The Good, The Bad, The Meh

We are in a time of the year where everyone is still in love with their teams. Ask any Celtic fan, they wouldn’t give up Guerschon Yabusele unless it was to guarantee them an All-Star in the process. The water is still warm, stats speaking louder than results because their hasn’t been any action for months.

Little do we know what lays ahead for our teams. But we can read the various tealeaves, there’s a team that was one game away from knocking off the Warriors, only to fall to a statistical anomaly.

The Good, The Bad, The Meh

The Bad:

The Houston Rockets are the first team I want to touch on. They are on the downswing, falling from title contenders to mere pretenders thanks to the losses of veteran forwards Trevor Ariza (Phoenix) and Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles). In their place, journeymen James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams and the recently acquired Carmelo Anthony have big shoes to fill. Any viable option to defend Durant is gone, replaced with players who barley graze the bar of average and, in Anthony’s case, a washed up has been.

It’s a damn shame. The entire Rockets franchise is a damn shame. So much losing on one squad, neither the brilliance of Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Chris Paul could conquer their demons. Arguably, if the ownership of Tilman J. Fertitta wasn’t as tight with his pocketbook as previous owner Leslie Alexander, Houston would be the odds on favorites to dethrone Golden State. Unfortunately, for Houston, Fertitta is one of those capitalist who merely bought the team because he could and wanted to elevate his status in his social circle. That’s why the Rockets are in the middle of an awkward, bone-chilling stare-down with center Clint Capela instead of just paying him like the Celtics did Marcus Smart earlier this week. Morey has to squeeze Capela for every penny in these negotiations because this expensive team is already laying down the groundwork to cutting cost in the future.

The Good:

A team on the upswing is the Utah Jazz. They haven’t done very much other than draft Duke shooting guard Grayson Allen, who averaged 10 points in Summer League despite shooting just 6-of-29 from the field. Showing the ability to get under the opponents skin like he did at Duke.

Fairly above-average at every position, Utah is well positioned to take the mantle of second best in their conference. While the contingent of perimeter players Alec Burks, Thabo Sefolosha, Royce O’Neal, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder leave much to be desired, you could do worse. Thabo and Crowder can defend their positions predominantly well, as Ingles is an elite shooter, making 44% of his threes.

Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors enjoyed bounce back years – Favors especially, his 56.3 field goal percentage ranks ninth in the NBA. While his fit next to the dynamic center Gobert remains unfounded, Favors rebuilt himself from the injury riddled power forward who saw his value depreciate over the years. Rubio soared in production after the All-Star Break, three-point percentage jumping from 32.4 to 40.9, postings +16.9, averaging 15 points per game. Rubio can defend Stephen Curry fairly well.

The Meh:

To round this column out, the Philadelphia 76ers, 50-Game winners the previous season are lucky if they’re to reach that mark next season. Losing Ersan Ilysova in free agency, trading backup center Richaun Holmes and promising forward prospect Timothe Luewawu-Cabarrot. Not that they helped a whole bunch last season, it’s possible they’d take a considerable leap this year. Their most notable additions Mike Muscala and rookie Zhaire Smith aren’t projected to be better then what Philadelphia lost at least for this season. Smith can defend, but his offensive game is lacking. As for Muscala, his effects on offense is a little overstated. Ersan played solid defense aided mostly by his effort, but Muscala is a complete liability.

The Sixers possess the best 1-2 combos in the conference, but are so underwhelming everywhere else the buyout market is going to be where management looks for the second consecutive year to raise their ceiling. The addition of Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler is a nice pick-up. Though the last thing Philly needed was a wing who could not shoot, the floor will be incredibly cramped as the only floor spacers will be star Joel Embiid and shooter J.J Redick. If number one overall pick Markelle Fultz sophomore year is to be loss, then it be wise of Brett Brown to consider starting the young T.J McConnell at point guard as his growth as a scorer and creator is a potential ace in the Sixers hole.

Philadelphia is set for the next however many years the Simmons/Embiid duo are together. They needed just one player to make them serious title contenders in the east, that player SHOULD have been Nemanja Belicja, who spurned Philadelphia last minute to apparently sign in Europe, then Vlade Divac of Sacramento offered him 3-years at $20.5 million.

I feel terrible labeling the Sixers off-season as a failure, even though it is, because they tried and seemed to have come out on the other side of the Jerry Colangelo burning account fiasco as fine as possibly can be. They swung big and whiffed on just every pitch. It won’t be the same story in the future, but it’s another year the Sixers reasonably could have grabbed control of the league is lost.

George Gervin Ice’s The Celtics

For the San Antonio Spurs, the 1970’s was all about coming in dreadful second year after year. Lead by the prolific scorer George Gervin, the Spurs won 191 of the 328 games they’ve played from 1976-77 and 1980-81, failing to make the finals every one of those years. The closest they came was in 1979, losing a hotly contested conference finals (back when they were in the East) to the Washington Bullets, after going up 3 games to 1, the Spurs dropped three straight to the Bullets and seemingly missed their window.

