One of the bad things about a great NBA Finals — maybe the only one — is that it tends to overshadow all that comes before it. This was a postseason for the ages long before the .1 Prayer, the Headband Game and the Confetti Choke, and though the enduring memories for the summer will surely be of the Heat’s victory and the Spurs’ defeat, the true list of winners and losers from these playoffs is a lot longer than just that.
At least 25 long each, anyway. That’s the number of losers I’ve ranked from this year’s postseason — check out yesterday’s column counting down the winners if you missed it — crediting the no-showing stars, the overexposed role-players and the overmatched coaches of these exceedingly memorable playoffs. Relive the second season with the names of the players and coaches who best defined it, and again, let me know why Mario Chalmers should have been higher than all of them.
And yes, there are still honorable mentions:
- Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks. Injuries obviously a factor here, but Tyson’s relative no-showing in the playoffs — particularly his two-point, six-foul performance in the Knicks’ elimination loss to the Pacers — was an underrated factor in the Knicks’ disappointing postseason.
- P.J. Carlesimo, Brooklyn Nets. You realize P.J. has still never won a playoff series as a head coach? He might never have had a better chance than leading the stacked Nets against the undermanned and badly hurting Bulls, and now he might not get another chance again, period.
- J.J. Redick, Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, the biggest deal at this year’s trade deadline was a shooting-rich team heading for the eighth seed trading prospects for a three-point gunner who played 17 minutes a game in the playoffs and made four treys total in the team’s first round immolation. Really, it’s the Bucks who are the losers, but it’s Redick whose free agency payday may suffer for it.
- Kosta Koufos, Denver Nuggets. Koufos played well enough to start 81 games for the Nuggets this year, but proved wholly unplayable in the Nuggs’ first round loss to the Warriors, averaging just three points and four rebounds and shooting 37 percent from the field.
- Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook, Chicago Bulls/Oklahoma City Thunder. Not their faults, of course, but Russ lost his Iron Man rep and Rose now has to endure a very long offseason (and potentially an even longer next season) of second-guessing. You could maybe throw Kobe in here too, but getting to miss out on that embarrassing Lakers first round series arguably makes him a winner.
That’s about it. Onto the real losers.
25. Ed Davis, Memphis Grizzlies. Davis had a chance to prove himself the real steal of the Rudy Gay trade and play his way into a big role on the Grizz next season, but he struggled a bit in a couple games of the Clippers series, and the notoriously short-leashed Lionel Hollins didn’t give him another chance to prove himself, as Boss played just 48 minutes for the entire postseason. The good news for Davis is that Hollins is out of the picture next year, and hopefully the next Memphis coach won’t be so blatant in his distrust of the promising young big.
24. Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs. A pretty good run through the West playoffs for Splitter was almost completely negated by his drowning-man performance in the Finals against Miami, where he proved a liability in the Spurs’ offense, unable to either finish (especially over LeBron James, natch) or make the correct reads against the suffocating Heat defense. Zach Lowe wrote before the Finals started about how important Splitter’s split-second (heh) decision making would be to the Spurs’ offense being effective. And he was right, which was certainly not good news for San Antonio. Splitter is a big part of the Spurs having any kind of post-Tim Duncan future success, so hopefully for them, this was just a learning experience for Tiago, and not indicative of certain stages being a little too big for the 28-year-old pro.
23. Mike Woodson, New York Knicks. As much credit as Woodson got (or should have gotten) for establishing the Knicks’ identity as a small-ball team surrounding Melo with shooters and using Tyson Chandler as a security blanket, it’s incredible that nearly as soon as things got rough for the Knicks in the playoffs, he seemed to pull the plug on it entirely, short-sightedly going big in the Pacers series and playing right into Indiana’s hands in the process. There were other Woodson decisions to be questioned — playing Amar’e, not playing Chris Copeland, sticking too much with an ice-cold Jason Kidd — but it was starting K-Mart at the four in Game 4, and taking a peaking Pablo Prigioni out of the rotation practically altogether, that had every Knicks fan I know screaming bloody murder, and not undeservedly so.
22. C.J. Watson, Brooklyn Nets. When you feud with Nate Robinson for no particular reason, you better make damn sure to make your wide-open layups. You never know when missing one of them is going to send the little ball of fury into a tongues-speaking hot streak that costs your team the game (and ultimately the series).
21. Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics. A number of Celtic fans — well, one high-profile one who works for ESPN, anyway — continued to contend well into the season that had Bradley remained healthy for the conference finals against the Heat last year, the C’s might have been able to pull out the series. Bradley’s six-game series against the Knicks this year did not help the case for that particular argument, as Bradley was torched on defense by the unstoppable force known as Raymond Felton and contributed exceptionally little on offense, averaging seven points on 40 percent shooting and collecting more turnovers than assists. An insane run in Game 6 to nearly wipe out a 26-point Knicks fourth quarter lead nearly redeemed everything for young Avery, but alas, the Boston-NY juju would only go so far these playoffs.
