magiccontraction

How stacked were the 80’s, really?

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When LeBron James came out and said that he thinks it would be great if great players on bad teams were able to go to good teams because their teams didn’t exist anymore (but he didn’t say the word contraction!), everyone nodded along in agreement. When he hearkened back in the conversation to those classic days of old in the 80’s, everyone vigorously smiled as they remembered those perfect days where each matchup in the playoffs was epic, culminating with Celtics-Lakers, the mother of all loaded-team faceoffs.

Except, here’s the thing. the 80’s? Not quite so loaded.

It started off well, there’s no doubt about that. The Lakers won in 79-80 during Magic Johnson’s incredible rookie season, featuring the infamous game where Magic took over at center. That was against the Sixers featuring Julius Erving still with some legs and Darryl Dawkins, and you had Maurice Cheeks, Caldwell Jones, Bobby Jones, and Lionel Hollins on that team. Even the Supersonics who the Lakers faced in the Western Conference Finals were pretty stacked, featuring Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson, and Jack Sikma. Not any sort of superteam, but a very solid 56-win team.

The next year, the Lakers lost to the Rockets in the first round, who would go on to lose to Boston in the Finals, and featured Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Robert Reid, Mike Dunleavy and Rudy Tomjanovich. That sounds pretty similar to the kind of team you’ll see now, with one great inside player and some decent player surrounding. What’s more, the Rockets’ record that season? 40-42. This good enough for fifth in the East, at two games under .500. And they made the Finals.

No one’s questioning Moses Malone, nor Calvin Murphy, an underrated star in the league. But this team wasn’t stacked. It just wasn’t.

In 81-82, the Lakers bested the Sixers in the Finals again, and downed a fast-gunning Spurs’ team in the WCF. That team featured George Gervin, Ron Brewer, and Mike Mitchell. You know, Mike Mitchell. Mitchell actually averaged and impressive  21 points and 8 rebounds as the third man on the Spurs. But does that sound like a stacked team? The Spurs also scored 113 points a game (3rd in the league), but gave up nearly 111 points a game (18th defensively in the league). Hard to argue that team’s going to do well in a league that has come to accept defense as the path to the championship.

How about 83-84, when the Lakers and Celtics met again and this time Bird would come out on top? The Lakers got to the Finals by beating a 41-41 Phoenix Suns team led by Walter Davis, Larry Nance, and a 31-year-old Maurice Lucas. Not exactly clash of the titans.

How did Boston reach the Finals? By beating the impressive 50-32 Bucks coached by Don Nelson. (Side note: A Don-Nelson coached team led the league in defense that season. Get your brain around that.) The stars on the Bucks? Sidney Moncrief, Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, and a 35-year-old Bob Lanier. Stand back! The marquee is too bright!

In ’85, the Lakers’ opponent before facing the Celtics again was an infamous team, the Denver Nuggets First in offense, 13th in defense efficiency (22nd in points allowed). One of the fastest teams ever as Denver pushed the ball that decade, the Nuggets were led by Alex English, Calvin Natt, Dan Issell, and Fat Lever. That’s a pretty stacked team, but that’s mostly because they put up so many points. It’s hard to throw out that team and say they could hang with some of the better defensive teams of this decade.

In ’86, the Lakers lost to a legitimately dominant Rockets team (who would of course go on to lose against Boston), that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson thanks to some fortuitous drafting, along with Robert Reid and John Lucas. Boston meanwhile faced a Milwaukee team with Terry Cummings now next to Moncrief, with Paul Pressey, Ricky Pierce, and Craig Hodges. You could use this year as the closest example of having “stacked teams” abound.

And then there was the next year. The Lakers advanced to the Finals after sweeping the Seattle Supersonics. The Sonics were 39-43 that season, four games under .500, with Dale Ellis, Tom Chambers, Xavier McDaniel, Alton Lister, and Mo Lucas hanging on. They produced just .4 points more than their opponent and were of course, swept from the playoffs by LA as if they never belonged. The Celtics meanwhile got past the Pistons as they started to emerge with their famous core.

How about 87-88, as the Lakers had to get past Dallas, who was third in offensive efficiency, but 15th in defensive. Mark Aguire! Steve Alford!Roy Tarpley! Sam Perkins! Get excited! The Celtics had run into a bit of a gauntlet, and lost to the Pistons, who would lose to the Lakers.

So during this monumental decade of basketball, you had two teams obscenely loaded with talent, the Lakers and Celtics. You had one team with some tremendous talent to start the decade (Philadelphia) and one at the end of the decade (Detroit Pistons). You had a few pretty good teams like Houston, Phoenix, and Milwaukee. You also had a lot of scrubs. Sounds a lot like… now.

