk in RFA and stretch the $37 million owed to Luol Deng over 5 years, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.

As for Clarkson the player, arguably negated by the George Hill acquisition… but he’s young, the Cavaliers have no way whatsoever to create cap space; the payroll can exceed $150 million with a luxury tax bill of $100 million if LeBron returns to Cleveland, per Marks. The risk is worth it. Clarkson can play both guards spot, averages 14.5 points on a decent 44% shooting, a good 22.9 AST% for someone who splits time between on and off ball. The biggest asset for Clarkson is his ability to finish strong at the rack, 61% in the restricted area. Compare that to where they were before with an angry Isaiah Thomas and the corpse (I know I said that before) of former MVP Derrick Rose, Clarkson will come across as a godsend to Cavalier fans. His shortcomings on defense are prominent and hard to ignore. Will he even be an option during a Golden State series? Probably not. The majority of these moves help Cleveland escape the East.

Another name trading the glitz and glamour of L.A for the cloudy depression of Cleveland, Ohio, 25-year-old Larry Nance, Jr. Since Tristan Thompson up and died, the frontcourt in Cleveland was going to be the main reason they lost in the first round to either Sabonis or Greg Monroe. Nance’s knees aren’t shot. He can jump, 59 dunks this year; to Thompson’s 27 (its kinda crazy the year before Thompson dunked the ball a total of 122 times).

With Nance the Cavs are getting a strong presence offensively in the frontcourt, Nance converts 60.1% (69.9% in the RA) of his attempts, averages a respectable 8.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 stocks (blocks + steals). Thompson 6.2 points, 6 rebounds, 0.6 stocks. Cleveland won’t have to cross their fingers the old Thompson returns before the end of the regular season. Expect some “Hack-a“ as Nance shoots 63.2% from the free throw line. But, like the Clarkson move it was just something the Cavaliers had to do.

The Cavaliers go from one of the oldest teams in the league to a more younger, bouncier roster. They’re the favorites in the East again, and as a Celtics fan… it sucks.

 

 

David Thompson: The Forgotten Superstar

By: Vinny @sailboatstudios

When a writer struggles to find a topic to discuss, he (me) delves into the fictional, comforting arms of alternate history. Where I (you) don’t have to take anything (or anyone) serious. Just like in real-life. But what always bugs me is the lack of imaginations on some what-if scenarios, there’s a crazy gear missing for us lowly internet bloggers. I feel we try to stay within the bounds of reality somewhat, rather than go full “Alien Space Bats.” The countless what-ifs in the NBA are relatively bland. Mostly bogged down in “What-if The Blazers Took KD”, “What-if Player X Played for Team Y”, usually the writer says something along the lines of “well, then team Y wins X championships!” and that’s it. One of the most boring takes I read is “What-if The Celtics selected Kobe Bryant”, as if his five-championships were destined to happen it was just a matter of where. In the summer of ‘96 GM Jerry West did untold of gymnastics to get around the salary cap to sign Shaquille O’Neal and snag Kobe. You think Celtics GM Chris Wallace had the same intelligence? Probably not. Chances are Rick Pitino trades Bryant for one of his former players from Kentucky.

One draft pick going differently doesn’t just alter that lone scenario, it can radically change the thinking of another team. It probably leads to a worser record for Boston in 1997-98 if Pitino gave Kobe enough burn and maybe they’re bad enough to draft Dirk Nowitzki… Kobe and Dirk on the same team? Yup, all plausible, nobody touches this. Most likely because the Celtics have had their fair share of obnoxious success six out of the last seven decades how much can you really add to the mystic of the franchise. If you can’t polish a turd of a franchise into the class of its league then it isn’t an interesting what-if.

Same rules apply to the Los Angeles Lakers. What’s the most intriguing what-if in the history of the franchise? “What-if they drafted Dominque Wilkins in ‘82 over James Worthy?” Meh. So ‘Nique is the third-best player on a couple championship teams while Worthy becomes poor man’s Alex English in Atlanta.

