Monday, April 9, 2007

“I Don’t Think He’d Wear Yellow…”

The Lakers lost today for the fifth time in their last seven games and slipped to seventh place in the Western Conference. Today was another example of the inconsistency in Lamar Odom and Smush Parker, who regularly alternate despondence and brilliance. Giving up 115 points today inflated their PA average to an unacceptable 103.2, deeming them inferior to the defensively inept Phoenix Suns (103.1). This is the worst defensive team Phil Jackson has ever coached and with another loss after today, it will be the worst record he has ever finished a season with. Today Kobe Bryant showed why he should be this year’s MVP.

A couple weeks ago, Phil said that the Good Lord himself couldn’t save the Lakeshow. This Easter Sunday, Kobe Bryant couldn’t either. But despite all of this year’s obstacles, because of Kobe the Lakers can reclaim sixth place with a win over Denver tomorrow and keep a playoff date with the Spurs whom they’ve taken two outta three from so far. What would Jesus do?

Kobe’s critics and his supporters will both look to today’s game as fuel for their respective arguments, but the chasm between them is the context. The prevailing logic among the pharisees is that the mark of an MVP is in team performance and Nash’s statistical dominance contributes to wins while Kobe continues to lose. Bullshit.

A teams record is reflective of their performance as a unit, but making it the primary factor in an individual award presupposes that every team is equal in their capabilities, which certainly isn’t the case. Including substitutes, this year’s Western Conference All Star squad had six sets of teammates, led by the Suns with three All Stars. Only Kevin Garnett(32-44), Ray Allen(31-46) and Kobe Bryant(40-37) represented their teams alone. Of them, only Kobe will make the playoffs.

The Suns (58-19) and Lakers (40-37) records may be laughable by comparison at face value, but a more revealing statistic lies underneath. Those same six teams that have multiple All Stars (Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Utah, Houston & Denver) are all ranked ahead of the seventh place Lakers. Against those teams they have posted a respectable record of 9-11. Comparatively, Phoenix is only 10-9 against Western Conference teams above .500. Dallas is an impressive 13-7, led by MVP favorite Dirk Nowitzki, the beneficiary of an even deeper, more disciplined unit. The Lakers are one of the youngest, most inexperienced teams in an undeniably strong Conference. In addition to learning the mysteries of the Triangle, they’ve have also been confounded by a litany of injuries to their starters, who combined have missed more than 80 games. Their starting point guard could be back in the NBDL at any moment, and his backup was just there.

Kobe Bryant’s only deficiency this year was his inability to sustain a superhuman effort to curtail the losing streaks of a team ripe with shortcomings. He’s keeping a woefully substandard roster competitive with the league elite, yet he’s asked to do more? What more could he have done? When the team was at full strength he was taking seven less shots per game and they were battling for homecourt advantage. When Phil cut him loose he made league history and singlehandedly kept the team on track. Missing two or more starters, could any other player put together a five game winning streak by himself with 50 per?

The best player should by definition considered more valuable, yet we use different criteria to judge the two. Only two players this season are averaging 25, 5 & 5-Kobe and LeBron, who has admittedly sleepwalked through the Eastern Conference at times. If not for injury, Dwyane Wade and Tracy McGrady would certainly round out this list- which would also be the consensus of the league’s best overall players. There would be no argument amongst them about who’s number one. There are undoubtedly other statistical marvels in the game, but their effectiveness is dependent upon support. Are we as certain that Nash or Dirk could work their magic on any roster? Only a few can carry a team on pure will, giving us glimpses of the games evolution in their dominance. That’s an MVP. It was in that spirit that Wade was awarded 2006 Finals MVP and Kobe has exhibited an equally impressive performance in leading this M*A*S*H* unit into playoff contention. How long will we sit in awe of his ability and historical greatness yet continue to proclaim someone else more valuable?

Besides Jesus.