20. David Lee, Golden State Warriors. Wait the entirety of your eight-year pro career to make the playoffs, then go down with injury in Game 1 of your first series, and watch mostly from the bench as your team discovers their true floor-stretching, bombs-away essence in your absence. Tough stuff for a guy who’s already taken it on the chin a couple times this year.
19. Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh, Miami Heat. They won, and winning cures everything, but even with Wade’s offense coming to life a little in the second half of the Finals and Bosh making some key hustle and defensive plays in that unforgettable Game 6 win, it’s pretty hard to argue that either really would call this postseason an individual success. In the end, the Heat were still most unstoppable with Wade off the court, and Bosh posted a big ol’ goose egg in Game 7 — neither of which you would ever have thought possible when the Big Three originally assembled. When LeBron alludes to his supporting cast reminding him of his Cleveland days — you know, when Mo Williams and 33-year-old Antawn Jamison were his biggest co-stars — it’s kinda hard to come back from that.
18. Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks. If you thought the Bucks had a chance to win one game against the Heat — much less all four, like some people we’ll get to later on this list — you probably thought there would be a Monta Ellis game, where he atoned for his inevitable 5-21-type shooting nights with a 40-point explosion, propelling Milwaukee to an exciting-though-meaningless victory. Nope. Monta never scored more than 22 in a game, and actually scored in the single digits in two of the four contests. When Monta Ellis can’t even give you one stinkin’ Monta Ellis game, it’s time to let the Kings take him off your hands.
17. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs. Manu did get his one game in the Finals, a classic Game 5 performance that will hopefully outweigh how badly he torpedoed the team in Game 6 (and to a lesser extent, Game 7) with his careless ball-handling, questionable decision-making, and in least one badly timed instance, subpar free throw shooting. Manu hinted at retirement during the offseason, and in a way, it might even be better for the Spurs to get the chance to move on from the fan favorite and his possibly hefty price tag, but you can’t imagine he wants those games to be the taste forever left in his mouth from North American professional basketball.
16. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets. With the Clippers’ implosion out West and Deron’s hot end to the season, the door was arguably — arguably arguably — left ajar for a re-opening of the D-Will vs. CP3 debate. Needless to say, Williams failed to seize the opportunity, posting fairly good numbers (21 points and eight assists on 43 percent shooting) in the Nets’ first round series but going almost entirely scoreless down the stretch of the team’s crucial triple-OT loss to the Bulls, and coming to life a little too late in the Bulls’ Game 7 victory. Deron’s not the guy most (or even fifth-most) to blame for the Nets’ loss, but he’s the one it hangs on the most, as NBA fans continue to squint at him and try to see the superstar that never quite seems to fully emerge.
15. Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets. We hoped for some kind of encore to Linsanity in the Rockets’ first round series, but what we got was 16 points total across four games as Lin was badly outplayed by Rockets backup point Patrick Beverley. Lin’s chest injury was certainly much to blame for the underwhelming performance, but it’s still hard not to look back at that magical February of 2012 and wonder when or if that guy’s gonna show up again.
14. Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder. Watching the Spurs-Heat Finals, with two master tacticians in Popovich and Spoelstra making adjustments on the fly in every single game, changing up rotations based on who was and wasn’t getting it done, making tweaks to offensive sets and defensive strategies to maximize advantages and minimize damages, I kept thinking back to Scott Brooks, with his unimaginative play-calling and rotation stubbornness through OKC’s first two rounds, and how badly he would have been over-matched in that Finals series. The Westbrook injury means Brooks will mostly get a pass for the team’s premature second round exit, but this is a problem that goes back far further than these playoffs, and one it’s hard to imagine OKC’s super-smart front office will let linger for too many additional postseason disappointments.
13. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. Injuries sapped him of his effectiveness in the last two games of the Clippers-Grizzzlies series, but it’s hardly like Blake was putting the Clips on his back in the games prior to that either, averaging an OK-not-great 17 and six on 46 percent shooting through the first four, and getting badly pounded by Zach Randolph on the other end. I think most of us expected that Blake would be dominating in the playoffs by now, and while it might be unfair to expect as much from a player still yet to even turn 24, the inauspicious way Blake’s season trended does raise questions about whether the prodigious power forward is ever going to reach his true potential playing a secondary role in a Chris Paul-dominated L.A. offense.
