We saw the Penguins do on Friday what no one (including me) thought they could do. Beat the defending champs in Detroit. I mean no one gave them a chance. At least no one I heard or saw did. I figured they would at least make a game of it and also believed that if anyone could beat Detroit at home in a Game 7 no less, it would be Pittsburgh. Why you ask. Back in the semifinals, Pittsburgh went to Washington and beat down the Capitals in a Game 7 by the score of 6-2. Now the Red Wings could have won this game. A turnover and a defensive miscue led to the two goals scored by Pittsburgh. Detroit goalie Chris Osgood is as good as any other clutch playoff goalie. His record speaks for itself. Marc-Andre Fluery was magnificent right down to the wire. That diving save at the end will be his greatest moment. I mentioned to one of my brothers that who ever is going to win the Stanley Cup, will need to win at least one game on the road. It came down to Pittsburgh winning when it mattered.
Now the Penguins will have some decisions to make come July 1 for Free Agency. Key players eligible to leave: Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Hal Gill, Philippe Boucher, and Rob Scuderi. Guerin might end up retiring now that he has name on the Cup for the second time. The other names mentioned were key parts to this championship team. If all of these names leave, I still think the Penguins have enough to still be contenders. Will they repeat though, doubtful. They could delve into the free agent pool to replace them, but you can’t buy a championship as we’ve seen in other sports. As predicted Sid the Kid has one down and many more to go through his still evolving career. He is only 21. Hard to believe.
The monkey has finally gotten off Kobe Bryant’s back and really the entire team’s. After last years Finals meltdown against the Boston Celtics, they were labeled soft, uninspired, wouldn’t show up when it mattered, just to name a few. They showed in these playoffs that even great teams are vulnerable. It is extremely hard to win a championship in any sport. This just proves that. Utah was a relative breeze and many think Houston should have been, but those that know basketball said that the Rockets exposed a Laker weakness in the pick and roll. Towards the end of that series, LA manned up and destroyed it to victory. Denver came in as hot as any playoff team and many were not going to be surprised to see them beat the Lakers. Denver tried to psych them out, but LA held their ground, found out that Denver couldn’t guard the paint and beat them in Denver to advance.
Kobe is one of three people responsible for this championship. The other two I’ll name shortly, but back to Kobe. The Finals brought out the best in Bryant. He didn’t have to score 40 points every game, passed the ball with great efficiency and was a true leader before our eyes. Michael Jordan didn’t win his first until 1991, seven years after he was drafted. Kobe had to wait four for his first and seven to win one without Shaq. He did acknowledge after the game that every team has a dynamic duo, referring to his days with Shaq, to win a championship. Those were great days that could have resulted in six possibly seven championships for the Lakers. To not dwell on the past, Kobe was in the same class as any other great basketball player without this title. Yes all those Kobe haters were not going to let it go, even though he was already showing signs of turning into a reliable passer and team leader. The mamba had to go through a lottery season, no big man (until the Gasol trade), and no Phillip to get to this point. Did Shaq have to go through all that to get his fourth. No, he had Dwayne Wade carry him to that title. Kobe almost left for the Clippers, but stayed through it and it resulted in the awakening of a possible dynasty in LA. I’m not saying that for a fact, just a possibility.
The second man is General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Yes, the heir apparent to Jerry West who was destroyed in LA for the Shaq trade, but it resulted in Lamar Odom. He was hammered for drafting a project in Andrew Bynum with that lottery pick, who Kobe wanted no part of in the beginning. To his credit Bynum put in the work and has become a good center with the potential to be the best. Kupchak got plenty of offers for Bynum, but stayed firm and didn’t give into the pressure. Mitch turned it all around in February of 2008 trading essentially just Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol. Most one sided trade in any sport. More one sided than the Cowboys Herschel Walker deal in the NFL. That same year he traded Maurice Evans and Brian Cook to that Orlando Magic team for, wait for it, Trevor Ariza. The same Ariza who helped get the Lakers back into Game 4 of the NBA Finals. I give a third of the credit to this great GM. Yes he is a great GM. You can’t grade a General Manager of a team until a few years have passed on the deals he has made. It sucks to wait, so we do have to speculate as well. And we were all wrong. Kudos to Kupchak.
Finally, to Phil Jackson. Who now has the title, “Most Titles for a Coach Ever.” In any sport. That is crazy good. A ring for every finger now. For those to suggest that he got where he has was because of the players is valid. To say he did nothing is comical. This guy had to tell Michael to pass the ball every once in a while and good things will happen. He got MJ, Pippen and Rodman to win three titles in a row. That for me is worthy of greatness. But to get Kobe and Shaq to buy in when they wanted nothing to do with each other was a stroke of genius. I don’t know how he did it, but it worked. Now his next achievement was simple compared to the others. Get Kobe to trust in the coach. When Phil left LA the first time, he wrote in a book that Kobe was “uncoachable.” Damning words to Kobe Bryant no doubt. When the time came that the Lakers needed to rebuild fast, they and Kobe turned to Phil. Kobe knew that Phil would bring balance to this team and franchise in turmoil and it was rather quick. Phil Jackson has won 10 out of the last 19 NBA championships. Greatest NBA coach ever on that fact alone.
Congrats to me and JR’s favorite basketball team. This was a great season and I (as is JR I’m sure) am looking forward to another run at a title. Keep Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza in LA. Mitch, I have faith in you. To end the speculation on whether Phil is coming back, I’m going to take a page from Terrell Owen’s publicist. Phil has 12 million reasons to come back. One more year and one more ring wouldn’t hurt. Kobe was great before and is even greater now. These guys will be a force in the West for many years.