The TV ratings may not reflect it, but there is a buzz in the NBA this year. The Western Conference has nine teams with records of 32-21 or better, meaning one of those teams will not qualify for the postseason. The Eastern Conference is much weaker, but the two best records in the NBA belong to the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons, and the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers are far from bad teams. The NBA playoffs should be very interesting.
The West, provided that the East Coast will be able to see some of the games, will have a riveting playoff season. The Lakers, with the game’s best player, Kobe Bryant have come from nowhere to be one of the elite teams in the league. Remember this summer, when Bryant stated that he wanted to be traded “to a contender.” The addition of Pau Gasol gives the Lakers that second scorer who can take some of the pressure off Bryant and Bryant is very happy that the Lakers did not accommodate his request.
The Shaq trade is an interesting one. Not sure if Shaq can find the fountain of the youth to lead the Suns to the finals, but I was convinced that before the Shaq trade, the Suns were not going to make it either. Not sure if it will be a good trade, but they have a chance to make the finals with Shaq; without him, no way.
The Basketball Hall of Fame recently announced its finalists, with the results coming on Final Four weekend. There are eight North American candidates, candidates that you and I know, and to me, there are three who should get in. Let’s take a look:
Pat Riley: Has to be a lock. Won four championships with the L.A. Lakers and was the director of “Showtime.” Then, he pulled a rabbit out of the hat and led the Miami Heat to the 2005-2006 title. The Heat are awful right now, but that doesn’t dismiss what he did. Also took the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 1983, 1984, 1989 and 1991.
Hakeem Olajuwon: Like Riley, the only other lock to make it. Averaged 21.8 points per game and 11.0 rebounds per game over an 18 year career. Included are 12 straight “20 and 10 seasons” and two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995. Critics will argue that those two titles came when Jordan was retired for the first time, but titles are titles and you have to play “who’s here.” And, the Rockets , especially the 1994-1995 team that won all those playoff series on the road, were pretty good.
Patrick Ewing: Unlike Olajuwon, Ewing is not considered a lock by some, even though he was named as a top 50 player. Of course, the reason is that “he never won an NBA championship,” and today, those who win are overrated and those who don’t win are treated with disdain. Ewing had a great pro career, and would get my vote. In 17 seasons, he averaged 21.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg, and had nine straight 20 and 10 seasons. In fact, his numbers are very much like Olajuwon’s, but Hakeem is a no-brainer because he won two titles. To me, that’s unfair. A great player is a great player, and people thought Ewing underachieved. Once again, unfair. When Ewing came out of Georgetown, he was a terror on defense and was considered a suspect offensive player. In the NBA, he became a monster offensively, with a deft shooting touch. The only knock was that he wasn’t as great defensively in the pros as he was in college. I just think he decided that in order to become a prolific player, he had to work on the offense, and he certainly did.
Chris Mullin: No. Great scorer, great shooter, played on some real fun to watch teams at Golden State. Surprisingly, many think he will make it, but I’m not one of them. Wasn’t great defensively, and really couldn’t do much more than shoot, albeit he was one of the best pure shooters to play the game. It’s not a knock to be called “not a Hall of Famer.” You have to be great to be nominated, and Mullin was great, just not great enough.
Dennis Johnson: No. There are a lot of people who think DJ should be in because he made the All-Defensive team several teams during an excellent career, and he was a great player. He played on the great Celtics teams and because of that, many think that he and the whole team should be in the Hall of Fame. Like Mullin, he comes up just short in my book. You can’t put every great player in the Hall. Johnson’s case is strengthened by his play with the Seattle Sonics, particularly the 1978-1979, when he led them to the NBA title and was named Finals MVP. I’m sure a lot of people forget that before he helped Boston win some title, he was the man in Seattle.
Adrian Dantley: “AD” is a very tough one. Based on scoring, he would be in as he averaged 24.3 ppg and had several seasons when he poured in 30 a night. I hate to sound like a hypocrite with the championship factor, but Dantley played on those very good Detroit Piston teams in the late 1980s. In 1987-1988, they were very close to beating the Lakers in both the sixth and seventh game of the Finals. If Isiah Thomas doesn’t ruin his ankle in Game 6, the Pistons might have won it all in ’88. After the 1987-1988, the Pistons traded Dantley for Mark Aquirre and because of Aquirre’s better defense, Detroit went on to win titles in 1988-1989, and 1989-1990. That doesn’t help Dantley’s case. He was a great low post scorer, but not a great defender. Right now, I would say no.
Don Nelson: There is probably not a better rebuilder than Nellie. His teams always improve and they always win lots of games. He coached the very good Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the Bucks had to beat the great Celtics and the better than very good Philadelphia 76ers, and they never could. A great coach has to find a way to beat those guys once, and make the NBA Finals. In his 25 plus years as a coach, Nelson never made it to an NBA Finals, and only reached the Conference Finals four times; three with the Bucks (82-83, 83-84, 85-86) and once with Dallas (02-03). No.
Dick Vitale: No way. He’s a great cheerleader and when he started working at ESPN in the late 1970s, he helped nationalize college basketball. He wasn’t a great coach and he is not a great broadcaster. In fact, he owes more to college basketball than college basketball owes him. Honestly, Vitale shouldn’t be nominated again. That’s not a knock, but he is out of his league here.