Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Welcome to the NBA

Los Angeles Sunset
Roll out two welcome mats this week for young comers, LeBron James and Deron Williams.

For Deron (pronounced like Darrin), the welcome party was not a good one. Coming off a great Game 3 performance in which he single-handedly got his team back into their playoff series against the Spurs, Williams had to fight the effects of a stomach flu and a tough defense down the stretch in watching his team flail, fade and fall to the Spurs in the crucial Game 4. Now the Spurs get two of three in San Antonio to close out the series and get to their fourth title game in the last decade.

Meanwhile, the young Jazz have only to sit and wonder why. And part of the reason is with the meltdown of the team's one supposed veteran. Derek Fisher, until now an inspirational figure and floor leader during Utah's playoff run, completely fucked his team last night. His flopping has always been more suited for World Cup Soccer than the NBA and when he wasn't getting the calls last night, he lost his cool and Utah lost the series.

I'm not sure this is a game you can rebound from but Deron Williams is such an unusual character and such a gifted player, that I think it's entirely possible to see this series return to Utah. Playoff teams have to grow up sometime. Why wait til next year?

Halfway across the country, the NBA's so-called lessor Division is playing basketball too. The feeling among most experts is that Detroit and Cleveland are playing for the right to lose the NBA finals to whoever comes out of the West. I think it's overstated but there's no doubt that the East is way behind the West in terms of fielding the NBA's best basketball teams.

Like the Spurs, the Pistons rushed out to a 2-0 lead and looked headed to an easy series win. But LeBron James continued his maturation as player and leader and with each passing quarter, his play has subtly and not so subtly improved by noticeable increments. Cleveland didn't so much as beat the Pistons on Sunday, LeBron took it from them.

Word is that shooting guard and quality defender Larry Hughes will miss tonight's game with a food injury but I'm not so sure this will slow down LeBron just yet. I think a switch went off somewhere in the course of the fourth quarter in Game 2 and he's coming to understand how to win playoff games. I don't know if he has the horses to help him but I do know that the Pistons are beatable (Chicago won two straight off the Pistons in the last series after they took a 2-0 lead against them) and Dwayne Wade proved last year that they are susceptible to a one-man team.

The Pistons strength is keeping the game close until the fourth where their quality defense (especially in playoffs) and ice-water shooters (Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton) hit just enough down the stretch to give them the win. But in a close game, there's no guarantee of stopping a guy like LeBron when he gets it. And right now, he's getting it in a big way.

It's clear by now that S.O.L. fears the end of the basketball season is upon us and for that reason, I'm rooting for the underdog in both series. I'm not ready to give up on the hoops obsession, even if USA basketball is coming this summer. Shit, especially since USA basketball is coming.

Poor Kobe

Kobe announced this weekend that he’s frustrated by the lack of progress by his Lakers and the inability of the front office to surround him with a championship caliber team.

Kobe’s solution is to invite Jerry West back to L.A. when the Logo officially steps down from his current job in Memphis.

The irony here runs deeper than a black hole. In the Kobe-said, Shaq-said fallout in L.A. two summers ago, plenty of blame went around. But no one can convince me that Kobe did not want to be The Man in Lakerland, at any cost. The cost was, apparently, Shaq being run out on a rail – all the way to South Beach where he got his, with the help of Dwayne Wade and a bunch of has been backups.

Meanwhile, Kobe has the Lakers to himself, continues to fail to learn what it takes to be an actual leader of them and wonders why he’s been watching the playoffs (and in his mind less talented players) from the confines of his own home?
Deny all he wants, but Kobe could have gone to Jerry Buss and been a real man and said “do what it takes to keep the big fella – I’ll make it work”. But he didn’t and if anyone’s surprised at the results, they’re not paying attention.

You can’t call yourself a leader. You have to actually be a leader. You don’t have to be a nice guy, you have to get your team to believe – not in you but in themselves. You have to show them the way and let them know they can follow you over the steepest cliff and if they crash, you will crash together. And never, for even a second, let them think you will ask of them what you wouldn’t do yourself.

You want a team leader? Watch the Utah-Spurs game tomorrow night. Take a gander at a kid named Deron Williams. Shoot, you could have your pick tonight in Cleveland – between LeBron and Billups. You want leaders. Them there’s leaders.

Don’t cry for Kobe. Unless you want to cry for his thick head.

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