NBA Mythology in Disarray
I believe that fans and pundits alike always subscribe to a mythical NBA scenario. In this most recent mythology, leading up to the most recent Laker road trip, the Lakers were to lose at least 2 games away–splitting home and home victories with Cleveland and Boston–and then try to develop or prove their toughness for an ultimate East/West showdown in the playoffs.
Boston would ultimately become the East coast champions, Labron would become the NBA MVP as a consolation prize, and the NBA championship would hinge on who got home court advantage (probably the Leprechauns).
When Bynum went down in game #1, the Lakers lost their chance to prove toughness through seasonal play-and their chance at home court advantage. Their only chance would be through an unlikely “Gasol style” Hail Mary trade. Many Laker fans who bought into this mythology actually gave up on the Lakers until next year.
The Laker victories on the road, under extreme circumstances, successively at Boston and Cleveland have shaken the mythologists to the core. How could the Lakers be soft when Lamar pats KG on the butt and makes two free throws and the Lakers squeak out a victory? How can Lebron be MVP when he has a stinker of a game at home while a sick Kobe makes an impossible “lights out” rainmker in his face? If the season is over without Andrew, how come the Lakers just went 6-0 on a road trip without him? Could reality be a bit more complex than the mythologists thought?
Reality tells us that the Thunder could come into Staples on Tuesday and beat the Lakers by 30. Reality tells us that that a resurgent Jazz, Suns, Trailblazers, ??? could take out the #1 Lakers in the first round of the Western playoffs.
Reality tells us that Duncan, Wade, Howard, or some other star may yet emerge as the top MVP candidate–as he leads his team to and through the playoffs.
Reality tells us that teams like Miami, Atlanta, or even Larry’s Bobcats might somehow not only make it into the playoffs, but knock out the Leps and the Crabs in the process.
The mythologists are scratching their heads, trying to decide whether or not to invent a new mythology.
I subscribe to reality. I watch the games, speculate on trades, and appreciate Laker wins on a daily basis–never knowing for sure what will happen next.
You know what? The mythologists don’t either.
How about Phil freaking Jackson. There’s always some sob story that gets a heavy push for coach of the year because he took a non-playoff team and made them a 6 seed, but what Phil has done, especially with guys like LO, Sasha, Luke, Jordan, is the essence of coaching. Finding roles for players and making them learn to carry out their responsibilities is the hardest thing for a coach to do, and Phil has been the best at that. When it is all said and done, his second tour with the Lakers will define Phil Jackson’s legacy. He is dispelling any myth (can’t win without talent already there, can’t coach young players) and is having fun.
Why the need to feed K.Ding the stuff about Vlad wearing Vans to practice? No need to throw dirt on Vlad, I just don’t think there’s much to gain from that, and he did a lot of stuff for local charities, just let the guy leave.
I’m really loving the way the team is playing right now. They’re playing with a mental edge that keeps them in every game (epitomized by the 11-0 run after the Cavs had taken that 12 point lead), they’re executing the offense, and turning up the defensive pressure in crucial parts of the game where stops are most important. I can’t say that this is the best we’ve played all year (we are 41-9 so there have been other parts of the season where we’ve looked extremely strong), but I can say that as we get deeper into the season it’s very promising that we’re still playing very well and that we seem to be finding our stride against the better teams in the league. It’s also very encouraging that while Andrew is out injured, that other players (like LO) have stepped up their game(s) and proven to be the capable players that we all thought they were.
What does Lamar Odom mean to the Lakers? To me, this game was the answer to that question. No, it wasn’t the gaudy stats, with his 28 points on 13-19 shooting, with 17 rebounds and a block. It was all the little things that he can do that make him special.
Yes, Lamar does not have nearly the statistical consistency of Gasol, the killer instinct of Kobe, the professionalism of Fish, the size of Bynum, or the energy of Ariza. But, there is one thing that Lamar does that no one else on this team can do: Be a vocal glue guy during the game.
What does this mean? We’ve all heard of vocal leaders, and vocal supporters, but a vocal glue guy? The difference is, while vocal leaders are meant to push the team in a certain direction, and vocal supporters are meant to pump up teammates, a vocal glue guy is someone who holds the team together in a game, giving us a sense of unity and solidarity.
During ABC telecasts, they always have a “WIRED” section, where they attach a mic to a player and randomly play snippets of audio from various times during the game. When the Lakers are on ABC, Lamar is always the guy to wear the mic. During today’s game, there were three snippets in particular that I found indispensable:
1.) During pre-game, right before the game starts, the team makes a circle with Lamar standing in the middle, where Lamar orates a pseudo-sermon (one that particularly stands out is, “I know we all love road kill, but now it’s time for us to get some home cookin’,” referring to the Lakers being an excellent road team and now coming home to defend their home court). Most of the time, I can’t make out what Lamar says (maybe I’m too much of a hick), but is there any other Laker who would do that? My answer is no.
2.) During the game, Lamar was constantly talking to his guards. “I got you, baby. I got you, baby,” he said, in reference to being behind a guard ready to slide over and help in case of penetration. Given Bynum, Gasol, and Powell’s reserved demeanors, I can’t imagine any of them doing this quite as well as Lamar. This type of communication, while somewhat mundane, makes our defense work, and Lamar is probably the best at it.
3.) On several putbacks or dunks, Lamar roars at the end of them. There were at least three dunks today when after Lamar finished, he let out a primal scream as he turned to run back up the floor. I doubt we’ll ever see Kobe show that much emotion, and Gasol only screams when he thinks he got fouled. This energy, this passion, makes Lamar singular on this team.
Most nights (excluding tonight) many of us are busy criticizing Lamar for his shortcomings, whether it be mental concentration, will-power, or drive to succeed. Most Lamar supporters counter with his versatility, his ability to defend 4 out of 5 positions, ball-handling, rebounding, cutting, and now improved jump shot. However, I think that Lamar’s true value lies in his holding this team together. He may not get the All-Star attention like Gasol or Bynum, and he may not be the face of the team like Kobe, but I contend that he may be more important than all of them, for we can win as a group of talented individuals without Lamar, but with Lamar, we become a team.