What I Think I Know About The NBA Offseason

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Where did they all go?

With NBA Free Agency, and the Draft that preceded it all but over, we now have more of a real sense of what the contenders to the title are doing and what the teams from the bottom are looking at to climb to the very top of the mountain.

Top Contenders reloaded, while other teams that were dark horses saw their rosters, and their title hopes, fall to bits around them.

Some teams ran their entire roster, and in the case of one their entire organizational philosophy, back for a 2nd go-round figuring that the best thing to do was simply to try again and see if they could improve on past performance.

Two of the leagues one-time Tiffany franchises, 1 more recently than the other, struck out into the free agent bazaar with money and opportunity, and found drastically different responses waiting for them. The trick with one is that they ended up shopping at the less flashy end of the market after buying something enthralling that may not fit. The other is still looking, and has a lump of coal in one hand and a trash can in the other.

And then there’s Sacramento; poor misguided, utterly confused by the whole process, broken Sacramento. Mitch Richmond is not walking through that door, Sacramento. Neither is Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, or even Jason Williams.

Here’s what I think I know about what happened in the NBA’s off season.

1: First, let’s start off with the Spurs.

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How do they do this? No really, how?

To be fair, it is not as though San Antonio had a bad season. Kawhi Leonard made another step towards being the next great Spur, taking over that “brilliant but not-so-charismatic” mantle from Duncan, who had it bequeathed to him by David Robinson.

Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continued to burnish their legacies as the two greatest international guards of all-time, and one of the best all-time back-courts to ever do it. Hell, even Tim Duncan kept it going as somehow he managed to become an All-NBA player, and have a classic throwback Tim Duncan performance in a classic series against the Clippers (Yes, we’ll get to them later. Don’t you worry.).

But as the off season dawned, everyone apparently believed that the Spurs were like the worst nightmare of any Texan enjoying barbecue anywhere: over-Cooked. You can’t have expected to run this team back, with no real changes, and see them again contend for a title. Even the Spurs, who are as quiet as it’s kept the closest thing to the old Boston Celtics dynasty of the Russell years as we have seen, can’t be expected to keep this going without an infusion of something.

And then, like clockwork, the Spurs stick their hand out and into it comes falling LaMarcus Aldridge — the top free agent on the market, a Texas native and Texas star whom is well-suited to keep the machinery running for the next little while.

And if that’s not enough, at the time of publication of this, they somehow managed to sign David West, a burly scrapper who provides them with toughness and intensity, for the veteran’s minimum.

Simply put, if you think the Spurs don’t have enough in the cupboard to be the favorites for the Western Conference, you haven’t been watching. But then that leads us to the team that beat them in the 1st round of the Western Conference Playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers.

2: What in the world is going on with the Clippers?

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Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn\Getty Images North America

It literally takes 5 minutes for any cultured NBA observer to notice that Chris Paul is one of the best point guards, in terms of talent, that we have ever seen. There are maybe, if I’m being charitable, 5 point guards all-time that I would trust to run a team over him. This list can easily be put in the comments if anyone wants to try and see if they can remove one of mine.

Simply put, in terms of talent and skill, he is the best pure point guard since a prime Isiah Thomas. Anyone who can’t see this, or refuses to acknowledge it, is just trafficking in the sort of hot-takery you might easily find on the First Take television show.

And frankly, we’re better than that here at The Starting Five. I hope that’s one of the reasons you read this website.

And yet, in those very same 5 minutes, it’s also quite easy to see something else. Chris Paul is also the most frustrating great point guard I can remember. Even Isiah, the man to whom I just compared him, and the one whose career his is often measured against, had this problem early on in his career when he was leading teams that needed him to do everything. The difference? Isiah eventually got to a place where he fostered team above all else. His greatest teams, those back-to-back champion Pistons, were built around the idea of team. Past him, everyone else fit in to key roles and sacrificed of themselves for the betterment of the team. When someone didn’t, as Adrian Dantley was alleged not to have, he was traded for someone who wouldn’t rock the boat in Mark Aguirre.

Chris hasn’t gotten to that place yet. The Clippers of the past few years are widely believed to be the most entitled team in the league, a collection of guys who believe they’ve never committed a foul and carry themselves as though they are the reincarnation of the 1982 Lakers, the 1986 Celtics, and the 1977 Trail Blazers all in one. Meanwhile, they have never advanced past the 2nd round of the Playoffs since this team was put together, and are more known for heartbreaking playoff losses than they were for their stirring, up-from-the-floor, victory over the Spurs.

We are running out of excuses for Chris Paul.

And conversely, we are running out of excuses for Doc Rivers.

Doc Rivers mismanaged the salary cap, made trades that could have brought needed youth to a veteran roster, and has some weird obsession with bringing in players he has either coached or coached against. Until otherwise informed, the Clippers are simply what they are: A collection of individuals trying to become a team.

Now if you wanted to, this whole perception could be changed with the DeAndre Jordan “Will He Or Won’t He” that started with him leaving for Dallas, and ended with him going back to Los Angeles.

The question is this: Will this all be forgotten when Chris Paul yells at DeAndre Jordan for not getting a rebound, or looks at a referee in stunned silence that he didn’t get a foul call? Will DeAndre remember why he thought leaving was a good idea in the first place when all of his offense comes from offensive rebounds and put-backs? And will this team that has made a career of carrying themselves like elite champions find the humility needed to actually become champions?

The jury’s still out on that.

As for the other team in Los Angeles…

3: The neglect of the Lakers towards the new basketball model is costing them, and will continue to cost them until they get it right.

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A broken franchise?

Let’s be clear. If you don’t have some working knowledge of analytics in 2015, and how it helps you build your team, you’re behind the nerve. You might as well be playing in short-shorts and Converse Weapons for all the good it’s going to do you in the modern NBA, with easily publishable shot charts and our advanced understanding of how best to play offensive basketball.

And of all the teams I would have expected to not be ahead of the curve on this, the Lakers would not have been my choice. But as I thought about it further, it makes perfect sense.

The Lakers are, in a lot of ways, a franchise built around the idea of family and loyalty. The greatest coach in their history was a former Laker, the best front-office man in their history was a legendary Laker, and so on and so forth.

That was great… when it worked.

But the league moved past them, and they’re struggling to catch up.

Think about where the Lakers are.

Their best player, and the unquestioned face of the franchise at the moment, is Kobe Bryant.

For whatever positives you might want to throw his way, and they are legion, we can all agree on this one fact: His game is not a game fit for 2015.

He shoots from everywhere. If looking at the shot charts of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry is the equivalent of looking at a naked and oiled-up Christina Hendricks twerking for you, Kobe Bryant’s shot chart is… not quite that. It’s like a Jackson Pollack abstract painting, just color everywhere.

His usage rate is so high that our closest comparison is the tour-de-force that Russell Westbrook put on this year, and his defense is not just slipping, it’s skidding off of a cliff into a bridge abutment.

And then there’s the off-the-court stuff. Kobe gleefully telling Jemele Hill that he made teammates cry, and allegedly informing LaMarcus Aldridge that he saw him as his “new Pau Gasol” only add to the perception of him as a superstar who no longer realizes he isn’t one.

So what do the Lakers do? Simply: The only thing they can do. Wait for Kobe to exit the stage, and see if they can sprint fast enough to catch all the way up with everything else.

Will I be right about everything that I talked about here? Who knows? Who can say?

I can’t wait for the NBA season to start, so we can get real answers to all of these questions.

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