Tag Archives: Los Angeles Lakers

Infinite Joke

 Photo: goodwines | Flickr

Ed. Note: The following is a parody of Dwight Howard’s free agency saga written by friend of the blog Robert Silverman. You can read more from Robert over at TrueHoop Network Sister Site/Brother Blog Knickerblogger. Now sit back, relax, and let the satire consume you.


Contrary to published reports, the Dwightmare isn’t over yet. In a hastily organized press conference at 5am from a remote sub-basement of the purportedly haunted Stanley Hotel in Colorado, Dwight Howard announced that he had not yet made a decision on which team he will sign with because he’s determined to first finish reading David Foster Wallace’s seminal, ground-breaking novel, Infinite Jest.

“I was listening to offers from the Rockets and the Lakers and the Mavericks and the Hawks and I think maybe a Chuck E Cheese franchise rec league team and I just couldn’t make up my mind,” the free agent center stated, looking noticeably disheveled, as if he hadn’t slept in many a night. He continued, “So when I saw this copy of Infinite Jest being used to prop up a rusty, discarded hot water heater, I realized that I’d never actually gotten all the way through it. “

Gobbling fistfuls of Jujubes, Howard added that he had been a long-time fan of Wallace’s work, beginning with Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. “I thought it was about Stan Van Gundy! Hahahahahaha. I’m kidding. Seriously though, then I moved on to his non-fiction stuff—the Lobster thing. And I knew I wanted to read Infinite Jest, but it’s so freaking long. Who has the time?”

And then, like I started and it was really confusing. The narrative keeps jumping around and there’s this whole mishegas with like subsidized time? What’s that? Do you know whether the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment is before or after the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar? I don’t. No one does. And what’s with all these Canadians in wheelchairs? But I was crouched in the corner of the basement and like, I’ve been reading the book non-stop for the last 48 hours. I dunno, maybe more. I totally lost track of time. Subsidized time, get it! And let me tell you, my mind is completely blown. Completely. Totally Blown. Eliminate-my-own-map-type blown.

Howard’s behavior began to grow more feverish and erratic as he continued to outline his ever-increasing passion for David Foster Wallace’s fiction, and his borderline obsessive quest to complete the novel and determine, “What the hell Wallace really wanted to say.”

I mean, I think I’ve got it. Infinite Jest the book IS Infinite Jest the movie. Because of its non-completed arc, inspires the same kind of all-consuming, self-abnegating, addiction in the reader that the characters experience. You hear me? The book itself is something you get hooked on. And yeah, the Hamlet thing, but that’s like totally a red herring. I mean Joelle says it’s a pretentious title, which is totally like Wallace making a meta-critique of his own delusions of grandeur to rewrite freaking Shakespeare.

When asked what he thought of the book’s themes of addictive behavior and an eternal quest for personal pleasure necessarily leading to repetitive, self-destructive behavior, Howard seemed to ignore the question entirely.

I so want to figure out what happened to Hal. Did he eat the fungus or was it the DMZ or is it just withdrawal from marijuana? I like, really need to know the answer, you know. I keep going back and forth and changing my mind and that’s really frustrating, you get me?

Howard added that his current literary inquisition would only ensure that he makes the proper decision in deciding which team to ply his trade with next season.

Look, the suicide thing. You get to a place where Wallace has to be viewed as Kate Gompert, and that’s so freaking reductive, man. Wallace-as-Gompert necessarily forces the reader into a wholly simplistic either/or cage; eviscerating the larger conundrum – I mean it’s so freaking simple that it’s like monstrous, you know – is life worth living? And like if Wallace said no, it isn’t and…I dunno. That just so depresses me.

So I can’t do that. I can’t choose one team and reject another. There’s a third path where I, Dwight Howard, play for all teams and yet none. David would have wanted it that way, I think. I dunno. I keep going back and forth and back and forth. it’s really giving me a case of the Howling Fantods.

Muttering to himself, Howard then abruptly left the podium, furiously highlighting sections and making notes in the corners of his ragged, dog-eared copy.

