Andrew Unterberger

Andrew Unterberger

Andrew Unterberger is a chemically-dependent League Pass and Billboard chart user living in Astoria, New York. When not writing for The Basketball Jones, he is likely either attempting to master the keyboard part to Billy Joel's "Big Shot" on Rock Band 3, watching Observe and Report on cable, or obsessively refreshing his TBJ columns hoping for new comments. In between, he also writes about America's Team, the Philadelphia 76ers, for The700Level.com. He is currently available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, provided that you supply the necessary karaoke equipment and/or magician props.

Recent Posts

draft-board-au

It was a draft for the ages, especially for a Sixers fan like myself who will be in mourning for the next several months (and probably most of next season) before the funeral hopefully turns into a party, New Orleans style, some four to six seasons down the road. The action at the draft was insane, though the actual crazies didn’t quite come out to Barclays Center the way they had to Prudential in years past. Maybe having to trip out to Jersey weeded out the normals in years past, but this year, but there were no signs, little face-paint, only one or two weird homemade jerseys. Still, you can’t have an NBA draft without at least a handful of colorful characters, and these were the colorfulest that I ran into in the hours leading up to the epic drama of Stern’s Last Stand. If you see them on the street today, congratulate or console them, depending.

rasheed-wallace-shirt-jersey-au

Sheed’s back with the Pistons now, guy. Quit living in the past.

sixers-fans-au

I saw a surprising number of dudes in Holiday jerseys throughout the evening, though only one Swaggy P repper. Who would’ve guessed the Young jersey would be the one more likely to stay relevant by night’s end?

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dwight-howard-mr-cool-vest

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.

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tony-parker-stephen-curry-chatting

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 winners I’ve ranked from this year’s postseason — losers to come tomorrow — crediting the breakout stars, the clutch performers and the unlikely heroes of these exceedingly memorable playoffs. Relive the second season with the names of the players and coaches who best defined it, and let me know why Mario Chalmers should have been higher than all of them.

But first, some honorable mentions. Hey, there were a lot of important dudes in these playoffs.

  • Brian Shaw, Indiana Pacers. Could barely get a second look as Phil Jackson’s potential successor two seasons ago, now nearly as hotly pursued in coaching free agency as Lionel Hollins and George Karl.
  • Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls. Why go through the trouble of amnestying Carlos Boozer when your team can just keep plucking potential All-Star talents with the last pick in the first round of the draft?
  • Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs. Boris Diaw, LeBron stopper. In a Finals of unlikely subplots, this required the biggest suspension of disbelief.
  • Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. Games One and Two, Clippers-Grizzlies: “Is this the end of the Zach Randolph era?” Games Three-Six, Clippers-Grizzlies: “Nope.”
  • Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors. 34 points and 14 rebounds in a road win in the second round is a good way to dispel that whole “Deer in headlights” thing.
  • Francisco Garcia, Houston Rockets. Possible that the whole Robinson-Patterson trade with the Kings was just a smokescreen for the Rockets to acquire the sharp-shooting, lockdown-defending Garcia? Sneaky sneaky, Daryl.
  • Iman Shumpert/Raymond Felton, New York Knicks. You couldn’t trust a lot of guys on the Knicks by the end of their underwhelming playoff run, but Felton and Shumpert were the two guys who always seemed dangerous.

And now, the list proper:

25. Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder. No, he isn’t Russell Westbrook, nor can he even produce a particularly convincing facsimile of him. Still, if you weren’t impressed by him in these playoffs — averaging a 14/5/4 and shooting 48 percent for the postseason, while starting for the first time in his career and playing a far bigger role in the limited Thunder offense than anyone could have predicted he’d have to — you need to stop evaluating second-year backup points by the standards of one of the best players on the planet.

24. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets. From NBA washout to playoff starter in a couple short months, Beverley proved a surprising key role in a number of game adjustments and big plays from the Thunder-Rockets’ twist-filled first-round series. His knee-knocking with Westbrook in Game 2 will earn him a place in infamy for all-time in OKC, but at least they all know his name now.

23. Quincy Pondexter, Memphis Grizzlies. Just when everyone concluded that the Greivis Vasquez trade was an unmitigated disaster for Memphis, here comes Quincy Pondexter being just about the only reliable wing scorer and floor-spacer for the Grizzlies in their four-game sweep at the hands of San Antonio. True, it’s not particularly hard to outshoot Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince, but still — 49 percent from the floor and 45 percent from three in career-high minutes is impressive. Just gotta work on those free throws, Q-Pon.

22. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls. Not like Joakim had all that much to prove to Bulls fans in the heart-and-hustle department, but powering the Bulls to a meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things Game 7 win in Brooklyn while playing on two bad feet will certainly make him forever beyond reproach in that department. Plus, even if it looked pretty ridiculous four games later, how great was that billboard of him extinguishing LeBron after Game One?

21. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics. Green averaged just about the quietest 20 points a game you can average in a playoff series in the Celtics’ first round loss to the Knicks, but it was still a redemptive end to a down-and-up season for the C’s’ enigmatic young talent. Hell, he even showed that he was capable of doing it efficiently every once in a while, scoring 18 points on just eight shot attempts in Boston’s unlikely Game 5 victory.

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lebron-james-mad-trophies

Andrew Unterberger is the Last Angry Man in the crusade against LeBron James and his not-so-gradual march towards total unassailability. He’ll be checking in with us once a month this NBA season for an update on where he’s at with his LeBron hating, and how his attempts to channel all the world’s negative energy towards one generally well-meaning basketball player are progressing.

Narrative and Legacy both took a real beating among NBA fans and writers this Finals, particularly as related to LeBron James. That’s fair. People were trying to foist champion narratives on LeBron before it was time to do so, and people still tried to stick choker narratives on LeBron long after it was appropriate, if it ever was in the first place. I still think Narrative and Legacy have a place in NBA discussion, though, even among intelligent fans who also understand the amount of luck and chance and circumstance inherently involved in every game. Without some over-arcing themes — even a couple quasi-forced ones — the NBA is just a bunch of standalone episodes without any connecting series fabric.

However, there’s no denying that in Game 7, LeBron put all of that crap to bed, probably for good. He had an incredible night in arguably the most important game of his career, made the big plays early, middle and late, and was the single biggest reason by a considerable distance that the Heat secured their second straight championship. If there’s a qualifier left for LeBron’s greatness, I’m not smart or cynical enough to figure out what it is. He’s the greatest player of this NBA era, is on the very short list (and always getting shorter) of the greatest players of all-time. You could say that he still needs a third to start talking Bird-Magic, and of course that number six will always stand in the way of him ascending to GOAT status, but today, nobody really cares. He’s the best, he played like it, and he was rewarded for it. For one season, that’s plenty good enough.

Still, next year is another season. It’ll be a long four months for a hater like myself to wait for. Though to be honest, it doesn’t nearly compare to how I felt after his first ring, and really, it doesn’t even much compare to how I felt after Game 6, easily the most gut-wrenching basketball experience I’ve had not involving my own team. But it’s coming. And all I can really hope for is that, come this time next season, there’s more to talk about regarding LeBron’s Legacy and Narrative than “Stop talking about LeBron’s damn Legacy and Narrative and just bask in how great he is.” ‘Cuz that’s all there really is to do right now. The basking.

There’s not much I have to console myself with. LeBron is great and objects in greatness tend to stay in greatness. Nonetheless, in my current world of hurt, I have little choice but to take stock of the few glimmers of hope that maybe linger on the horizon, things that might come in the way of LeBron and the Heatles making Rohit Walia a very rich man. Be merciful, it’s all I have.

1. The Heat lost Game Six.
I mean they did, really. Just because they ended up winning doesn’t mean they didn’t lose that game. Down five with less than half a minute to go, that’s an L at least 95 times out of 100, if not 99. Only a couple lucky bounces on some Spurs free throws and a couple lucky bounces on their own offensive rebounds allowed them to somehow escape with a victory there. That’s not to say that their win was somehow ill-gotten or should have an asterisk or whatever, but just to say that if the Heat can let themselves be down five with 25 seconds to go in an elimination game, they’re clearly not invincible.

Also worth mentioning that LeBron has now been in three Game 7s in his two championship runs, which is one more than MJ had over his entire six title years. I don’t bring this up to imply that MJ is better than Jordan, or has some character strength that LeBron lacks which allows him to avoid such games, just to say that perhaps the disparity between the Heat and the field in the 2010s is smaller than the disparity between the Bulls and the field was in the ’90s, and that getting to six (or even three) for LeBron might be much more of a challenge, for reasons that may be totally beyond his control.

2. The Heat aren’t getting better than this.
The list of Heat players closer to the beginning of their careers than the end is not a long one. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both clearly took a step back this postseason, Ray Allen is going to be 38, and seemingly all of the Heat’s role players found themselves out of the rotation at one point or another in these playoffs. Wade and Bosh were hurting, sure, but that might be more rule than exception in postseasons to come, and neither is especially young anymore. Meanwhile, there’s no cap space for free agency beyond the minimum mid-level, and trade options are limited beyond the Big Three, and I just can’t see Wade being dealt, or Bosh getting back much of tremendous value. The Heat might not be much worse next season, but it’s hard to see them getting any better. All the talk this postseason was of the Spurs’ championship window closing, but the Heat’s window might not be all that much further ajar.

