Give And Go: The NBA's best of 2013
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: A look back at the NBA's year that was, focusing on the best moment, quote, story, move and Sportsman. For further review of 2013, check out some of The Point Forward's more reflective pieces, including the Top 100 players for 2014, The Floppies for the best dives, 50 reasons why we'll never forget Michael Jordan, 68 reasons to watch the 2013-14 season and our ranking of the best Slam Dunk contests.
1. What was the best NBA moment in 2013?
Ben Golliver: There's only one right answer to this question: Ray Allen's right-corner three-pointer in Game 6 that saved Miami's season and propelled the Heat to their second straight title. It's not hyperbole to suggest that there won't be a better single play this decade. Luckily for all of us, Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins has broken down the shot in all of its glory in a story that will stand the test of time.
What I remember about that night in Miami, almost as much as the shot, was LeBron James' postgame news conference. He was clearly exhausted, and ecstatic at times, and he realized better than anyone just how close the Heat had come to a defeat against San Antonio. His comments came full circle from his bitter, departing words after his 2011 Finals defeat to the Mavericks. "All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today," James said, in one of the most regrettable moments of his career.
Those words -- along with his fake-cough-mocking of Dirk Nowitzki and his snapping retort to a reporter who asked if he was "shrinking" in the fourth quarter -- made for an off-putting, elitist persona, and it was a far cry from the populist James we see running alongside hundreds of children in a recent Nike commercial. Those words were hard to swallow because James, who seems to love both basketball and the company of others, was about to retract into a self-imposed isolation where he would be able to do neither.
This June, though, provided a great look at James, the lover of basketball, displaying a profound respect for the history of the game and those surrounding him. “It was by far the best game I’ve ever been a part of,” James said of Game 6. “The ups and downs, the roller coaster, the emotions, good and bad throughout the game. ... To be a part of something like this, once you’re done playing this game, you would never be able to recreate a feeling like I had, we had, the fans had, you guys had, people at home. Never be able to recreate that. I’m just blessed I could be a part of such an unbelievable moment.”
Watching one of the sport's all-time greats process a historic game shortly after it happened is unforgettable. Listening as he shared the moment made it that much better. What a difference two years makes.
Rob Mahoney: That was certainly the most memorable night on the NBA calendar, as two great teams were separated by only a single great play. I have another pick that plays for a very different reason, though: The Kings' season opener, which flowed as a torrent of joy and relief after mayor Kevin Johnson, majority owner Vivek Ranadive and so many others fought relentlessly to keep the team in Sacramento. After the Maloof family essentially attempted to move the team twice in two years -- once outright to Anaheim, Calif., once in a potential sale to a Seattle-based group -- Kings fans and officials were finally able to enjoy a full changing of the guard and the formal extension of the the city's allegiance to its Kings.
In truth, the franchise has been mismanaged for years, to a point where fans had every right to be disconnected or disappointed. Instead, they gathered in rallies and on message boards, through film treatments and radio appearances and blog missives. They signed petitions and made every concerted effort to let the team know what it meant to their city, that the identity of one is not complete without the other. A fan base poured its efforts and energy into fighting the process and motivations of relocation, and with the help of Johnson, a host of city officials and NBA commissioner David Stern, it succeeded. There they stayed, and months later on the opening night of a season that was very much in jeopardy, there they celebrated.
2. What was the most memorable quote of the year?
Golliver: As I was pulling together my short list for this one I came to the startling realization that four of my favorites could all be classified in the "Aging scorer pridefully lashes out at doubters" genre. I don't know what that says about me, or whether it's a mere coincidence that I just turned 30 in November, but buckle up as we run down these doozies.
"Kevin Durant said James Harden should replace me in the top 10.... Note to self: Make him respect your place in history... again." -- Dwyane Wade. The Heat guard was responding to Durant's assessment of SI.com's Top 10 of 2014 list, which included Wade in the top 10 but not Harden (who was 11th). This quote, which appeared in a hand-written Instagram note, immediately set off a series of debates about the best players at the two guard position, and it set the tone for Miami's three-peat quest. That Wade's quote included a digging reference at the Heat's 2012 Finals triumph over the Thunder raised the stakes.
"Amnesty THAT." -- Kobe Bryant. The Lakers guard was responding to the notion, raised by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, that new salary cap rules make it difficult to pay a single player as much as Bryant is making while still being able to assemble a championship-contending roster. Bryant delivered his trash talk on Twitter after scoring 38 points in a win over Dallas. Revenge is sweet.
"I think that's comical." -- Michael Jordan. The 50-year-old Bobcats owner treated 35-year-old Grizzlies owner Robert Pera like Bryon Russell , brushing off the notion of a one-on-one game between the two men in October. Never change, MJ. It didn't help Pera's cause that two Memphis players immediately said Jordan would beat their boss, or that Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told reports in February that Jordan beat him in a game of one-on-one. PS: Jordan's thoughts on social media -- "I'm not a Twitter, I'm not a twerker" -- were also quote of the year material.