Right. Yeah. So I just gotta finish this book and then I super-promise. NBA team. Real soon. Legacy. Gonna be champions.

He paused momentarily and began barking at the teeming throng of reporters

Oh yeah. You GOTTA read the footnotes. Don’t skip them or you miss important stuff, like Mike Pemulis getting the boot and…John ‘No Relation’ Wayne dies! It’s in Gately’s precognitive fever-dream. Maybe I should get together a book club and we can all talk this thing out. Morey can come. Kupchak can come.

But not Kobe, ’cause he kinda reminds me of poor old Orin Incandenza.

My Finals Memory: Schrödinger’s Courtney

It is June 7th, 2009, and Hedo Turkoglu is going to inbound the ball. Courtney Lee is at the top of the key. Dwight Howard is setting a screen for J.J. Redick as Rashard Lewis is running up the middle of the paint. Lee fakes right, as Kobe Bryant bites; a quick counter-dart to the left, and Lewis is suddenly there, setting a hard screen of his own. The opening is there. Hedo somewhat nonchalantly sends the ball flying, using both hands, something between an overhead soccer inbound and a Joakim Noah jump shot. The ball flies, flies, flies… Lee does the same… and…

The Magic were about to steal Game 2 on the road, one round after shocking another overwhelming favorite with another marquee superstar. Dwight Howard could have won his first title in 2009, preemptively killing both his desire to leave Orlando and any future discussions of how his mettle pertains to his ability to win. Hedo Turkoglu might have stayed. Stan Van Gundy could have joined the dwindled ranks of active NBA coaches with titles. Lee himself might have gone from surprising rookie to nationally recognized sports entity.

And on the other side… Kobe Bryant could have lost two consecutive Finals. His first two Shaqless Finals. Could he actually win it alone? This used to be a thing. Would Pau Gasol have been the scapegoat? Lamar Odom, too much candy? Andrew Bynum, not healthy enough to play major playoff minutes? Derek Fisher, Too Old Since 1996? Phil Jackson, no longer the right coach?

Reality has a certain definitiveness to it. Courtney Lee was traded 43 days after he jumped in the air; to deny this would be factually mistaken. Likewise very real were the two Laker titles that followed said jump, Hedo’s Raptor stint, the Vince Carter trade, whatever the hell is going on with the Lakers now, and Orlando’s current burning issue of who to pick 2nd in the upcoming draft.

But Courtney Lee soaring towards the rim unimpaired, springing straight from Stan Van Gundy’s out of bounds arsenal, was as close as possible to a quantum glitch in the generally stable progression of time. For a split second, multiple futures were within grasp; only by observing which way the ball bounces can we land back into singularity. Fake right, lose one of the greatest players ever on a screen, try and meet an orange orb in the air – all this while wearing a facemask! – and watch history fall into place.

Hold Them or Fold Them: The Van Halen/Guns n’ Roses Franchise Player Decision Matrix

Amidst the thunder of the playoffs (which, incidentally, sorry, Oklahoma City), there’s another storm brewing for several teams. As far as weather events go, it’s the kind of thing that rain-starved teams like Charlotte, New Orleans or Detroit would kill for, and it goes something like this: How long do you hold on to your franchise player?

I know, right? Fans of small market teams would KILL to have this problem, but it’s a very real one for teams like the Celtics and the Lakers. How do you wind down one era while spooling up for another? Rumblings have been issuing from Boston this week that Paul Pierce expects to either be traded or released, and the resolution of that situation will definitely have a bearing on what happens with Kevin Garnett. The team that was assembled to win a championship and did in 2008 seemed, at the time, to have a short shelf life, but has instead lasted far longer than anyone anticipated.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and the $30.4 million of cap space room he takes up looms large over the Lakers. While fans and the media sometimes toss around amnesty as an option for Kobe, it doesn’t seem likely when Bryant has been the face of the franchise for over a decade.

