I think I can explain the sudden quietude of the sports world. Boston area sports fans are napping for moment in the afterglow of the Celtics’ latest NBA Championship in order that they may replenish their energies and focus all of their attention on the Red Sox assault on the World Series. That is the next objective for the New England sports maniacs, but they have had an exhausting time of it what with the Sox win last year and the Pats compilation of 18 straight wins over the winter and then the Celtics championship. Those fans need a small rest now; my guess is that by the All-Star break, they will be back at full energy and with full focus.
The Celtics win in six games over the Lakers offers an interesting – though not quite ironic – view of the playoffs as a whole. The Lakers won the NBA Western Conference, which is clearly the better conference in terms of the density of quality teams. The Celtics stood out in the East and were able to finish off those Western Champions in six games. However, earlier in the playoffs the Atlanta Hawks took the Celtics to seven games. The Hawks finished eighth in the East and could not even muster a .500 record for the year. But they took the Celtics to seven games and the Lakers did not.
Do I think that means the Hawks are better than the Lakers? Of course not.
Do I think that means the NBA manipulated that early series to increase fan interest in Atlanta where fan interest has been lukewarm at best for the last decade? No, I do not.
Do I think that the Celtics win over the Lakers pointed out at least one serious flaw in the Lakers as a team? You bet I do.
The Lakers have a transcendent player in Kobe Bryant, a really good player in Pau Gasol, a much better than average player in Lamar Odom and an experienced point guard to run the team in Derek Fisher. So, how did they lose?
They lost because the Lakers do not play defense. For most of the time, they don’t even put up a façade of playing defense. There is no helping out on defense; there is no intensity on defense. And to compound that problem, the Lakers are not a strong rebounding team. They jump well but all of the folks who play on the front line can be muscled out of the way. Any game where the officials are of a “let-them-play” mentality will have the Lakers at risk.
Next season, the Lakers will get Andrew Bynum back. What Bynum needs to do for the Lakers to be the best player that the team can add would be to play solid team defense for 32 – 35 minutes a game, get 14 rebounds per game and score 8 points per game. The Lakers do not need him to score; in fact, it might be counter-productive to try to make him into a scorer within their offense. What they need is an energetic defender and a strong presence in the middle as players jockey for position to grab rebounds.
Can Bynum do that? Well, he is very big and he’s young and strong. He probably has the ability to do that; the question is will he and/or will he be allowed to do that?
Many times I’ve said that it takes three years to assess an NFL Draft because many players at many positions take a year or two to develop their skills for play at the NFL level. Some folks have even said that a five-year retrospective is what you really need to do that. Well, the 2005 crop of draftees have been around for three seasons and frankly, the crop doesn’t look very good from the perspective of the players taken at the top of the draft. Consider:
Alex Smith was taken first. He has had one decent season and two less than acceptable ones. Let’s be kind and say that he isn’t a complete bust but if he was the player at the top of the heap in that year, then there just might be problems lower down…
Ronnie Brown was taken second. He’s been good if not stunning – - when he has been healthy which has not been all of the time.
Cedric Benson was taken fourth. He has not been good on the field; reports are that he was not all that good in the locker room; he has had more than a few missed games due to injuries and he has been an off-the-field problem. He is also now unemployed.
Cadillac Williams was taken fifth. He’s been fine when he’s been on the field, which isn’t all that often.
Pacman Jones was taken sixth. He has loads of physical skill and has demonstrated them on the field – - when allowed to play. From the neck down, he may be a Hall of Fame quality player; from ear-to-ear, he is an accident in search of a time and place to happen.
Troy Williamson was taken seventh. He can fly. The problem is that he can’t catch a cold. Even if they allowed stick-um once again, he would have problems.
Mike Williams was taken tenth. He is already out of football. He had trouble getting in shape and keeping weight under control. Supposedly, he also had difficulty making it to meetings and practices on time.
Folks, that is seven of the top-ten picks in the 2005 NFL Draft and I do not think that it is such a horrendous stretch of logic to say that the teams making those selections have been less than fully satisfied with what they got.
Finally, here is an observation from syndicated columnist, Norman Chad:
“The Yankees and Red Sox play each other 72 times a season, not counting the playoffs. Contractual restrictions with MLB allow ESPN to carry only 64 of them.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…