And therein lies the problem with James’ statement. Contraction won’t magically make it to where Joe Johnson is the third man on a small-market club. It just means that teams like LA, Boston, NY, Chicago, and yes, Miami will have legendary teams (but not at the same time, only a few at once), and the gap between them and the rest of the league will increase. You want better competitive balance?  Two things: better revenue sharing and a more successful and complete minor league system to reduce the number of flameouts and busts. Contraction? It’s not going to bring us back to a magical era, because that magical era was only magical for a handful of teams.

(All numbers courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.)

Watch some of Hawks 12 blocked shots in close-out Game 6 vs. Celtics

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Atlanta got to the playoffs on the strength of their defense.

That also won the Hawks their first-round series against the Celtics — Boston struggled to get score consistently against Atlanta. On Thursday night that included 12 blocked shots as the Hawks took away the paint and the Celtics could not make them play.

Well done by the Hawks but that defense is about to be put to the test in the next round — the Cleveland Cavaliers have much more dangerous weapons.

No longer rebuilding, Pistons hope to improve in offseason

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 20: Tobias Harris #34 Andre Drummond #0 and Marcus Morris #13 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Pistons have finally moved beyond the rebuilding stage.

After their first playoff appearance since 2009, Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons can look ahead to the offseason knowing that if they simply keep their current starting lineup intact, the future could be fairly bright. That’s not to say that Detroit will stand pat, but the team’s key players are young enough that the Pistons can envision more success if this group stays together.

“We’re now not at the time of wholesale change anymore. We went through that,” said Van Gundy, who just wrapped up his second season as Detroit’s coach and team president. “We’re not making deals just to make deals. We like the guys we have, but we’ve got to add to it, and if there’s ever a chance to make a significant upgrade – yeah.”

The Pistons went 44-38, their best record since 2008, before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by top-seeded Cleveland. When Van Gundy met with reporters Thursday, he talked about a lot of potential improvements that can come from within – such as Andre Drummond‘s free throw shooting, Stanley Johnson‘s skill set and the team’s overall defensive approach.

The 22-year-old Drummond remains the Pistons’ biggest star. As he enters restricted free agency, the team has not expressed any reservations about trying to sign him long term – despite his sub-40 percent free throw shooting, an issue which occasionally relegated him to the bench during crunch time.

“He’s a 22-year-old All-Star center. There aren’t very many guys in the league who have the abilities that he has,” Van Gundy said. “We’ll move forward and obviously do everything we possibly can to try to get him re-signed.”

Detroit’s starting lineup of Drummond, Reggie Jackson (26 years old), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (23), Tobias Harris (23) and Marcus Morris (26) was good enough to lift the Pistons into the postseason, and the team also has the 19-year-old Johnson, a lottery pick last year. Van Gundy says he wants Johnson to work on developing his individual skills in the offseason, which isn’t always easy for players in the years before they reach the NBA.

“They don’t really get, or haven’t had summers where they could take an extended period of time and really focus on skill development,” Van Gundy said. “They’re always playing AAU, then with Stanley, USA Basketball, then they have a summer where they’re going to draft workout after draft workout after draft workout, and then right after that, they’re just going into summer league.”

As for Drummond’s woeful foul shooting, Van Gundy says it’s wrong to view it purely as a mechanics problem. Drummond shot 35.5 percent this season from the line and was 11 of 34 in the playoffs.

Van Gundy was asked if having Drummond try to shoot underhanded could be an option.

“I think right now everything’s on the table,” Van Gundy said. “We all know it’s an important thing, Andre more than any of us. I think he’s pretty open to anything, but there’s a lot of ways to attack this problem, and we’ll all have a hand in it.”

Although the Pistons don’t have to worry much about losing Drummond before next season, Anthony Tolliver and Steve Blake are both unrestricted free agents. They combined for only 69 minutes in the playoff series, and Van Gundy was somewhat noncommittal about their future.

“In just a very general sense, I like the idea of having both of them back,” he said. “But – and I was honest with them – there’s priorities ahead of re-signing them.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Hawks close out Celtics, advance to face Cavaliers

<> during the first quarter of Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 28, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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The first Eastern Conference semifinals matchup is set: the Atlanta Hawks closed out the Boston Celtics 104-92 on the road to win their first-round series in six games and advance to the second round, where they will face the Cleveland Cavaliers beginning on Monday.

The Hawks controlled the game from start to finish, neutralizing Boston’s offense and attacking Isaiah Thomas on the other end. Thomas finished with 25 points, leading all scorers, but shot just 9-for-24 from the field.