But as it is with Pierce, many of the things that argue against moves like trade or amnesty are not strictly basketball decisions, but instead reside in the squishier, more sentimental side of the game. They involve questions of legacy, loyalty, the core cultural values of a team. Neither Pierce nor Bryant has ever played for another team. Pierce was the guy who got stabbed ELEVEN TIMES just a little over a month before the 2001 season and yet went on to be the only Celtic to start all 82 games that year. And as far as Bryant goes, it’s safe to say that are a lot of Laker “fans” out there who can’t name another player on the team.

There are plenty of examples to draw on from the NBA of teams that either quit on their stars too early or hung on to them too long. But that’s not very much fun. As I see it, teams like the Lakers and Celtics essentially have two models to draw on: the Van Halen model or the Guns n’ Roses model.

The Van Halen model says that it’s fine to get rid of the face of the franchise. When Van Halen fired David Lee Roth following the massive success of their album 1984, they’d already been a band for over a decade. Nobody was getting along, everyone was doing a lot of drugs, and Eddie Van Halen wanted to push their music in more complex directions while Roth was content to drop solo tracks like his covers of “California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo” and play the cad. The Van Halen dynasty as represented by their early success had—at least according to Eddie Van Halen—run its course, and rather than soldier through a rocky decline they opted to rebuild with Sammy Hagar.

And it sucked, right? Everyone knows that the original Van Halen is the GOOD Van Halen. Except people didn’t really react that way at the time. Yes, Van Halen with Sammy Hagar was not as much fun, but their next four albums (5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance) all went to #1 on Billboard—despite having some incredibly dreadful names. That song “Right Now” was EVERYWHERE from Crystal Pepsi to sporting events (where it still haunts the PA). It has to be the most uplifting song to ever come from an album with an expanded-curse-word-as-acronym title.

Sadly, in spite of this success, it seem like few people look on Hagar’s days with the band as the halcyon ones. Music fans are no less attached to ideas of authenticity than are sports fans, and there will always be something about the idea of the ORIGINAL lineup of a band that strikes a chord with us.

And so maybe Kobe and Pierce aren’t—technically—part of the original lineups of their respective teams. But for a generation of fans, those players are part of the emotional origin of those teams for those fans. More than production, more than efficiency, more even than the possibility of future rings, this emotional attachment is why even if these players are soon gone the future looks dimmer for fans.

But it’s not all bread and roses on the other side of the coin. In fact, it’s Guns n’ Roses. After what amounts to back-to-back championship with Use Your Illusion I and II in 1991, Guns n’ Roses were on top of the world. Their gritty, greasy hard rock had evolved into something cinematic and sometimes orchestral while retaining their hard edge and lawless image. It was like nothing could possiblye go wrong.

But instead of going wrong, it just sort of went nowhere. Never the most stable of bands—having gone through a drummer and a rhythm guitarist on the way to the mid-’90s—their lineup grew increasingly hazy over the next decade as the flow of music dwindled to a covers album, a few singles, and then nothing.

In the dystopian future that Guns n’ Roses is now living in, the face of the franchise has well overstayed his welcome. In attempting to fulfill his own vision of a band of which so many young fans felt themselves to be co-owners (which also happens in sports), Axl Rose has employed a guy with a bucket on his head and a guitarist who took his nickname from a bacterial infection. (An especially awesome sidenote: In 2010 this guy released a 15th Anniversary Edition of an album he recorded in his “parents’ basement” with a 200 page book of guitar transcriptions. This guy is absolutely the Sasha Vujacic of G’n’R.)

What Rose and his “band” show is how holding onto something doesn’t keep it from changing, nor does it keep the memories fresh or vivid. It just lets you watch as that thing rots away to nothing. Yes, that’s cold and no, Kobe Bryant—for example—isn’t done for, not even with a devastating Achilles injury to return from. But someday he will be. Do you just hope that day comes conveniently between seasons? Do you hope he knows when that happens? Michael Jordan certainly didn’t. It would be terrific if these ultra-competitive athletes could somehow blow past their own limitations right up until the exact moment when their bodies tell them enough is enough, but that’s sadly not usually how it happens.

