The NBA elites are on their way out the back door. Change the place mats to the front door entrance. The Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics are moving out. There is a new wave of elitist coming through.
It is difficult to imagine the NBA without the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics. They have accounted for 10 of the past 12 NBA Championships since the 98-99 lockout season. Of those 10 championships, only two series went to seven games: in '05 with the Spurs and Detroit Pistons and in '10 with the Lakers and Celtics. These teams have dominated the NBA with the Western Conference reigning supreme over the league.
It might be premature to say that the Spurs have seen their best years fall behind them. They have won over 50 games in the past 12 seasons and it would have been 14 had it not been for the '98-'99 lockout. They have accumulated four NBA championships during the 12 year-span and have been a lock for the first or second in the Western Conference playoff seeding. Their history is so rich that they have only gone five seasons under .500 in their 35 year existence in the NBA.
However, the Spurs are not the overwhelming favorites solely because they do not boast a star-studded roster. Their current day Big 3 of Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are not the most recognizable Big 3 in the league. They take the backseat to the Heat's Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the Celtics Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The Spurs Big 3 were around four years before Boston's and six years before Miami's.
The Spurs are the most consistent team in the NBA but they do not strut with a rock star mentality. They are a traditional franchise with traditional players in a city with a long standing tradition. The Spurs should be the face of the league, their basketball operations strategies should be martial law, but the Spurs are not what America wants them to be: an eye-dropping, jaw-dropping, and jive-talking franchise. The Spurs just simply get the job done and exit out the back door. And this is precisely how they will bow out of the spotlight: through the back door as they get swept under the rug by more fascinating and younger teams.
The Celtics are not too far away from the Spurs. The difference with the Celtics is that they are a streaky franchise. One decade they are winning 10 titles from '59 to '69 and the next decade they cannot even get out of the first round or scratch the playoffs from '93 to 2000. But overall, the Celtics found ways to put together legendary teams that went on remarkable runs. However, I do not see that happening after the 2011 playoffs.
The average age of Boston's Big 3 is 34 years-old (Allen is 35, Garnett 34 and Pierce 33). The team is not getting any younger. Rajon Rondo is a glimpse of the Celtics future at 25 but their supporting cast consists of "have beens" and bench players. The future of the team looks grim along with Garnett's knees.
Now, the Lakers are in a very complex situation: they are aging, unmotivated and severely over the salary cap. They are on the verge of winning their 17th title, their 6th with Phil Jackson, but they seem to be more interested in talking about the prospect of winning their 3rd straight title than actually winning games. But I guess one can expect that from a franchise that has only missed the playoffs five times in 63 years.
Even I cannot say with certainty that this is the Lakers last chance because they are after all, the Los Angeles Lakers. They always find a way to snag a player from another franchise that relishes under the Hollywood eye. The Lakers have that keen ability to acquire pieces that enables them to contend. But like the Spurs and Celtics, the Lakers are getting old. The Black Mamba's bite is not as terrifying, Jackson's aura is not as revering and the Laker faithful are not as patient.
The city demands championships now. Yet, their fans are more lenient than Knicks fans. I have never heard more excuses for the Lakers poor performances this season. Even though they posted a 57-25 record for the second straight year, 2011's team is not championship ready mentally.
The Lakers have adopted this mantra that they are untouchable and no matter what, will prevail as champions this season. They might gain a sense of exigency but it will be too late in the Conference championship or if they are lucky, in the Finals. There are just hungrier teams with chips on shoulders vying for the contention. The Lakers seem content with just being mentioned.
So after the 2011 playoffs, the NBA will see new faces raise the trophy in April and they will witness new franchises dominating their respective conferences. Every dynasty falls and in its wake, new dynasties arise. Sadly for the Celtics, Spurs and Lakers fans, they may have seen their teams championship hopes dwindle. And they may be gone for a while.
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