The NBA of 1980 was different than in 1978. There were two big dawgs roaming the junkyard, ready to push out the old dawgs. Moses Malone, Erving “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird gunned for the likes of Gervin and Julius Erving. If the Spurs were going to change content in this new era of fast-paced, two-way basketball, they had to get clever with how they molded their roster, and general manager Bob Bass was up for that challenge. After a pedestrian 41-41 record in 1979-80, Bass needed to overhaul the defense, which gave up a league worst 119.7 points per game, ranking 22nd. He fired Doug Moe and installed Stan Albeck as head coach. Bass didn’t want to score 120 a game and hope to God the opponent didn’t get to 121. Electing not to re-sign twenty-seven year-old Larry Kennon, Bass received two draft picks in return for the five-time All-Star as compensation, one from the Bulls themselves, the other from the league. In the 1980 draft, prior, Bass selected University of Tennessee power forward Reggie Johnson to help the defensive woes in the front court. Later, he would trade for Washington Bullets center Dave Corzine and Portland Trail Blazer two-guard Ron Brewer to help shore up the bench.

The ‘Bruise Brothers’ consisted of hard nosed big men like the aforementioned Corzine, Mark Olberding, George and Reggie Johnson, they ranked first in the league in blocks per game (7.8), and helped the Spurs defense to a more respectable seventeenth in the league. Behind Gervin’s ever reliable scoring, the Spurs finished 52-30, earning a first-round bye in the 1981 postseason. A hard-fought seven game series against Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets, the Spurs ended their Cinderella run, survive small point guard Calvin Murphy’s offensive explosion for 42-points. Behind George Gervin and his selfish backcourt mate James Silas, the Spurs survived and advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in their heartbreaking lost to the Bullets in ‘79.

The “Iceman” was eager to carve his name into the long list of champions, years spent paying his dues have lead to this moment under the bright lights of the Boston Garden. The Spurs faced the Celtics twice in the 1980-81 season, losing both times, one of those games ended in a unlikely Gervin – Robert Parish duel, Iceman finished with 40 points, the center rallied up 49 in the close Celtics win.

There wasn’t a more star studded cast of players in the East outside of the Celtics. Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Cedric Maxwell, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, the ‘81 Celtics could kill you in a variety of ways. The Spurs, on the other hand, in a defensive oriented league, had to hold together their core with duck tape. How were they ever going to stop the leaner, meaner Celtics? Why, George Gervin, of course. Twenty-nine points to open up the series, followed by thirty-six, then forty-one in Game 3 at San Antonio. Finally, Bill Fitch decided to double-team the electric two-guard. Fitch should thank his lucky stars the series was only 2-1 in favor of San Antonio.

Stan Albeck raised eyebrows around San Antonio shorting the playing time of point guard James Silas, a unselfish veteran that perfectly fit the shoot-first guard Gervin. Silas was benched in favor of 22-year-old Johnny Moore, who shot a respectable 47.9% from the field off of 6.3 attempts per game; Silas shoots 47.7% on 13.3 attempts per game. Still, Moore was a skilled passer and better fit the defensive identity Albeck was going for, Moore averaging 1.5 steals a game, to Silas’s 0.7.

For Boston, Bird struggles forced the veteran forward Cedric Maxwell to pick up the slack on offense. The task with guarding Gervin on one end of the floor drained the second-year pro from Indiana State of his energy. “Just when you think you’ve got him where you want him, he rises above you and drains a jump shot without breaking a sweat.” Bird said after Game 2. Fitch adjusted, placing Bird on the offensively challenged Olberding, and placing twenty-five-year-old Gerald Henderson on Gervin, after veteran guard Chris Ford fell to injury. The change proved unsuccessful, Gervin still thrived as the finesse of the San Antonio Spurs backcourt proved too much for the grisly Celtics to overcome. The series ended in six, a rowdy Spurs crowd charges the court, mobbing hero George Gervin after a 51-point performance to close the series out.

“I told you Ice had them on the run!” George howls to reporters on the way to the locker room to get a the traditional championship champagne shower. “They didn’t want any part of Ice!” Gervin waited a long time for the chance to redeem himself for his past failures, he relished pointing out which reporter doubted him and his abilities to take a team to the next level. Gervin’s line was what you’d expect out of a All-NBA First Team player, 28.5 points on a cool 49% shooting, while the rebound and assists were low, the Spurs didn’t need Gervin to do anymore than he was comfortable with.

Bob Bass graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, credited as the man who “Saved the Spurs”, a moniker that bothered Gervin as it did others on the Spurs. But Bass was a courteous fellow, throwing water on the smoke before it became a fire. “It all starts with Gervin” he said proudly. “A GM is only so lucky to walk into a situation with a cornerstone like George already in house. Corzine, the Johnson Boys anchored our defense and helped us get passed the Malone’s of the world. That’s no easy feat.”