It’s one thing for teams facing the prospect of building more or less from scratch, or even recovering from modest success. But it’s another thing entirely to shepherd a franchise from the heights of one or more championships and a roster with an all-time great player to whatever comes next.

The evolution of advanced stats may help teams develop better ways to understand player development and decline, but they can’t tell us anything about how to make this transition when it comes to the cultural, emotional and historical part of the game. How these teams handle these changes sends a message to their fanbase, other teams and the league’s players about who they are as organizations. To cop a line from The Terminator, the Lakers and Celtics are looking into the distance at dark clouds while a young Mexican boy says something in Spanish. Mitch Kupchak leans over and asks the gas station attendant, “What did he just say?” And the attendant says, “He said there’s a storm coming in.”

Danny Ainge sighs.

“I know.”

Tim Duncan’s Birthday Bash

Size was supposed to be the one area in which the Lakers had a modicum of advantage against the Spurs. Dwight Howard, though still not the Dwight Howard of Orlando, at least began to approach his perviously superhuman form. Combined with Pau Gasol, who returned from his injury in surprisingly good shape and formed a nice chemistry with Howard over the past month, the Lakers seemed poised to at least give the Spurs trouble up front.

Then the playoffs started, and while the Lakers are shooting 76% in the restricted area per NBA.com, any potential advantage granted by their size has been negated by the brilliance of the San Antonio Spurs, and especially Tim Duncan.

Last night, Tim Duncan celebrated his 37th birthday in style by playing the best game of the series, scoring 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting to go with nine rebounds, three assists and a steal and a block. Duncan also continued his series-long abuse of Pau Gasol on offense, as the Spaniard has been completely hopeless defending him.

Gasol is familiar with Duncan. He knows his moves, his sweet spots, and his tendencies. None of that knowledge, however, has worked to Gasol’s advantage so far, as Duncan does such a good job of mixing up his shots from possession to possession that Gasol can only guess as to what Duncan will do next. It’s a mind game Duncan plays with Gasol, one which the Spaniard frequently loses.

On the Spurs’ opening play of the third quarter, Danny Green gets the ball to Duncan on the left block, with Gasol on his back. Duncan turns and faces up Gasol, and thus the game begins. First, Duncan jab steps, causing Gasol to rock back a bit, lower his hands, and play the drive. Duncan then pump-fakes, which gets Gasol in the air, freeing up a driving lane for Duncan. All Gasol can do is watch as Duncan blows by him, gets the basket, and draws the foul.

On the very next possession, in a bout of deja vu, Duncan and Gasol find themselves in the same situation. Duncan once again turns and jabs, but this time Gasol maintains his balance and position. Excellent, Duncan thinks, as he simply shoots over Gasol and sinks the jumper.

Further hindering Gasol’s ability to defend Duncan, as well as the Lakers’ ability to defend the Spurs overall, is the Lakers’ awful communication on defense. It’s an issue that’s plagued the team for the entire season, and has done so especially against the crisp, precise execution of the Spurs. Perfectly encapsulating this issue is last night’s alley-oop play to Tim Duncan.

The play really starts with Duncan just to the right of the top of the arc. Tony Parker, who has just given Duncan the ball, is running to the right corner while Danny Green crosses from the right corner to the left.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 12.37.41 PM

Tiago Splitter sets a screen on Metta World Peace, momentarily freeing up Kawhi Leonard, after which Splitter pops up to the elbow to receive a pass from Dunacn. Already, we can see the beginnings of defensive issues for Los Angeles. Andrew Goudelock, who was guarding Danny Green, took a wayward and lazy route in trailing Green to the opposite corner. If Duncan had wanted, he could have easily hit Green with a pass in the corner.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 3.20.22 PM

Instead, Duncan passes to Splitter just below the arc, and here’s where the Lakers defense really breaks down. Leonard sets a back screen on Gasol, which World Peace fails to call out. Gasol turns and runs right into Leonard’s screen, giving Tim Duncan a direct lane to the basket. Dwight Howard…well I have no idea what Dwight Howard is doing.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 3.16.09 PM

Danny Green, who received the ball from Splitter, sees Duncan streaking to the rim and hoists a perfect lob straight to him, which Duncan finishes in style. Gasol, because of Leonard’s screen, and because of the subsequent path he takes to try and cover Duncan, has no chance to stop this lob.

