Twenty-one thoughts on the 2021 NBA Finals from a purely provincial perspective:
1. In retrospect, the Milwaukee Bucks going against the Phoenix Suns might be the ultimate slap in the face for the Miami Heat.
If there was a better organizational read that Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to re-up with the Bucks, then Jae Crowder assuredly would have been offered more than a one-year guarantee, instead of moving on to Phoenix and coalescing the Suns’ chemistry.
2. Beyond that, even if Antetokounmpo had moved into 2021 free agency, exactly how would Giannis, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler exactly have played out, anyway, with the lack of spacing?
When the Bucks aren’t hitting shots, a wall is being built and Milwaukee often looks ordinary.
3. Yes, the Heat and their South Florida winter compatriots the Florida Panthers both could wind up having lost in the first round to their league’s eventual 2021 champions.
The difference is the Panthers lost to a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has a dynastic aura. The Heat’s first-round sweep came against a Bucks team that since has had numerous shaky moments.
4. This, in fact, could be a Finals where neither team enters the following season as a conference favorite.
In the East, that likely will be the Brooklyn Nets of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. And in the West, it will be yet another LeBron James revenge season, as well as the return of Klay Thompson to the Golden State Warriors.
5. Still, all credit to former Heat forward James Jones for the work in the Suns’ front office. He learned at LeBron’s side what winning meant in the East, and then exported it west.
6. For that matter, the rookie season of Suns coach Monty Williams came as a New York Knicks forward coached by current Heat President Pat Riley.
“Every day had a huge effect on me,” Williams has said of that season.
7. Based on the Bucks’ uneven moments, it remains unclear if Mike Budenholzer is a better coach than the one who got blown out in five games by the Heat last season, or whether it is as simple as he got Jrue Holiday.
8. For all the consternation of Riley trading away so many first-round picks over the years, the Bucks’ dealing of three first-rounders for Holiday shows that you have to strike when opportunity presents itself — just as the Heat did with first-rounders in deals for LeBron, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic and Butler.
9. Centers still matter, as Brook Lopez has shown with the Bucks and Deandre Ayton with the Suns. It is a significant consideration as the Heat decide on the approach going forward alongside Bam Adebayo.
10. Devin Booker at No. 13 in the 2015 NBA draft to the Suns; Justise Winslow three picks earlier to the Heat. An ongoing sobering reality.
11. While much was made of the Heat advancing to last season’s NBA Finals after getting the Indiana Pacers without Domantas Sabonis in the first round, seeing the Bucks lose Antetokounmpo in the second and the Celtics with a hobbled Gordon Hayward in the 2020 East finals, keep in mind how diminished the Nets were against the Bucks in this season’s second round (Harden, Irving), and then Trae Young’s misstep in the East finals.
12. For that matter, the Suns benefited from a wounded Anthony Davis in the first round against the Lakers and an absent Jamal Murray in the second round against the Denver Nuggets, before facing a Los Angeles Clippers team in the Western Conference finals that lacked Kawhi Leonard.
13. So you can’t write off what the Heat did against ailing opposition in 2020, when such absences have stood as the definition of the 2021 playoffs.
14. For that matter, you bet both last season and this season were asterisk seasons. There’s never been anything before like pandemic ball. Asterisks practically were invented for seasons such as these.
15. But there is a huge difference between an asterisk season and one that is tainted. The Bucks and the Suns earned their way here, just as the Heat and Lakers did last season.
16. There again will be a quick turnaround for the Finalists, with Game 7 scheduled for July 22 and training camps to open on Sept 28. So, another two months . . . and go.
17. This time, though, three players in the Finals have USA Basketball Olympic commitments: the Suns’ Devin Booker and the Bucks’ Khris Middleton and Holiday. So keep an eye on members of the Select Team, which includes the Heat’s Tyler Herro. A member of that practice squad possibly could move up to the Olympic roster.
18. And, yes, this all has seemed rushed in order to get out of the way of the Olympics, to the health detriment of many around the league, including those particularly brutal scheduling sequences for the Heat.
19. When it comes to rooting interest, the Heat have two former Suns (Dragic, Trevor Ariza) and no former Bucks (but Heat assistant coaches Caron Butler and Malik Allen did play for the Bucks).
20. The consolation for the Heat (and every other team not in the Finals) is that sometimes all it takes is one big move and one complementary move to take a huge step forward, be it Chris Paul and Crowder with the Suns, or Holiday and Bobby Portis with the Bucks.
21. With a lesson that you also have to evolve through the course of a season, as the Suns did in March with the addition of Torrey Craig and the Bucks did a day later with P.J. Tucker, just as the Heat did the season before with Crowder and Andre Iguodala at that trading deadline, on the way to the 2020 Finals.
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