People forget how close the Lakers came to drafting the man Michael Jordan revered, guard David Thompson from North Carolina State. Watching the old grainy footage from the 1970’s, Thompson’s leaping ability reminded me to a younger Blake Griffin before several knee surgeries ruined him. But Thompson didn’t stand at an impressive height, standing at a listed 6’3 1/2, had to have been smaller than 6’2. Watching the “Skywalker” documentary the guests they bring on say the phrase “he played above the rim” six-thousand times. But it was true. Second only to Julius Erving David was the ABA’s main superstar in its twilight years and also gave the Nuggets a sense of legitimacy. Coming in second to Dr. J in a watershed dunk contest, converting the famed “double pump” dunk before Aaron Gordon and Blake Griffin gave us endless clips of them doing it. It’s amazing a dunk contest fielding three of the most electrifying athletes in the ABA did not utilize instant replay.

Sporting a 44-vertical inch leap Thompson earned the moniker “Skywalker” before the movie Star Wars was but a twinkle in George Lucas’ eye. Thompson battled George Gervin and the all mighty Dr. J in the last season of the ABA, joining a star-studded Denver Nuggets roster with Ralph Simpson, Pre-76ers’ Bobby Jones and Dan Issel pushing the franchise into the NBA over the Kentucky Colonels. Rookie David Thompson left his mark on the NBA landscape forever. The man we hardly mention is the main reason there is a Denver Nuggets franchise.

The ABA/NBA from 1975 to 1978 was pretty competitive until cocaine nearly sunk the entire league before two guys with nouns for names saved it. But the middle-seventies don’t get a lot of credit for being deep in the talent pool. David Thompson made two All-NBA First Teams beating out George “Iceman” Gervin and Pete “Pistol” Maravich. In 1976 and ‘77 “Skywalker” bumped off Pete, George, Doc and Walter Davis, and in 1978 nearly lead the Nuggets to the NBA Finals in an MVP caliber season. All of this before he turned twenty-four.

1977-78 was Thompson at his zenith. Battling Iceman for the scoring title, climaxing in an astounding final night of the season – also John Havlicek’s last game – Thompson scored 53 in one half of play, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most points in a quarter (32) and held it for a mere five hours until Gervin broke it (33) – the record now is held by Klay Thompson (37). David finished with 73 and Gervin with 63.

You’d think the James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s of their days would’ve been frontrunners for the MVP, but both fell to Bill Walton… the best center for a two-year period, but played only 58 games.

Here’s a stat-by-stat comparison of Thompson and Gervin…

* I am using Bill Simmons’ infamous “Stocks” statistic, combining steals and blocks.*

Thompson: 51.2 FG%, 8.4 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.4 stocks, 23.2 PER, 12.7 WS

Gervin: 53.6 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 27.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, 3 stocks, 24.7 PER, 12 WS

Neck-and-neck, amirite? Both of their rebounding and assists numbers are great for a shooting-guard. Thompson excelled in getting the free throw line frequently. Thompson was only twenty-three at this time; Gervin was longer in the tooth… an old, useless twenty-five-year old man.

Anyways, here’s Kevin Durant’s statistics from his age twenty-three season from 2012:

KD: 53.5 FG%, 7.6 FTA, 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 Stocks, 26.2 PER, 12.2 WS – also runner-up in a contested MVP race. 

And just an added bonus here’s Blake Griffin’s age 23 season: 53.8 FG%, 5.3 FTA, 18 ppg, 8.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 Stocks, 22.4 PER, 10.6 WS

So in 1978 we had two shooting-guard versions of Kevin Durant in a time when the league undervalued guards that weren’t named “Cousy”, “Oscar” or “Jerry.”