The Lakers may have size, but their lack of cohesion and communication on defense does that size little good. As the Spurs and Tim Duncan have shown, it’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it.

Gif courtesy of @CJZero

Gif courtesy of @CJZero

Statistical and video support provided by NBA.com

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 4/25/13: ONE GOOD GAME OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

 

Lion Face. Lemon Face. Good moments. Bad moments. You guys know the drill by now. Let’s do this.

Lion Face: Roy Hibbert’s dunk

Few men have done things like this to Ivan Johnson and lived to tell about it. Hibbert managed to save his best dunk of the year for the playoffs with this one. Just to show off, Hibbert would then proceed to knock down a three pointer at the end of the first quarter that was eventually waved off as it came a split second after the clock expired. Still though, a solid two minute stretch for Hibbert.

Lemon Face: Danny Crawford

Greg Smith threw down a strong dunk over Serge Ibaka, then got T’d up by Danny Crawford because he…well you see you can’t…uhhhh…yeah…Apparently Smith looked too menacingly toward Ibaka which drew him a technical. A rare controversial call from one of the Crawford brothers. Who would have guessed?

Lion Face: The George Boys

Paul George and George Hill carried the load for Indiana last night by providing 49 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals between them. The G2 zone at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was rocking as the Pacers took care of business in a series that can’t conclude quick enough.

Lemon Face: Patrick Beverley’s dirty play

GIF via SBNation

In the second quarter of the Thunder-Rockets game, Russell Westbrook was casually bringing the ball up the court to call a timeout as teams tend to do literally hundreds of time every season. Rather than allowing Westbrook to get the easy timeout, Beverley instead attempted a steal the ball. While I’m all for playing until the whistle blows, the angle Beverley took resulted in him colliding with Westbrook’s knee which initially looked like it caused damage. Westbrook would continue to play on, but the jostling between Westbrook and Beverley may be something to watch for the rest of the series as there is clearly bad blood between the two.

Lion Face: Pacers end of quarter play

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARB85gVzHpQ

Play of the night? Play of the night.

Lemon Face: Houston’s end of game possession

With 11 seconds remaining and trailing by four points, Houston had the ball following a missed Kevin Martin free throw. In this situation, you either want an extremely quick two or relative quick three point attempt. The opposite of what you want is running nearly 10 seconds off the clock and getting a seven foot floater out of it. Patrick Beverley knocked down the shot, but that effectively ended any chance that Houston had to steal a game on the road from Oklahoma City which I can only assume led to Thunder fans across the nation chanting…

Lion Face: This

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yVV-ugC-k

No comment.

Lion Face: Kawhi Leonard

GIF via SBNation

If you tell me that you’ve never done this on an eight-foot hoop in your backyard, either you’re lying or I weep for your childhood. In addition to this alley oop, Leonard finished the first half with 14 points on 7-10 shooting in 20 minutes of play. His performance begs the question, Kawhi haven’t you been paying attention to him this series? (I’m so sorry for that.)

Lemon Face: Steve Nash v. the Spurs

 

 

While Nash and the Lakers entered the season dreaming of a championship, in reality it has been a nightmare for them. After playing in at least 85% of games every season from 2000-2012, Nash has battled injuries all year as age has finally caught up to him. He gritted his way through last night’s game but was largely overshadowed by Steve Blake’s surprisingly impressive performance.

Lion Face: Manu Ginobili

After missing nine of the Spurs last 10 games of the year with a strained hamstring, Ginobili’s health was up in the air heading into the playoffs. Well, at least that’s what Gregg Popovich and the Spurs wanted you to believe. Instead, Ginobili has looked as good as can be in Games 1 and 2. In the first half alone, Ginobili  scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from beyond the arc) while dishing out four assists. Can you say efficient?

