Los Angeles Fireballs: Beyond Expectations

  • By Jron Magcale, Day 146, 2020

by Lesane Wainwright
LA Times

LOS ANGELES - Game 5 of the Finals, Los Angeles looking like they are in control of the game and on their way for a 2nd win in the series but the inevitable happened, closing out the game was harder than they expected especially with one of their starters in foul trouble, wing Jordan Carstensen picked up his 5th foul early and was just limited to 16 mins on a pivotal game 5 of the 2020 finals. Dajuan Jefferies who took his place had a hard time guarding Tezale Craig at that wing spot. Isaiah McCarty although getting his shots in 30 pts (10/22 FG, 7/17 3FG) had a bad day defending the much bigger and stronger Simon Hartford at 4 which was the key for Nashville during the series (35 pts on 11/18 FG and 15 rebs). The Fireballs didn't have the personnel to stop the inside onslaught of Stars in the 4th quarter and fell victim in the 2nd half which saw Stars putting 70 pts to Fireballs 53 pts. In the end the Fireballs fell short as Nashville won a close one 115-111. Confetti drops, the Nova stadium erupts and the Stars won their first ever JBL title in franchise history a great ending to what has become a great season for Nashville.

The Fireballs collectively was just tired, didn't have the legs for it to finish the game let alone the series. They did what they could, they know if they want to win this series they have to outshoot the Stars from the outside at a significant effectiveness as they have done vs the Rockets and the Scorpions, in this series, they didn't have it:

GM 1 - 10/26 3FG 38%
GM 2 - 8/40 3FG 20%
GM 3 - 11/40 3FG 27%
GM 4 - 17/49 3FG 34%
GM 5 - 14/40 3FG 35%

Essentially basing off those numbers you would've thought Fireballs gets Game 4 and 5 but the fatigue factored during the closing of game 5, if they have won game 5, people would still doubt if the Fireballs still have enough legs to win games 6 and 7. A lot of factors that are in place but it is what it is.

"I think the fact that the boys played 2 straight game 7s at such a high pace was a factor in this series. If you look at game 1 of the finals the legs weren't there anymore. They know they need to keep on shooting but Nashville was just a stronger overall team, we weren't evenly matched personnel-wise but we did our best to keep up with their attacks inside that was the difference. Our outside shots weren't falling, we knew first hand it would be a task by itself." GM Jron told the reporters after the game.

Game. Set. Match. Stars weren't a good match for the Fireballs, they were bigger and stronger team and Fireballs didn't have the defense to go against a juggernaut team like the Stars after a grueling physical battle vs post heavy teams like Austin and Las Vegas, it took a toll on veterans Colin Stafford who had a phenomenal run up until mid-series of the conference finals and Isaiah McCarty who played out of position all playoffs long.

When the all the media duties are done, the lights seems to dim on the Fireballs. "What a ride, man. What a ride." Chris LaCruz told me while walking in the hallway after the game. That was the only words I got from the star PG of the Fireballs who has been a revelation this season and in the playoffs. As he walks 2 of the players who were traded mid season Colin Stafford and Isaiah McCarty was walking alongside with him and seems like consoling the young star.

Coach Rudaski Odrzywolski always a consumate professional sees the finals series as a great proving point to his team, at the start of the season he told his guys to not settle for their average performance and that they can be a championship team and compete for a ring, and they did just that. Against greater odds they have proved they can hang with the best of them. A legend and a champion coach himself, he instills the values and experience he has to his players and staff.

"The reason we didn't won the championship is because I let Alton (Wilkes) coach the team this finals." Coach O joked with the press people after the game. "Well all jokes aside, Alton and Stu (King) did a splendid job preparing the team and overall coaching, we would've made it this far if it wasn't for our collective thinking and brainstorming. We don't have a star-studded cast per se, butwe just worked with our strengths and iMac and Colin provided veteran experience to the young fellas. Carst was just always what a Fireball will be and he showed it all season long, Chris he knows this is always going to be his team and he showed me, he showed us that he is an MVP candidate every time he puts his foot on that gas." He added.