In the second half, Atlanta’s lead stretched as far as 28 points, before a Marcus Smart-led comeback in the fourth quarter cut it to 12 and Atlanta was able to put the game away.

From a talent standpoint, this series was always going to be skewed away from the Celtics, especially after Avery Bradley‘s hamstring injury in the first round of the playoffs. And Atlanta’s superior talent won out in Game 6, with every Hawks starter reaching double figures.

From here, Atlanta will face Cleveland in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, this time with everybody fully healthy for both teams. Boston is set up for an interesting offseason, with a high lottery pick coming from Brooklyn, a ton of cap space and dark-horse status in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.

Livingston enjoying the moment filling in for injured Curry

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and Shaun Livingston #34 celebrate during a second half time out against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on February 3, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Warriors defeated the Wizards 134 to 121. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Shaun Livingston‘s left leg could have been amputated nine years ago.

The knee injury he suffered while with the Clippers in 2007 was that severe. Going for a layup, Livingston’s leg buckled backward, parallel to the court, when he fell in a freak accident. He screamed and writhed in agony.

Now, healthy and reliable, Livingston is making a new name for himself on the NBA’s postseason stage. He has filled in admirably for the NBA’s best player as Golden State moves on to the second round of the playoffs without injured MVP Stephen Curry.

Livingston scored 16 points in each of his three starts in place of Curry during Golden State’s 4-1 first-round series win against the Houston Rockets.

“I think when you go through traumatic events like that, you understand,” Livingston said. “Now, being in this position and playing with guys like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Draymond (Green), All-Stars, being on this team, there was a time I was getting waived off teams that weren’t winning 20 games.”

Journeyman for this guy is practically an understatement. Just 30, the Warriors are already his ninth NBA team. Livingston has played in the most games of his career the past two seasons, 78 each, and emerged as a trustworthy backup to Curry when he comes off the bench with high energy and an aggressive style.

That night of Feb. 26, 2007, still fuels him. Livingston overcame long medical odds just to get back on the court, and for that he is so grateful each time he laces up his shoes for practice or game day.

Livingston tore three major ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral – as well as his lateral meniscus, then required extensive surgery performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Alabama.

Livingston also dislocated his knee cap and tibiofemoral joint. Though the injury could have potentially ended his career at age 21, he still believed he would play again. First he had to walk again.

After all that, the Warriors love watching him contribute in such a meaningful way as they chase a second straight championship.

“He’s been huge. Not just this series, all year,” Green said after Golden State eliminated Houston on Wednesday night, 114-81. “But really stepping in for Steph, and it’s different. It’s not the same thing that you’re used to, which is so unique about it. But he’s been incredible for us, always steady, somebody we know we can go to if we need a basket, and taking care of the ball and really running the offense.”

Livingston’s remarkable comeback inspired coach Steve Kerr this season when he was coping with his own trying ordeal, a long leave of absence following complications from two back surgeries.

“I admire Shaun Livingston. Shaun had probably the worst knee injury that I’ve ever seen, that anybody’s ever seen in NBA history, almost had his leg amputated,” Kerr said this week after being named Coach of the Year. “Think about what it took for Shaun to get back to the point where he is now, several years of rehabilitation. That inspires me, my players inspire me. … People may forget, but if it weren’t for the knee injury, Shaun was headed for a superstar career.”

Livingston, drafted fourth overall by the Clippers in 2004 out of Peoria Central High in Illinois, was hit with plenty of injury hard luck well before the frightening knee blowout and had yet to even play a full NBA season because of injuries.

“Going through those experiences, it’s humbling, and never getting too high or too low,” Livingston said. “Just respecting the process, keeping your head down and keep grinding.”

He has vowed to be aggressive and make things happen at every chance to keep Golden State’s record-setting season going. The Warriors had an NBA-best 24-0 start on the way to a 73-9 record that topped the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ previous-best finish of 72-10.

Kerr was on that team. The encouraging words from the coach mean so much to Livingston.

“He’s played and won championships as a player, and he’s been around,” Livingston said. “He’s played with the greatest and been coached by the greatest. So to hear those words, it’s very humbling. I’m grateful. I take it in stride, and I just try to let it fuel me.”

At 6-foot-7, Livingston is a tough matchup because of his length and athletic ability.

His teammates don’t want him to change a thing.

“He’s been phenomenal, so we’re going to need him to continue to be that way,” Green said. “We’re not sure how long Steph will be out, but until then Shaun will be holding it down for us. So he’s been big, and we look forward to him continuing to do that.”