"Is pig p---y pork?" -- Tracy McGrady. The two-time scoring champ called it a career in 2013, but not before he latched on with the Spurs on their ride to the Finals. Asked by a reporter whether he was ready if coach Gregg Popovich called his number, McGrady delivered this incredulous, risque rhetorical question to a small group of reporters. I almost passed out on site and still laugh every time I think of the mischievous smile on his face as he said it. San Antonio didn't win the title, but this was a great way to go out. I'll give McGrady the nod for "Quote of the Year."
Mahoney: "It’s only like one person that’s more scarier than that and that’s God." -- George Hill on LeBron James after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Everything about this quote is perfect. Hill is a very good basketball player in his own right, and an integral part of an excellent Pacers team. But there's almost a childlike reverence in his regard for James, made of equal parts wonder and fear. I can't say I blame him; James has plenty of fire and brimstone in his game, all of which comes out in waves when challenged by high-level competition. Hill had just seen that wrath first-hand in Game 2, when James dropped 36 points on 20 shots while shadowed by one of the best defenders in the game. James was simply a plane beyond that night, operating at a level that was more or less untouchable. That the Pacers still managed to win the game, 97-93, was a testament to their collective execution and will, though in no way could it quell Hill's awe-driven unease.
3. What was your favorite move, trade or draft pick of 2013?
Golliver: The trade deadline was pretty meh, this year's draft class has so far been pretty underwhelming, and the July free agency period saw only a small number of big names changing zip codes (Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans, etc.). For pure comedy's sake, the best move by far was Toronto's trade of Andrea Bargnani to New York. That one paid off again this week when one of his ill-advised threes horrified all of his teammates and two announcing crews. Good times.
The most tantalizing transaction, I think, is one that will be subjected to years of reevaluation: Philadelphia's decision to trade All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for the rights to Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick. Rarely do you see two teams make such a bold play at the same time. The Sixers, under new GM Sam Hinkie, were clearly torching their roster in hopes of a bright tomorrow. The Pelicans, meanwhile, came to the conclusion that Anthony Davis was headed to franchise player status quickly, even though he was just 20 years old, and that it was time to surround him with legit talent.
We're roughly six months post-trade now and Noel, regarded as a possible No. 1 pick before a knee injury saw him slide to No. 6, has yet to play or even receive a firm return date. Without him, Philadelphia is in the Atlantic Division basement, despite a hot start and a strong opening month from rookie guard Michael Carter-Williams. New Orleans is hovering within reach of playoff contention and they could reach the postseason for the first time since 2011 if Davis is able to remain healthy and they catch a few breaks. Holiday is having a fine season, even if his recognition as a young talent has predictably been swallowed up by the Western Conference's deep base of point guard talent (Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio, etc.).
In other words, both teams -- and the key players involved -- are mostly tracking towards to expectations, but little has been decided and there's still plenty left to shake out over the next half-decade. That type of intrigue is worthy of the "favorite move" title.
Mahoney: I'll opt for something a bit more immediate: Golden State's turncoat signing of Andre Iguodala. The former Nugget was ousted from the playoffs by these very Warriors, and yet a few months later it was his addition that made the team whole. Keep in mind that Golden State was never supposed to be in the market for a player of Iguodala's caliber in the first place; with an assortment of highly compensated pieces on the books -- some useful, some not -- the Iguodalas of the world seemed well outside their price range. Yet the Warriors shockingly arranged to dump Richard Jefferson (who will make $11.1 million this season), Andris Biedrins (who will make $9 million), and Brandon Rush on the Jazz at the cost of two future first round picks, clearing room for a four-year, $48 million deal on their cap sheet.
The results have been rather spectacular, to the point that one wonders how Golden State ever got by without the versatile forward. Already Iguodala has established himself as a crucial contributor to the renovated Warriors; he handles the ball for an underwhelming second unit, holding things together when Stephen Curry goes to the bench; Iguodala's defense helps ease the burden on bigs like David Lee and Marreese Speights, who are generally liabilities in coverage; he fits in with the starting lineup wonderfully, as a shooter and slasher, both; Iguodala's willingness to take on every opponent's top perimeter scorer allows the Warriors to more fully hide Curry on that end, while positioning Klay Thompson for success in more favorable matchups.
He also did this and this and made these and completed this and, by some power I do not understand, pulled off this. The Warriors have had their ups and downs this season, but holy hell has Iguodala's Golden State turn been fun.
4. What was the top storyline or news item of 2013?
Golliver: Unfortunately, I think the top storyline of the year was injuries. How could it not be with Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Andrew Bynum, Steve Nash, Danilo Gallinari, Greg Oden, Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and others all making headlines for health-related reasons. Brutal stuff, and not a topic I really want to rehash again right now, especially after the NBA just lost Bryant for another six weeks due to a knee injury.
I think one underrated -- and great! -- storyline of 2013 was the franchise name change game of musical chairs played by the Hornets and Bobcats. Although it still took some getting used to after it was officially announced in January, "Pelicans" has proven to be a superior and regionally-appropriate moniker for New Orleans' team. The franchise's new color scheme and jerseys are both big upgrades, and Pierre, the terrifying mascot, is always good for some chuckles too.