12. Vinny Del Negro, Los Angeles Clippers. Of course, most will reserve making final judgments on the Clippers’ future until they see what the team can do with a real coach. That would, uh, not be Del Negro, whose first round loss and subsequent reported thumbs-down from the team’s stars when asked to rule on his future ensured that his contract would not be renewed in Lob City. Owners seem to like him — even after the early playoff exit, Donald Sterling supposedly wanted him back, before relenting to reason — so perhaps this won’t be Del Negro’s last head coaching assignment, though it’s hard to see him lucking into a team as loaded as this Clippers squad again.
11. Tayshaun Prince, Memphis Grizzlies. The “Tayshaun Prince Revitalized!” storyline had some momentum going into the postseason, even if his Grizzlies numbers (a sub-Tony Allen nine points a game on 43 percent shooting, with a PER barely above 10) didn’t really bear that out. And in the postseason, it officially ran aground, as after a couple nice games against the Clippers, Prince simply could not contribute to Memphis in any way on offense, scoring seven a game on miserable 36 percent shooting (26 percent from deep), eventually losing minutes to Quincy Pondexter in the Spurs series as the one guy on the Grizz who could actually provide some wing scoring. The Grizzlies may have shed themselves of one albatross of a contract in the Prince deal, but being stuck with 30-something Tayshaun for $15 mil over two years is hardly ideal, either.
10. Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder. Oh yeah, this guy. Scott Brooks’ coaching failures will forever be tied with his insistence on playing Kendrick Perkins big minutes, and for good reason. Perk started all 11 games for the Thunder this postseason and played nearly 20 minutes a contest, despite the fact that he actually posted negative PERs and Win Shares per 48 for the postseason. Yes, it’s not like the Thunder had a lot of options behind Perkins, especially with Nick Collison always having five fouls, but Perk was so awful, they would have been better off sticking Perry Jones or Hasheem Thabeet or even Ronnie Brewer at center than continuing to play Perk’s decrepit bad self. Remarkably, Sam Presti still refuses to hear of amnestying the overpaid big man, so get ready to see K-Dot for 20 minutes a game next postseason, too.
9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks. Melo’s numbers for the postseason aren’t as bad as you might think. At least not during the Indiana series, for which he averaged 28.5 a game on 43 percent shooting (35 percent from deep), numbers that aren’t astounding for Anthony, but certainly wouldn’t have left him in hot water had they won the series. But that doesn’t matter, of course, since this was supposed to be the year that Melo led his team on a deep playoff run as their unquestioned leader and best player. Instead, they nearly blew a 3-0 series lead against a reeling Celtics team, and were beat convincingly by the lower-seeded Pacers in the second round. Melo scored 39 in the close-out game, but fair or not, you can bet Knicks fans will remember the shots he missed down the stretch more than any of the 15 he made previously.
8. Mike D’Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers. We’re almost at the point where not only is it impossible to have any remaining respect for Mike D’Antoni, but that it’s hard to remember when he was considered one of the great innovative basketball minds in the league, which I’m pretty sure was a thing people actually thought at one point. D’Antoni oversaw the epic postseason crumbling of the Lakers like a substitute teacher counting the minutes until the bell rung and they could take a cigarette break, an appropriate end to a season that saw him mostly unable to form a coherent team out of the tremendous talent at his disposal, instead giving the keys to Kobe Bryant and winkingly telling him not to bring the car back too late after midnight. The “WE WANT PHIL!” chants should persist at Staples until Jackson actually signs on elsewhere, but D’Antoni seems kind of used to this sort of thing by now anyway.
7. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder. As far as Serge Ibaka’s offensive game has come in the four years he’s been in the league, it appears that he’s still pretty far from being a second option. That was the sort of duty he was pressed into with Russell Westbrook’s injury robbing the Thunder of their normal No. 2 guy, and Ibaka responded by scoring under 13 points a game on 44 percent shooting, including a particularly dismal 6-17 night in Game 3 of the Grizzlies series that included a couple embarrassing flubs at the basket. The rebounding and shot-blocking were still there for Ibaka, so perhaps it’s not fair to get on him too much, but holy hell could Kevin Durant have used his offensive help in that Grizzlies series, and Serge rising to the moment by scoring and shooting below his season averages was pretty daunting for KD to overcome.
6. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors. No, Gay wasn’t directly involved with this postseason, but his presence loomed large nonetheless, as the Grizzlies pressed on to the third round without him while his Raptors club caught up on their “Degrassi.” John Hollinger and Jason Levin’s bet that Gay’s production could be more efficiently replaced with increased offensive roles for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol paid off — even in crunch time, when Rudy would supposedly be missed the most — and by the time they were in the West finals, even the oldest-school basketball heads had to see the wisdom in dealing Rudy, even if the guys that Memphis got for him (Davis and Prince, both lower on this list) did very little to help the cause. You could also throw Indiana’s Danny Granger in here as another addition-by-subtraction contributor to his team’s unexpectedly deep playoff run, though that team’s bench was so bad that it’s impossible to imagine he couldn’t have helped out there a little bit if healthy.
5. Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder. And uh, speaking of controversial trades. Like Hollinger/Levien, Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti made a bet: That he could ship out James Harden for Kevin Martin and future prospects, and hope that some combination of Martin’s production and increased usage for Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka could help make up for what they’d lose with the departed Sixth Man of the Year. The bet worked for the regular season, but quickly proved disastrous in the playoffs, as the Westbrook injury exposed what little play-making they now had on the roster beyond Russ and KD, leaving Durant a one-man show in an uninspired offense, a recipe that could only self-sustain for so long. Throw in Harden lifting the Rockets to the playoffs (and taking OKC to a tough six games) and the Raptors ending the season on a hot streak that left the pick the Thunder got from them in the Harden deal in the No. 12 slot, and it’s tough to see how Presti can keep this trade from haunting him and the Thunder for some time to come.
4. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks. Even if he hadn’t served up his own head on the guillotine with that ever-quotable “Bucks in Six” prediction, this would’ve been a pretty bad postseason for Brandon Jennings. As un-prolific as Monta was in the Heat series, Jennings was even more of a non-factor, averaging an unsightly 13 points on 30 percent shooting, with just 16 assists and 11 turnovers, all capped by a Game 4 closed-out performance in which Young Buck scored three points in 23 minutes. As far as free agency pushes go — and lest we forget, Jennings will be seeking a max contract this offseason — this has to rate as an all-time laugher. (I say he probably just ends up back with the Bucks, which is what both sides really deserve, anyway.)
3. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks. “He has to snap out of this sometime, right?” Not in these playoffs, anyway, as J.R. Smith followed up his impossibly hot end to the regular season with an impossiblier cold postseason. He was doing all right until he got a one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry in the Celtics series, and somehow lost his stroke completely in the process. After his return, Smith would shoot a staggeringly bad 29 percent from the field, while not shooting even 40 percent in any one of his final eight games of the season. Every time it seemed he was turning it around, he’d miss the next three, and none of the really big “OK JUNIOR MAKE THIS ONE I FORGIVE YOU FOR ALL THE OTHER ONES” shots ever fell, as he became offensive ballast that eventually sunk the Knicks in their second round series.
You could argue that maybe it’s a good thing for the Knicks in the long run, since perhaps his lead balloon performance in the playoffs will hurt his asking price in free agency and allow New York to retain their Sixth Man of the Year winner. But man, even if he comes back and starts off the season like a whole block of houses on fire, won’t that just anger Knick fans even more?
2. George Karl, Denver Nuggets. The second season has rarely been a friend to George Karl, his resume littered with early playoff exits and other ignominious losses, but this one really came out of nowhere. The Nuggets had won 23 of their last 26 going into the playoffs, with Karl getting as much credit as anyone for the team’s success, especially in the wake of the season-ending injury to Danilo Gallinari. Then came the Warriors, with Stephen Curry’s legendary twine-ripping and Mark Jackson seemingly pressing all the right buttons, creating matchup dilemmas and exerting extreme offensive pressure, which the Nuggets seemingly had no answers for. And so as it always seems to go in the NBA, Karl was reigning Coach of the Year one day and fired the next, the most respected coach in the league that no one trusts in the postseason.
He’ll land on his feet for sure, but it’s hard to remember another coach with a season that went from career-validating to potentially career-ending in such short succession.
1. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers. The deck was certainly stacked against D-12 in this one, with Kobe out for the postseason and the entirety of the Lakers’ backcourt rotation soon to follow, and his numbers for the series (17 points, 11 rebounds, 62 percent shooting) aren’t so bad at a blush. But man, if there was any hope remaining for Dwight to redeem his terribly unsatisfying first (and possibly only) season in the Forum Blue and Gold with a heroic postseason performance, it was not rewarded in this series, with Dwight seemingly spending the majority of the series in foul trouble, and failing to either take over games down low or slow the Spurs’ offensive attack even a little bit at the other end, as the Lakers couldn’t manage even a single-digit loss in San Antonio’s four-game sweep.
When Dwight checked himself out of the third quarter of an already-over Game 4, picking up a second technical foul and hitting the showers early, it seemed the most appropriately disgraceful way for his and the Lakers’ season to end. To quote Carmela Soprano, this was not a marriage made in heaven.