Before Magic Johnson the NBA had Thompson, Walton and Gervin to hang their hats on for the future of the league. Like all things though, it all got complicated real fast. Injuries took Bill Walton’s career; white powder and expectations cratered Thompson, sending the NBA into a tailspin. Dominated by questions like “is the NBA too black?” we couldn’t even begin to comprehend the backwardness of the time. Conservative white fans lusted for a white face to relate to after Bill Walton’s career hit the gutter. There’s a bunch of other stuff that went into the NBA’s decline outside of just race and drug issues; the finals were aired on tape delay until the mid-80s, it came off as if the league was indifferent towards growing the game.

David Thompson was a mere twenty-four-years old when he signed his name on to the piece of paper that made him the richest professional basketball player. 5-years, $800,000 per, amounting to a whopping $4,000,000 – a lot of money back then. It’s the classic case of too much too soon. The story of David Thompson ran similarly to Michael Jordan, except where M.J’s dad had roots in baseball, Thompson’s burned his son’s dreams by telling him to go to NC State because the school offered the family god knows how much money (allegedly). The school gets caught red-handed and is ineligible for the tournament in the season they go undefeated. The next year Thompson (with Tom Burleson and good friend Monte Towe) NC State dethroned John Wooden’s UCLA en route to an NCAA title.

Again… the sky was the limit for Thompson. Selected by the Atlanta Hawks in 1975, he decided to go to the ABA in part because the Nuggets would sign Monte Towe to a 2-year contract. Every year expectations were escalated and Thompson up until his big payday exceeded them.

Alas… it wasn’t meant to be. Thompson’s career ended falling down the stairs inside Studio 54 when the establishment was past its due date.

So what if another organization snagged Thompson? Atlanta… eh, kinda pointless. The team was dead after they traded “Pistol” Pete for a jar of used dental floss. Milwaukee? How would’ve that been possible? Well, L.A flipped the second pick in the ‘75 Draft for Kareem – along with Brian Winters. Say if the Lakers won the lottery and did the Kareem trade only with David Thompson involved. The late-70s Milwaukee teams set the stage for the decade of silver medal finishes in the 1980s (this sounds like sarcasm, but it isn’t)… Don Nelson took over in 1978, the Bucks won 44-games that season with Brian Winters, Marquess Johnson and Alex English coming off the bench. I’ll be favorable to Milwaukee and give them the third pick in the ‘77 Draft (Johnson) and say they retain English in free agency. And believe Milwaukee is such a wasteland, not even a MVP runner-up exciting as Thompson gets any attention.

