Simply the best (cont.)
Posted: Monday March 26, 2007 3:40PM; Updated: Tuesday March 27, 2007 11:39AM
The Celtics won all 16 of their championships without a player who led the league in scoring. They believed you couldn't have it both ways, and for 40 years their view was confirmed -- with one exception. In 1970-71 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the league with 31.7 ppg while his Milwaukee Bucks won the title. But he remained branded -- and criticized unfairly -- as a selfish scorer, even as he was winning five titles in the 1980s with Magic Johnson. Because in those days it was believed that nobody could be equal parts Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
When Jordan was leading the league with more than 30 points per game for four straight years without reaching the NBA Finals, he too was condemned as a me-first scorer. Then Jordan found harmony between his talent for scoring and the needs of his team. From 1990 to '98, he won six more scoring titles, and each year he walked away with the championship trophy. (In 1999-2000 Shaquille O'Neal would strike the same balance on behalf of himself and his Lakers.)
Bryant looks like he is grasping how to elevate his teammates without diminishing his own talents. This Lakers team has a 19-year old center in Andrew Bynum and an undrafted D-League point guard in Smush Parker. Also, injuries have sidlined Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Kwame Brown, Vladimir Radmanovic and Chris Mihm for a combined 170 games. Yet they've beaten all of the best in the West.
Give Bynum another two years of experience and add a couple of veterans while keeping everyone else healthy, and Bryant will be more than capable of leading the Lakers to a championship. On top of that, imagine if they could entice Kevin Garnett to opt out after next summer for the midlevel exception.
The word around the league not too long ago was that no star would want to play alongside Bryant, but that critique no longer applies.
Jackson and O'Neal used to complain that the Lakers struggled when Bryant tried to score too much. Today, the Lakers are on track to win 45 games because Bryant is leading the league in scoring. It's a crucial shift, and it opens the window for Bryant to ultimately establish himself as one of the leading players in the history of the league.
4. Speaking of the MVP, shouldn't it be awarded after the playoffs? In which case Dwyane Wade would've won the award last year.
ANSWER: What you'd be saying then is that the regular season has no meaning other than to seed teams for the playoffs. You'd be devaluing the accomplishments of MVP Steve Nash during the otherwise thankless six-month regular season.
The monotonous 82-game calendar needs as much meaning as it can get. The league can't afford anything that would further weaken the importance of the regular season.
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