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ray-allen-corner-three-game

“How often in life do you get EXACTLY what you want??!?!” – My brother at his bachelor party, to me, repeatedly

Listen, I’m not going to pretend like I enjoyed watching last night’s NBA game. I mean, the parts where it seemed like the Spurs would win and the Heat would lose were fun, but from the moment LeBron lost that damn headband — minus a couple of those Tony Parker circus shots — the panic and queasiness I felt were remarkably similar to those I get in that recurring dream of mine where I show up for a college final after having forgotten all semester that I had even signed up for the class. As a LeBron hater first and foremost, it was absolutely awful for me, and chances are that whenever this post actually goes live, I’ll still be restlessly flipping my pillow from one side to the other, trying in vain to get visions of missed free throws and made corner threes out of my head.

Still, I am an NBA writer of some sort, and as such, I must at least attempt to attempt objectivity. And I can distance my own feelings enough from the game to be able to realize that this was indeed the game of the year — yes, even better than the Nate Robinson game, though I can tell you which viewing memory will be the significantly rosier-colored one for me — and easily on the shortlist of greatest NBA Finals games of all-time. It’s pretty inarguable, and if I couldn’t tell it my own damned biased self, the steady stream of fellow NBA scribes smarter and less emotional than myself saying as much on Twitter could’ve pretty well clued me in. The game was so good that people had to keep throwing random “Yeezus” quotes at it, just because that was the other really good thing that happened yesterday.

What made the game so great? Well, a bunch of things, and you probably remember most of them pretty well, but I think the game’s greatness can be summed up by that lead quote of my brother’s, or the catchphrase of a more prominent basketball analyst: It gave the people exactly what they wanted. Not me, of course, but for an average NBA fan with no tremendous rooting interest in this series, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more strictly crowd-pleasing game in my life. Anything you could’ve possibly wanted from that game, you got it, and in most cases, you got it in spades. Seemingly every major narrative was at play, everything that pundits predicted was going to happen happened, and any lingering desires left from the first five games of the series were satiated.

And what was it that the people wanted? Well…

1. A close game. If you had one complaint about the Finals thus far, this was probably it. Aside from Game 1, which was close through four quarters before ending with the Tony Parker .1 Prayer (yeah, this is what I’m going with, though I also liked “The Southwest Texas Floater” and “The Longest Twenty-Four” from the comments section), this series has mostly consisted of blowouts and games that were generally just over before they were over. Not so with this one, which the Spurs looked maybe a basket or two from blowing open late in the third, but which was otherwise neck-and-neck throughout, and obviously very tight towards the end. A game like this was all that was keeping this series from being an all-timer, and now that it has it, bring on the historical accolades.

2. Crazy momentum swings. I gave up counting on this one at some point in the fourth quarter. For all the mini-narratives contained within, this was a game that resisted big, sweeping narratives. Any time one storyline seemed to dominate the game, another one would zoom in to potentially take its place as the headline. It was very diplomatic, in a way. Just about everyone and everything got their turn being the focus of the game. I’m very curious how beat writers would even begin to approach recapping the events of last night in a game story, however, since I’m of course going to spend the two days from after I hit “send” on this e-mail to Trey until 8:30 on Thursday night pretending this game never actually happened, I’ll probably never know.

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danny-green-wide-open-three

If you ranked the many compelling story lines of this year’s NBA Finals, the play of Spurs shooting guard Danny Green might or might not be No. 1, but it’d definitely be top five. Green’s play in the series has been nothing short of historic — in last night’s Game 5, his six made threes vaulted him past Ray Allen for the all-time record for treys in a Finals series, already beating Ray’s mark of 22 by three, and in one game fewer, no less. (Five more threes in the series and he’d tie Reggie Miller’s all-time record of for most threes made in an entire postseason run, with his 58 in 2000.) Green leads the Spurs with 18 points a game for the series, and is now shooting 57 percent from the field and a mind-boggling 66 percent from three.

Throw in some fine defense, including a couple exceptionally impressive defensive stops in transition during Game 5 on the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and a handful of rebounds a game, and it’s entirely possible that should the Spurs close out the series in Miami, that Danny Green will be the recipient of 2013′s Bill Russel Trophy for Finals MVP. It won’t be a no-brainer — Tim Duncan will have the all-around, two-way numbers and the sentimental vote on his side, and Tony Parker has the reputation of being the team’s most important player and some very impressive highlight plays to his credit. But given the relatively unprecedented nature of Green’s hot shooting in this series, which has started to extend to Stephen Curry-like range beyond the arc, assuming he can avoid pulling a John Starks in the last game or two, he’s going to have a case, at the very least.