Returning the "Hornets" name to Charlotte and swapping out "Bobcats" was a clear next-step no-brainer, and it was welcome news when the franchise officially announced in May that its name change would take effect next season. Bringing back the teal/purple look that owned the 1990s marks a rare stroke of marketing genius from owner Michael Jordan and the timing couldn't be better: Charlotte is enjoying an upswing under new coach Steve Clifford and they have a cache of draft picks on deck come June. There's a strong chance that, in two or three years, the Hornets have shed the perennial laughingstock label that has followed the Bobcats in recent years. That would be a big win for everybody involved.
Mahoney: I've very much enjoyed the incremental rise of the Pacers, who over the course of the calendar year have gone from mere Eastern Conference competitor to one of the very best teams in the league. Almost every element of their ascent has been fascinating. Roy Hibbert is making his mark as one of the best centers (and most important players) in the league, largely through impeccable defensive technique and relentless off-court work. Paul George validated his max contract extension essentially on signing, as he followed up a fantastic playoff run with an even more spectacular regular season sprint toward stardom. Head coach Frank Vogel remains one of the sharpest (and youngest) in his industry, bringing the perfect mix of empowering bravado and basketball know-how. Lance Stephenson is one of the leading candidates for the Most Improved Player award, having expanded his game in utterly essential ways. George Hill continues to act as invaluable rotation adhesive, and remains one of the league's most wholly underrated contributors. Indiana's front office pulled off a successful offseason by re-signing David West and solidifying the Pacer bench, too, rounding out a team built without the benefit of high lottery picks or max-level free agent signings.
They're confident, they're talented, they're defiant, and they're one of the few teams that can legitimately and consistently challenge the Heat. There's something in this team's evolution for everyone, and that they now share the Eastern Conference summit makes for both brilliant basketball and a terrific story.
5. LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 2012. Removing James from the discussion, who gets the nod as the NBA's Sportsman of the Year in 2013?
Golliver: My vote here is split between Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. I'll go with Duncan because Popovich is always the first person to deflect any credit he receives to the Big Fundamental. My case for Duncan's Sportsman crown is the same case I made for him when The Point Forward ranked him No. 6 on our Top 100 of 2014 list. Here's an excerpt:
Let’s talk about 2013, a season in which Duncan was the league’s best big man, period. Duncan was the most important player on the NBA’s third-rated defense and the second-leading scorer on the No. 7 offense. He earned All-NBA First Team, All-Defensive Second Team, and All-Star honors, and he finished sixth in Defensive Player of the Year voting. His PER ranked No. 6 in the league, his RAPM ranked fourth in the league, his individual defensive rating led the league, he boasted a gaudy +10.5 net rating (among the very best in the league), and he registered more blocks (183) than fouls (117). The only player to post a PER as high as Duncan’s at this age was Karl Malone. Then, Duncan averaged 18.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as he led San Antonio to a 15- 6 postseason record. In case you somehow forgot, he put up a whopping 30/17 Game 6 of the Finals, a stat line that only Shaquille O’Neal has matched in a Finals game since 1986. Duncan came within 5.2 seconds of his fifth NBA title and his fourth Finals MVP award. Let’s say that again for emphasis: he came within about six inches on one Ray Allen three-pointer of beating out a 28-year-old, top-of-the-world LeBron James for Finals MVP.
The cruelest part of Allen's shot really is its impact on Duncan's legacy. Duncan was so close to a perfect 5-0 Finals record, a fourth Finals MVP award and the months of recognition/praise/history-revising/legacy-admiring that a Spurs victory would have produced. Overlooked and under-appreciated for more than a decade, Duncan was poised for a summer in the sun, only to have Allen flip the script at the last minute. The least we can offer Duncan is our imaginary Sportsman of the Year title as a lifetime achievement award/consolation prize.
Mahoney: Even more cruelly, then, I'll go for James' cast of teammates in Miami as the NBA Sportsmen of the Year, as none among them gets quite enough credit for their sacrifice. The fact that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both turned down more lucrative contract offers from other teams in 2010 to maximize their chances of winning a title is still pretty incredible, as in the years since we've seen frequent rumors of "super teams" without any other stars in their prime willing to take a similar pay cut. That they -- and James -- did so has also allowed the Heat to continue adding pieces as they go, be it Shane Battier, Ray Allen, or Chris Andersen. All of those contributors, too, have given up money, touches, and minutes for the sake of something greater -- an emblematic example of sportsmanship. All -- in addition to Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and former Heat guard Mike Miller -- played important roles for Miami, if understated ones alongside the Heat's definitive best player. Make no mistake: It was James who drove Miami to its second straight title through two incredible final series. But he couldn't have done so without all of the functioning, interchangeable parts that make the Heat machine go, whether by spacing the floor, overwhelming opponents with their defense, or snatching up a crucial rebound. Miami has been characterized as a team of stars, and later as a showcase for James. But there's so much more to this team's rotation and process than its spotlit leader, and for that this group deserves notice.