These NBA playoffs are kid's play
When the All-NBA votes were released Thursday, only LeBron James picked up more first-team votes than Chicago’s Derrick Rose, which just reinforces what we’ve been seeing in the playoffs this spring.
Youth is being served — in big, wonderful doses and sometimes to the detriment of the old guard.
That’s not just OK for the NBA.
It’s great for the NBA.
Nothing against Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan or Boston’s Big Three, all future Hall of Famers with numerous rings to cement their legacies. But the sport had been getting a tad stale in recent seasons, with the same faces going deep into the postseason. Even this past regular season, it looked like we were headed for more playoff celebrations by the league’s resident golden oldies.
Luckily for David Stern, he’s got some new blood, new superstars who are making an impact in the playoffs. That’s good for business and fan interest — and something the commissioner would do well to remember if he locks the players out on July 1.
Arguably, it’s the biggest and best invasion of young studs in the playoffs since Magic Johnson walked into the league in 1980 and won Finals MVP.
We’re not saying that Rose is Johnson or anyone else is doing what Magic did that crazy night in Philadelphia 31 years ago, playing center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and going for 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists. Maybe you don’t know this, but Magic did all that to clinch the title and he was just 20. Nobody’s ever topping that.
But the NBA has gotten a much-needed shot in the arm from kids like Rose, who at 22 was voted the youngest MVP, and has performed brilliantly in this postseason; and Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, both just 22.
Starring at both ends of the court, Rose took the Bulls to the East finals Thursday night after easily finishing off the Hawks in Atlanta, 93-73. Now he and his teammates will have to master Miami’s Big Three, a tall order for anyone. Durant, also a first-team All-NBA selection, can get Oklahoma City to the West finals with a Game 7 win Sunday against Memphis. How’s that not good for the NBA?
Here’s what we love about Rose and Durant, besides the fact that in the not-too-distant future they could be going against each other in a Finals: They’re throwbacks.
Did you catch Rose’s acceptance speech when he became the first Bull to win the MVP since Michael Jordan?
"It's amazing," he said. "This is only my third year. I'm still learning things about the game, still making careless turnovers, things like that. But to be the MVP at 22 years old, it makes me want to push harder, work harder, stay in the gym longer. Those are the types of things that push me, especially having this award. I'm blessed to be in this position right now."
Hope some kids read that and commit it to memory. Then there is Durant, who could have bolted from the Thunder for the bright lights of New York or L.A. when he became a free agent. But he opted to puts roots down in Oklahoma City. He’s this generation’s Tim Duncan, happy to be in a small market and all about the team.
The playoffs used to belong to the graybeards. How many times did we use to hear that nothing trumps playoff experience? But that hasn’t applied this postseason, where a team like Memphis, new to the playoffs, got the best of the Spurs. Getting big games from Zach Randolph, who still isn’t 30, and Mike Conley Jr., the rising young playmaker who used to be known as Greg Oden’s caddy. No more.
"One thing has been proven in these playoffs – it’s about the young guys," Charles Barkley said the other night during a TNT telecast. "One thing that has been very evident with these playoffs: Basketball is a young man’s sport. You saw it with the Spurs and you saw it with the Lakers. Father Time is always going to win. When you get to be a certain age in the NBA and you’re playing against a young Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James and the NBA starts stacking those games up every other day, it takes its toll on you."
It took its toll on Boston, when the Celtics couldn’t deal with James and Wade, both still under 30, and so the Celtics won only once against the more athletic Heat.
"Those two guys are monsters," Doc Rivers said after Wade and James combined for 77 points in the Heat’s close-out win. They’re at the top of the list of the under-30 crowd — Wade is 29 and James is 26 — and it looks as if they’ll be getting to June for quite a few years to come with Chris Bosh, who is just 27.
Bryant and the Lakers couldn’t even get a game off of the Mavs, as Kobe looked more mortal than ever in failing to will his team to even one win. The Spurs failed to force a Game 7 on their home floor against Memphis, as Duncan also showed that he’s too old to dominate. Maybe once in a while, but not like before.
The only grizzled stars still alive are in Dallas, where Dirk Nowitzki, only 32, and the ageless wonder, Jason Kidd, 38, are going strong. If it’s Dallas-Oklahoma City in the West finals, you can bet that one of the biggest storylines will be the age vs. youth theme. In that series, we’ll see if Kidd can have his way with Westbrook the way he did against the slow, old Lakers.
"I never, ever expected Jason to be playing at such a high level now, this many years after I traded him to Dallas," said Sixers president Rod Thorn, who as Nets president in 2008 sent an unhappy Kidd to the Mavs. "What he’s been doing is just amazing. But what we’ve seen in these playoffs is that the young guys are really taking their games to another level. For instance, what Derrick Rose has been doing, game in and game out, is really something special. That’s good for the sport."
There’s no question it’s a better mix now, especially when it looked like the Lakers and Celtics were headed for a third Finals showdown in the past four seasons. It’s not as if we’re done hearing from those two teams. Last year’s finalists have to do some retooling, no question. If the Lakers can find some guards who can get their own shots, they can still challenge. If the Celtics can figure out how to add a big man, along with more athletes, to complement the Big Three, there’s no reason to think that they’ve been surpassed on a permanent basis by the Heat.
So it’s not as if the young guys have taken over. They’ve just announced that they’re here and have to be reckoned with from now on. But here’s a word of warning to the kids: Watch out for those old dudes.
"That’s what I told the team a couple of days ago, when people were talking about the Lakers. They’ll be back," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "Sometimes, it’s about matchups in this league. People started writing off Boston two years ago when they lost to Orlando, and they were back in the Finals last year. Each year is different. Kobe Bryant, he’s not going anywhere. This will probably just be fuel for him. It will probably be one of the best summers that he’s ever had."
It just happened to start early for Bryant, while the young guys like Rose and Durant are still showing their stuff.