1979-80 Milwaukee Bucks starters are…

Quinn Buckner
David Thompson
Alex English
Marquess Johnson
Bob Lanier
Woof… prime Thompson, English, and old but still useful Bob Lanier is that good enough to beat the Los Angeles Lakers helmed by the greatest center and point guard in NBA history? Well… no. Thompson’s window for title contention closes around the moment Kareem is paired with Magic. The western conference those days played little defense, the only hope you had in defeating those “Showtime” era teams were to stifle their fast paced offense. Maybe if Milwaukee remained in the West they’d eventually develop the defensive personal to do just that. But Thompson wouldn’t remain productive after injuries and addiction undid him. There’s always a roof for these sorts of scenarios.
But say if the Lakers won that lottery and took and didn’t trade Thompson – either because they simply failed or didn’t want to. It isn’t inconceivable to believe a top flight prospect like Thompson could consider a small-market like Milwaukee beneath him. L.A was going to sign Kareem come hell or high water. It was just a matter of when, not if. Being set to become a free agent in 1976, the Lakers could’ve just taken their chances on signing the big man then rather than trade for him. Back then teams didn’t value draft picks… they were just traceable assets of little value to a team wanting to contend for a championship quickly.
After one season where Thompson wins Rookie of the Year over Phoenix Suns center Alvin Adams, the Lakers fail to contend for the postseason just like in OTL with Kareem, only winning less than 42. The Lakers fully move on from the Jerry West/Wilt Chamberlin era by signing Kareem in free agency; pundits tag the duo of Thompson & Kareem to lead the Lake Show back to prominence. Entering 1976-77, the Lakers have Lucius Allen, David Thompson, Cazzie Russell, Kermit “I Am Neither a Muppet or Political” Washington and Kareem Abdul Jabaar. Coached by Jerry West by the way, the greatest shooting guard arguably up until Kobe Bryant (gimme West over Kobe).
The real Lakers snuck into the West-Finals over  the Golden State Warriors in the second round, before falling to the eventual champion Blazers. People forget how great that team was outside of Bill Walton… Maurice Lucas averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds, might’ve been the second best center at the time but injuries ruined him. Lionel Hollins running the point was alright and Jack Ramsey was more than just a guy who lucked out coaching Bill Walton’s lone healthy season. The Nuggets in OTL were better than the Lakers, featuring Dan Issle, younger Bobby Jones and Paul Silas. For the Lakers Cazzie was a serviceable starter, but past his prime in the early-70s when on the Knicks; Kermit was tragically a bust; and Walton was Kareem’s equal before 1978.
In ten games against Kareem, Walton averaged 18.1 points, 15.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.7 blocks, came in second to Kareem in MVP voting in the ‘77 season, the next year he beat not just him, but also Gervin and Thompson in a season where Walton played only fifty-eight games(!). While I wouldn’t have bestowed the honor on to Walton that year, I have to give credit where credit is due, Walton was awesome and it’s a damn shame what happened to him.
No changes in the 1976-‘77 season Portland still stands atop of the world.
1977-‘78 and 1978-‘79 seasons are where we get the idea the NBA was at a nadir. With the subsequent fall of the Trail Blazers the Warriors, and Philadelphia too dysfunctional to return to the finals with their current core, the East became open to teams we wouldn’t consider led by the kind of superstar we’re used to. The Seattle SuperSonics were led by point guard Gus Williams, Marvin Webster and sixth Man Dennis Johnson; the Spurs soldiered on (in the East) with George Gervin, Larry Kenon and James Silas; Denver in OTL with David Thompsonshould’ve made it to the finals but fell to Seattle in six-games.
The Lakers were an Erving Johnson away from being serious contenders. Kareem was still an MVP caliber player no doubt, playing alongside Jamaal Wilkes, Adrian “asshole” Dantley, And Norm Nixon. 1978, 1979 are the two-years the Lakers could’ve absolutely won… even though I’m sure they’d trade Dantley midway thru ‘79 like OTL for coked out Spencer Haywood because he was that big of an asshole. Throw in David and it’s basically the greatest team of the that decade, right?
I don’t know what playing alongside Kareem does for Thompson’s career, or if the influences in L.A would prevent or accelerate his fall from grace. The Great Western Forum doubled as a nightclub in those days and god knows the debauchery that went on inside. We probably remember him more than we do now. Los Angeles still drafts Magic easing the pain of losing Thompson… if there was time to reflect on such a thing.
He probably hangs around well into the early phases of the “Showtime” era, maybe even until 1984 when James Worthy is selected as his replacement in 1982. 1983 was the last gasp Thompson’s career, an All-Star for the SuperSonics OTL. Can you imagine a 1983-‘84 Lakers squad with Magic, Worthy, Wilkes, McAdoo, Thompson (I’m butterflying the events of Studio 54 in ‘84), Kareem… is that enough to get by the Celtics? Who inbounds the pass Henderson stole in Game 2 when the Celtics were on the verge of going to L.A down 2-0? Anybody but Worthy equals a successful inbounds. Do the Lakers still win with an aging Kareem in ‘85, ‘87 and ‘88 or does Magic coast afterwards and squander his potential without the needed kick in the pants? Does what happened to Magic after losing the close series happen to Bird instead?
Despite the turbulent career Thompson managed two appearances on All-NBA First teams, one second team and managed an election to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
I don’t know if you change one thing in David’s life does it butterfly almost everything from OTL… I do know he was a great player and has been unjustly forgotten.
For Thompson his story does have a happy ending. He found Jesus. Fixed his relationship with his wife and kids. A silver lining considering those who experienced the same issues had darker endings.