The End of an Era?
Who is to blame for the Laker’s demise in 2011? Some will blame the Lakers’ failures on locker room divisiveness. Others will blame age or a lack of execution.
I know who I’m blaming:
In addition to setting woman’s rights back 60 years by accepting a 5 million dollar “I really f’d up but the only reason I’m truly sorry is because I got caught” ring after publically forgiving her husband for philandering in 2003, and then setting women’s fashion back 30 years by publically donning those 35 year old leopard print one-pieces that we were all convinced had disappeared back in 1977, Vanessa Bryant also evidentially set Pau Gasol’s fragile psych back 28 years by encouraging his 21-year old fiancée to dump him prior to the beginning of the playoffs, resulting in an emotional checkout and complete disappearance by the supposed best low-post forward in the NBA.
Gasol looked like a shell of himself, heart broken in his personal life, and then proceeded to heart-break the Los Angeles Laker fans with an uninspired 4-game performance that lacked energy and resulted in poor play on both ends of the court. Gasol served as the primary reason for his team’s demise, and the Lakers will likely entertain trade offers during the offseason, but his 18.7 million dollar salary as well as the uncertainly surrounding the Collective Bargaining Agreement will undoubtedly serve as challenging obstacles.
Now that the sun has set on Phil Jackson’s storied career, most media enthusiasts, pundits, and basketball fans will remember him for his 11 NBA Championships, and 12 NBA Finals appearances during a marvelous 20-year run that was defined by multiple winning seasons. However, in my mind, Phil Jackson’s greatness was truly validated for the one year that he did not have a player named either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
Anyone who has read my posts knows that I am a strong believer in evaluating individual careers (both players and coaches) based on whether the individual makes the most of the talent/weapons provided to them, not whether or not they simply win championships. Phil Jackson won his 11 rings because he was supposed to have won those 11 rings – he had the best teams in the league during those specific seasons. However, his success in 1994 confirmed that he was not only a coach who won with great players, but one that could get the most out of the talent given to him, even if that talent was not championship caliber.
The 1993-94 Chicago Bulls began the season by losing the greatest player of all time to retirement, and battled skepticism from numerous naysayers who insisted that they would fail to make the playoffs. Instead, Phil Jackson led the Bulls to 55 wins, the #3 seed in the East, and one horrible Hue Hollins call away from making the NBA Finals. It was by far his greatest overachievement and proof that he was more than just a coach who benefitted from having 2 of the 5 best players on his team at a given time.
The Kobe Bryant Legacy
Can we all agree to officially put those ridiculous Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan comparisons to rest……. forever? Other than the Brown Mamba and select members of Kobe Nation, did anyone ever really think that this was a “discussion”?
Didn’t think so.
Michael Jordan was simply a more talented, athletic, and physically/mentally gifted basketball player than Kobe Bryant ever was. Jordan was also more statistically dominant in almost every category, demonstrated a higher level of clutchness, a stronger will to win, peaked higher during the prime of his career, dominated the league for a longer period of time, won more MVPs and accolades, and made a far bigger impact on the game.
Most importantly, what should not be overlooked is the winnability factor. Kobe Bryant could have won 8 championships and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The greatness of a player is not determined by ring counting (each of Top 10 Greatest of All-Time showed that they could win championships when provided with sufficient talent), but by their ability to maximize the opportunities given to them and make the most of their weapons available to them -whether it is winning a championship with a great supporting cast, or winning a 1st round playoff series as an underdog with a mediocre supporting cast – the goal is to mazimize winning with what you are given.
Michael Jordan dominated the teams he was supposed to dominate, never lost to a team he wasn’t supposed to lose to, always won a playoff series whenever his Bulls had home court advantage, and earlier in his career overachieved on multiple occasions by beating teams he had no business beating. Kobe Bryant on the other hand, while being blessed with more supporting talent than any other modern day player, has suffered inexcusable playoff exits to the 2004 Pistons and the 2011 Mavericks, with this latest loss serving as another irrevocable stain on his resume.
With that said, the legacy of Kobe Bryant is still not complete and has room to grow. While he will never be the greatest of all time, and his push for Top 5 status is now in jeopardy, he is still nonetheless a Top 10 legend and his final standing on the GOAT list will remain undetermined for now.
After all, Kobe Bryant has repeatedly proven his ability to be resourceful against Father Time, but many questions still remain. Did Kobe Bryant grow older before our eyes during this recent playoff series? Or was he simply hampered by ongoing injuries? If the former, what can we expect next season when Bryant begins the playoffs closer to 34 years old? Should the Lakers continue to keep him as the primary focal point while tweaking a few parts through trades and free agent signings? Or should they begin running more of the offense through Andrew Bynum?
It will be an interesting summer in Lakerland.
Dirk’s Ghosts of Maverick’s Playoff Past Are Exorcised
Well, almost exorcised. Dirk will never be able to get rid of the stain of the 2006 NBA Finals when his team relinquished a 2-0 series lead to the Heat. He will also never be able to get rid of the even bigger stain when his 67 win Mavericks team lost to the 2007 Golden State Warriors. However, this recent underdog victory will always serve as a trophy to quiet the naysayers.
The Dallas Mavericks had no business either winning or sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in this series, and by leading his team to victory against an opponent that was an overwhelming favorite (and boasted 4 of the 5 best players in the series), Dirk Nowitzki erased any questions about whether he is a true Alpha-Dog superstar in the NBA. He did everything in this series– shut down Pau Gasol, make the correct passes out of double teams, make clutch shots when his team needed them, and provide strong leadership – and he did so with a starting lineup that consisted of a 38 year old Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and DeShawn Stevenson???
Dirk’s Mavs not only beat the defending championship, they destroyed and demoralized them to the point that all 12 of the Laker players quit in the final elimination game. You have to be happy for Dirk. His teams may have choked in the past and his decision making in woman may be horrendous, but his performance against the Lakers was simply legendary, and he will finally get the respect and recognition that he deserves.
Congratulations to the 1991 Detroit Pistons!
20 years later, you are officially off the hook.
Until now, you boasted the most disgraceful playoff exit by a defending champion when you prematurely walked off the floor and refused to shake hands with the opponent in the waning minutes of a 21 point whooping, dynasty ending, series sweep during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Then the 2011 Los Angeles Lakers showed up, and miraculously made you an afterthought. Those cheap shots by Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom officially superseded any Pistons walkout ceremony and now officially top the all time list of the “NBA’s Most Classless Meltdowns”.
Note to Future Defending Champions: If you are getting your ass kicked and are about to get swept, just leave the floor with some semblance of dignity and let Luke Walton take your place instead of switching to hockey in the middle of the 4th quarter.
It will be a very long and interesting summer. Lets hope the lockout ends sooner than later