If he did win, the word “unprecedented” would apply to more than just Green’s shooting statistics. In some sports, the postseason is frequently marked by unlikely hot streaks or excellent single-game performances that result in non-star, role-player types taking home playoff top honors. Think David Eckstein or Scott Brosius in baseball, or Dexter Jackson or Larry Brown in football. But in basketball, that doesn’t ever really happen. If you were to do a Sporcle quiz on NBA Finals MVPs, it probably wouldn’t take more than a couple minutes, because the winners are generally the guys you expect. Michael Jordan won that trophy during all six of the Bulls’ title runs, Hakeem won the two with the Rockets, Shaq won the first three for the Lakers in the 21st century and Kobe won the next two. Over the course of a series, the most valuable players generally tend to end up the most valuable players.

This, of course, would not account for Danny Green. Before going into this series, Green was seen as little more than the latest success story of the Great Spurs Machine, a franchise who seemed to systematically pump out wings like Green who could shoot threes, play defense, know his role and generally not do anything to hurt the ballclub, just like Bruce Bowen, Roger Mason Jr., Gary Neal, and so on. He averaged 10.5 points on 45 percent FG and 43 percent 3PT with a 14.1 PER, numbers good enough to make him a worthwhile rotation player, but certainly nothing that would have him in All-Star discussions. Not to mention it was unlikely he was ever even going to get that far, seemingly washing out of the league after one season in Cleveland, a former second-round pick coveted by nobody, before being rescued by San Antonio and set back on the righteous path. Hell, he’s still not even the default “Danny Green” on Wikipedia.

Compare that resume to those from the list of previous NBA Finals MVPs, and the differences are pretty staggering. Of the 19 retired players to have received Finals MVP honors, all but two are currently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and of the nine active players to have won, all but one are a lock for the Hall immediately upon retirement, including Green’s teammates, the three-time winner Duncan and the one-time winner Parker. There are no role players, no one who you’d look at and go “Really? How the hell did that guy end up winning over all those other guys on his team?”

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jason-kidd-on-phone

I’ve alluded to it a couple times throughout the year in this column, but I was not a fan of watching this Nets team in their inaugural season in Brooklyn. They were assembled so hastily and haphazardly, they played a fairly unexciting brand of basketball, and minus one or two guys, they were an absolutely terrible fit attitude and personality-wise for the borough that they suddenly called home. It didn’t take too many games’ worth of Joe Johnson step-back jumpers, Brook Lopez set shots and quickly infuriating “BROOOK-LYYYYYYN” home chants for me to realize that this just wasn’t going to be a team that I was going to root for.

And the thing that really had to bum you out about watching the Nets — besides the fact that they paid over $70 mil this year alone for a starting lineup and still lost in the first round of the playoffs to a Bulls team whose bus probably drove everyone straight to the ICU after Game 7 — was that it didn’t seem like this roster was going to be materially different in years to come. Mikhail Prokhorov had bought his playoff team, but the price he paid was so steep that not only would it be impossible to pay for more guys, the guys he signed on are owed too much to ever get rid of. A minor tweak here and there, perhaps, but for the most part, this was gonna be the Nets’ team, and if you didn’t like the guys, too bad, because they weren’t getting new ones anytime soon.

Well, the offseason hasn’t even officially started, and the Nets have already made a big-name acquisition that would seem to assuage such worries. They’re signing a first-ballot future Hall of Famer, a respected guy in the clubhouse, and a guy whose teams have won more after his arrival pretty much everywhere he’s gone. What’s more, he’s a baller who’s played a pivotal role in previous franchise history — as much as the Brooklyn Nets have previous franchise history, anyway — and one who Nets fans still talk about with unparalleled reverence, one whose jersey will undoubtedly hang in the Barclays Center rafters before long.

The guy, of course, is legendary point guard Jason Kidd, undoubtedly to be the most-discussed, most-anticipated addition to the Nets franchise. Except he wasn’t signed as a free agent — he was signed as the team’s head coach.

My sense of history isn’t perfect on this one, but I’m pretty sure you’d have to go back to the days of player-coaches like Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens to find a guy with such a short turnaround between his playing and coaching careers as Kidd has here. As recently as May 18 — less than a month ago — Jason Kidd was still an active player, firing blanks for the New York Knicks in the second round of the playoffs, giving every indication that he’d continue to do so for the remainder of his contract. (The contract still had two years left on it, by the way.) But in the period of a week in early June, Jason Kidd had announced his retirement, declared his intent to coach (for the Nets in particular) and lapped front-running candidates like Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins for the open vacancy. Then on Wednesday, Kidd was officially announced as the team’s new coach, to the continued mind-blowing of basketball fans around the league.

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