Championships matter. The lack of one is often one of the first things mentioned when discussing the hall of fame careers of such greats as Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, and many more. How one performs on the biggest stage defines careers and legacies. So after discussing game 7 and the series as a whole, I'm going to focus this post on how I view some individual players in the aftermath of this year's finals.
Probably the biggest winner to come out of the series. His historic shooting performance, combined with effective defense in limited stints on LeBron, pretty much guarantee he'll always have an NBA contract somewhere. Current scouts will see not only the hot shooting, but the couple of plays where he single handedly stopped LeBron James in transition. This will allow them to overlook the fact that he was horribly lost whenever he had to put the ball on the floor. It's even possible that off this performance alone, teams will take a flyer on him as a veteran years from now in the hope that he can get hot during the right series of games.
The breakout star of this season's playoffs was Paul George. Until Kawhi Leonard put up similar numbers in the finals, also while having to defend LeBron. Leonard averaged 14.6 ppg 11.1 rpg and 2 spg during the finals compared to George's 19.4 ppg 6.0 rpg and 5.1 apg. George became an all-star this season and the word "superstar" was being thrown around during that Pacers-Heat series. I can only imagine that Leonard follows in a similar path, and after this finals performance, people might start meaning him when they refer to San Antonio's "big three".
When you're the best player of your generation and one of the best players ever in the NBA, championships matter even more. But the way this series played out, winning achieved more than just getting another title closer to the Jordan and Kobe comparisons. Because the Spurs dared him to beat them by shooting over them from the outside, all the old criticisms of his game reemerged. By winning game 7 with that spectacular shooting performance, he put those demons to rest. For now.
I think Bosh also emerged from this series as a winner. Some might point to his 0 point performance in game 7 and talk about how the Heat could get a third banana with similar numbers for a lot less than what Bosh is getting paid. But that doesn't take into consideration the fact that Bosh was key to their team defense, especially on the pick and roll. It also doesn't factor in that even though he's a third banana, he's able to step up and win regular season games by himself in a way that other third bananas aren't able to do. Those regular season games do matter, as I'm absolutely certain San Antonio would have won the series if they had home court advantage. To me, Chris Bosh proved that he was more valuable to the Heat and what they have specifically built than Dwyane Wade. I think Wade is more likely to take a bigger pay cut than Bosh when their contracts are up, leaving Bosh in a pretty comfortable situation.
He's so workmanlike that a lot of casual fans don't know how great of a scorer he was in his youth. Adding a second championship and another big, dramatic, 3 point shot to his resume should help cement his status as a first ballot Hall of Famer and separate him from comparisons to Reggie Miller, who was a great shooter but nowhere near the scorer Ray Allen has been throughout his career.
A 5th championship would probably have cemented his status as the greatest player of his generation. Especially if it ended in game 6 when he gave a vintage Tim Duncan performance of 30 points and 17 rebounds. Unfortunately that was not to be, which means that it will still be up for debate between him and Kobe Bryant, even though I think it's clear that Duncan was the greatest player of his generation. While Kobe will probably play for longer in the league, Duncan's career longevity and consistency was amazing to behold, especially considering he played a position that many believe is more physically demanding. He also anchored one of the best defenses in the league year after year. Kobe did far more on offense, but he also took many many bad shots (which he excelled at making), while Duncan focused more on taking good shots. Kobe fans will undoubtedly point to his 5 (or more when it's all said and done) championship rings versus Duncan's 4, but people forget that Duncan was the best player on 3 championship teams (3 Finals MVPs) while Kobe was only the best player on two of his winning teams (2 Finals MVPs).