Friday, May 27, 2011

How Danny Ainge Cost Me $20

I really didn’t think they would do it; that’s why I took the bet.  Eventually, they might win a few.  Heck, they might even win it next year, but there was no way that the Miami Heat would win the title the first year the super-team was assembled. 

Or so I thought; and so I shook.

I knew how much talent they had.  I knew that the combination of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade had the potential to be the most explosive duo in the history of the sport, and I even knew that on any given night those two alone could beat almost any other squad in the League.  However, despite all this knowledge, I really did not think that Miami could click quickly enough to claim a championship in their inaugural season. 

Also at the time I saw obstacles; the Magic were big.  The Bulls were up-and-coming.  The Spurs were solid.  The Lakers looked like clear cut favorites, as everyone knew Phil only wins in threes, and most importantly the Celtics served as LeBron’s kryptonite; they even had the color right.  Thus it was a collective combination of the fact that I didn’t think two superstars who had been accustomed to being the sole alpha dog on their respective squads their entire career could become a cohesive unit quickly enough to contend for a championship, and the apparent abundance of legitimate and well-positioned title contenders, that led to my confident acceptance of the proposed bet. 

As the events of the season began to unfold it seemed as though I was sitting pretty; the Spurs and Lakers were rolling, the Celtics seemed to be the same team that was one win away from being the defending champs, and most importantly, the Heat were struggling.  Depth and chemistry, the two issues that many figured would plague the Heat prior to the season, were proving to be serious concerns, as the Heat trudged their way through a tumultuous first half of the season. 

Suddenly things started to change.  The Heat began to string together some wins in a convincing manner, just as initial Finals favorites such as the Spurs and Magic began to slowly slip away from true Title contention.  Then it happened.  In an inexplicable move that seemed to be a reaction to the building momentum in Miami, Boston PBO Danny Ainge shipped away Kendrick Perkins, the literal center piece to the Celtics, thus shattering the chemistry and confidence of the only remaining team deep and determined enough to derail Miami.  The move shot wavelengths through what was a unified locker room, essentially breaking down a  Boston team that had developed into brothers and adopted a total team attitude.  The impact was almost immediately seen on the court, as the Celtics struggled without their familiar fifth, resembling just a shell of the squad that had fallen just one game short of a Championship last season.

All season, at least up until this point, Boston had served as a sort of safety net for my bet; the one team against which LeBron had so mightily struggled, and a big piece to the puzzle of why he felt he needed to align himself with other stars in South Beach in order to succeed.  Regardless of what happened to the other contenders, I still had Boston in my back pocket.  They were still the class of the East until Miami dethroned them, a feat that I figured, given Boston’s drive, desire, depth, and star power, would take a couple seasons.  Then, Danny Ainge occurred. 

You can’t blame the guy for trying to solidify his squad for the future, but you should never tinker with a Title-bound team.  Sure they might have had some contract issues a couple years down the road, but you play to contend in the current season, and the Celtics would have been able to do a lot more than contend.  Instead, the team’s foundation was ruptured and they were never able to fully recover.  It was no surprise then that an increasingly confident Miami team was able to conquer a confused and creaky Celtic squad. 

People criticized Miami’s [over] celebration after the Celtics series, but I understood, and began to mentally prepare myself to admit defeat; a fate way worse than having to part with any small sum of money.  See Boston, the team that Miami was modeled after , as well as the team that necessitated LeBron’s migration, represented a sort of final hurdle for the Heat; the team they needed to dethrone in order to attain their destiny.  Thus, beating Boston was like a burden lifted off Miami’s back (LeBron’s especially), as any confidence lacking prior to the series was certainly present afterwards.  The next part was easy, as there was little speculation as to whether Miami would advance past Chicago to the Championship, as the Heat now appear to be the NBA’s top team.

No, the title hasn’t been won yet, as Dirk and Dallas still have a chance to save me $20, but it is difficult to put too much faith into a franchise whose central superstar crumbled like a cookie in his only previous Finals appearance, regardless of the brilliance he’s displayed throughout this postseason.  Sure the Mavericks have a shot, and Dirk is certainly deserving, but something tells me the Heat, using the success of the Boston series as a confidence catalyst, are headed for their first in what could be a long line of titles.

So,  when and if i do have to pull out that crispy twenty, or four crinkled fives, and hand it over, I’ll know in the back of my mind, that I have Danny Ainge to thank. 

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