Changes in the NBA are inevitable. From introducing goaltending to abolishing hand checking to new rules governing the drawing of shooting fouls, the game is evolving and so are the strategies.
It’s been an age old notion in the NBA that a good team falls short of winning a Championship but a superstar doesn’t. That notion failed as LeBron James and the Cavaliers fell short again and again against other teams in his quest for a Championship, prompting him to jump ship and head to Miami to form an All-Star alliance never seen before. And with him went the notion that a superstar wins Championships. In today’s NBA, the revised version of the notion is that a superstar might not be able to win a championship on his own but a team of Superstars certainly can. And hence comes the concept of Super Teams. The Celtics have been employing this idea since quite a while, but in the shadows. The team which actually started it, by teaming two Alpha Dogs together, were the Miami Heat, with a full scale unveiling of the Big Three, and what became a nationwide hate call with LeBron ranting, ” NOT 1, NOT 2, NOT 3…..”.
But Miami’s subsequent win has consolidated the idea of Super Teams. The Knicks with Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudamire; the Miami Heat with James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh; the recently relocated Brooklyn Nets with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace; Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden to name a few have all dug their teeth into the new philosophy with players readily accepting less money to play in Championship environments. The latest entrant in this club is the Lakers who had a very good team to begin with. But with the recent roster changes, the Lakers have become exceptionally formidable if not downright terrifying. There is hardly a team in the league that can boast arguably the greatest player the league has seen who is also the game’s best closer and the best shooting guard, the league’s best center, the league’s most versatile big man and the probably the best pick and roll point guard this league has ever seen. The fans berating the Laker management about not making moves to make the team better are doing cartwheels of joy and somewhere silently, Orlando Magic fans are shaking their heads in disbelief.
Yes there are other teams in the NBA who have multiple stars, but no other team has boasted such a talented starting five in recent times who have superstars at every position except the small forward.
If we observe Miami’s playoff run, they played with no center, and with Lebron playing that position from time to time. Sure it worked out well for them in the end, but it was a gamble and just like a gamble, chances of folding were very high.
But if we consider the Lakers on paper, imagining Kobe Bryant‘s late game heroics, Howard’s monstrous defense, Steve Nash’s breath-taking thread-the-needle passes and Pau Gasol’s sleek inside game, is all mixed into one basketball freak show which is enough to give opposition coaches headaches. It feels apt to just give the Lakers the Larry O’Brien trophy and get it done with.
In reality though, there are a few glitches in Mitch Kupchak’s master plan. Kobe Bryant is arguably one of the greatest players to have ever played the game but is also an extremely ball dominant guard. In all his career of 16 years, Kobe has never played with a point guard of Steve Nash’s calibre or play making abilities which in turn requires Nash to dominate the ball, eating into the Kobe iso-time. Secondly, James and Wade were fast friends when they teamed up whereas Nash belongs to the most bitter conference rival and division rival the Lakers have, and The Suns are openly despised by Kobe, something which he made clear when he shredded them for 48 points this season. It’s true that Kobe called up Nash and indicated a desire to play together, but what are the odds that there wont be locker room issues, given that both players are legends?
More troublesome is the notion that a Shaq-Kobesque feud arises between Bryant and Howard, who was uncertain about coming to Laker-land because of Kobe’s hesitation in relinquishing Alpha-dog duties. It is true that the Lakers are Bryant’s team, but managing egos as big as that of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol is a mammoth task.
Kobe and Nash can still co-exist together, albeit with some sacrifices on both their parts, because both, especially the latter are starting to realise that Father Time cannot be defeated. And even though Nash has cheated him for quite sometime now, he knows that this might be his last legitimate run at the Championship ring he so desperately craves.
The question about Howard rises because he is in the prime of his career, and might not work well with the idea that he is not the best player on the team. And as the recent past suggests, Howard has a fickle mind and his decision to come to LA is probably his wisest since that contract extension he signed with the Magic.
If everything falls in place and the Lakers strike a balance, we might very well brace ourselves for a mouth watering matchup of the Miami Heat facing the Lakers in the finals in a classic battle of the ages. Pitting Kobe against Lebron has always been the best offering the NBA has, but pitting them against each other when the stakes are as high as the coveted Championship, with Kobe going for his sixth ring and sparking the ‘Greatest-Of-All-Time’ debate between him and Jordan again in full force, and with Lebron in a frenzy to cement his legacy, will give it an altogether different edge.
If it goes bust, the Lakers franchise will fall into disarray, with Howard not having agreed to sign an extension and Kobe and Nash way past their prime. As of now, the Lakers stand tall with the best starting five in the league. There are very few things that can be said for certain about the coming season. But one thing which is certain is that come March 12 2013, the Lakers will face an Orlando crowd that will be at its hostile best, as they prepare for their match against the Magic at the Amway center.