I must say that Los Angeles Fireballs exceeded my personal expectations, they fought all season long and was toe-to-toe with their nemesis the Austin Rockets to take the top spot in their division and eventually won out the homecourt by a margin of 1 game. They finished tying their best record of 34-22 which was ironically their last season's record under new management since 2018 offseason the team have progressed significantly. Looking at how this team progressed since GM Jron took over in the offseason of 2018 it has it fair shares of ups and downs management-wise a lot of decisions have been made that was brilliant and some are head-scratchers to some degree but paid off in its own way:

2018 Record - 16-40 (Rebuilding Season)
2019 Record - 34-22 (2nd in their Division, 1st Round exit lost to Rockets 3-4)
2020 Record - 34-22 (1st in their Division, Won their conference against top seeded Las Vegas Scorpions 4-3, Lost in the JBL Finals to Nashville Stars 1-4)

Since GM Jron took over the team is 68-44, not bad for a young GM taking over a 16-40 team and building with a young star in Chris LaCruz (whom has been an All-Star (2x) and was an All-JBL 1st team his 1st season with Los Angeles and potentially be named 1st team again after his performance this season), he benefited on the Los Angeles rebuild as the team was tailor-made to his strengths. A series of free agent signings in the offseason of 2020 saw them nabbing a big name with tons of potential in Athletic PF Drayton Banks and adding a veteran wing with Curtis Westley but both players were traded mid-season (Westley was sent to a package with a draft pick to acquire SG Jamal Wilkinson who contributed to their deep playoff run when was named starter while Drayton Banks was sent to the Vultures in exchange for Star veteran PF Colin Stafford who proved to be essential on once playoff started). Fan favorite young wing SF Liu Jinghau was also moved mid-season in exchange for high scoring all-star wing Isaiah "iMac" McCarty who was instrumental on their late season run to nab the top seed in their division.

Those moves were "Win-now" moves that resulted in the success they had this 2020 season but put a smudge on their potential future as trading away Drayton Banks killed their long-term potential at the 4-5 spot, it can be argued that GM Jron didn't gave that LaCruz-Banks combo a chance to grow, now Banks can blossom as the star in Phoenix where legend Ben Winder retires after this season, Banks can now be the focal point of the Vultures future whilst Colin Stafford although proved that he can still play at an All-star level is in the downward slope of his career at 34 years old, he may still play for 2-3 seasons but with him being a free agent after this season, it will be interesting what steps he'll take. At this point Colin Stafford would want to win a ring and their finals run may factor for him to stay at a discounted price. SF Liu "The Dragon" Jinghau, though inconsistent at times showed promise, he can fill the oid that iMac left in Miami if he can prove that he can consistent. iMac is 30 years old now and will be 31 by next season with a contract expiring after the 2021 season (a crucial season as Chris LaCruz rookie contract will also expire meaning salary-wise Los Angeles would max him up front and will affect their moves moving forward), although iMac fits the system in LA, his defense proved to be a weakness when he was abused by much bigger matchups.

The success they achieved this 2020 season maybe viewed as a success beyond their own expectations but also can be viewed as a double-edged sword due to the fact that it has future implications. For now, the moves that GM Jron made to be in their position was a masterpiece for a short-term goal, fool's gold if you will but the City of Los Angeles would take it how it is viewed a win for the franchise and the city whom is in deep need of success. It is economically better for the Los Angeles franchise as it filled the arena and the merchandise sold were breaking record numbers. Social media platforms were blasting Los Angeles Fireballs hashtags all season long, and being a top 5 team in the JBL pays, a media juggenaut of a city, it is hard to please Los Angeles but the team has exceeded that expectations and now is looking for more success. A new JBL is on the horizon 80 games would be a huge payout for the franchise in terms of home games because they can sellout the arena building from a successful 2020 run, the momentum is there but the decisions in the off-season would still linger everything they do now will be crucial.

The team blended with the city Fireballs was a fast-paced, high scoring, star heavy and diverse much like the City of Los Angeles. It fits like a glove now, we are looking at a new era of professional basketball, a new division in which they will be in the same stables as powerhouses Seattle Thunder, Las Vegas Scorpions, Oakland Tritons and expansion team Portland Lumberjacks (who landed a big name GM in Tim Boumtje formerly of Oakland Tritons a championship team) dubbed by the media as "Hell in the Pacific" because of the nature of competitive teams basically 4 out of the top 10 teams in in this division, so you know the road to another successful campaign will be a lot harder. But as GM Jron said after the finals "We have gone through one hell of a season this year, wouldn't mind to go through more of the same is that means another shot at the ring."

As the season draws to a close the Los Angeles has been in the tail-end of the standings early in the season, fighting for a playoff spot middle of the season and finished the season with a Finals appearance, although falling short losing to the eventual champions Nashville Stars, to quote the rapper Drake "We started from the bottom and now we here." We did started from the bottom and now we are here competing for the ring, though didn't finish the season the way a storybook-ending would. I can say that Los Angeles Fireballs perform beyond everybody's expectations.

Curtains closed.
Music fades.
and now, take a bow.