Lemon Face: This Sports Illustrated Pre-Season Cover

SICover

Well, technically, it has been fun…provided you’re not a Lakers fan. Unfortunately for Lakers fans and those who enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of the Lakers dismal performance this year, their season, barring a miracle that may need to be confirmed by the Vatican, appears to be rapidly coming to an end.

BONUS Lion Face: THAT PASS

GIF via @cjzero

Usually I try to have an equal amount of Lion Faces and Lemon Faces to balance everything out, but then Manu Ginobili decided to do this at the end of the game and there’s just absolutely no way I could not include it, so I’ll leave you with this.

ParoxyVision Epsiode 4

Episode 4! Playoffs? Playoffs! Playoffs? Playoffs? That’s right, we’ll be talking about the playoffs, starting at 12 ET/11 CT. Do the Lakers have a chance against the Spurs? Will the Nuggets/Warriors series be the most fun thing ever? Will the Bulls/Nets series be the most boring thing ever? Tune in and find out.

Have a question? Ask it in the chat or tweet it to us using the hashtag #Paroxyvision.

Lion Face/Lemon Face 4/18/13: LAKERS RULE, JAZZ DROOL

Records broke, playoff seeds clinched, and a lot of really terrible basketball. Ladies and gentlemen, the last night of the 2013 regular season!

Lemon Face: Alonzo Gee Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 8.09.21 AM

 

This is brilliant, and it’s how I’m going to answer most of life’s important questions from now on.

Job interview: “Jordan, why should I hire you?” “I’m here.”

Marriage: “And do you, Jordan White, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, until death do you part?” “I’m here.”

Birth of my first child: “Mr. White, are you ready to hold your baby for the first time?” “I’m here.”

Lion Face: Stephen Curry

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(Graphic courtesy of the Golden State Warriors)

Not only did Curry break the mark for most three-pointers in a single season (272), he did so while shooting a ridiculous 45% from beyond the arc this season on nearly eight attempts per game.  ANKLES? HE DON’T NEED NO STINKING ANKLES.

Lion Face: Chris Copeland

Last night, Copeland became the first Knicks rookie since 1980 to notch consecutive 30-plus point games.  It’s been a terrific, near-storybook season for Copeland, whose path to the NBA has been well chronicled. Also, his lion’s mane alone is worthy of a Lion Face

Lemon Face: Utah Jazz

 sadjazz1.0_cinema_1050.0

 

Utah, not wanting to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, went with the unorthodox strategy of sewing up the ninth seed in the Western Conference. This bold maneuver paid off, as the Jazz lost to the Grizzlies, gifting a playoff berth to the Lakers as a result. It’s unfortunate that Utah’s most important game of the season came against one of the league’s premier defensive teams, but you still expected a better effort than what was put forth last night in Memphis.

(Photo courtesy of SBNAtion.com)

Lion Face: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers lived up to their preseason hype, securing the seventh seed after defeating the Houston Rockets in overtime.

Lion Face: NASA

Lemon Face: Houston Rockets

You let NASA down, Houston. NASA.

Lion Face: Orlando Magic

I have to admit, you really scared me at first, Orlando. You were actually winning games to start the season, and not by accident! That’s not how tanking works! But you righted the ship, finishing the season at 20-62, and are now the proud owners of the worst record (but highest lottery odds!) in the 2013 season. Tankalicious!

Lemon Face: Rasheed Wallace retiring

Goodnight, sweet prince.

The Price Is Dwight

Look, I get it. No one likes free throws, save a small subset of a masochistic population whose recreation is repetition. Talking about free throws is probably the only thing more boring than watching players shoot them. The best thing that can happen when someone steps to the line, from an entertainment perspective, is an airball; we’re actively rooting for the worst basketball outcome on free throws.

Let’s talk about free throws for a second, though. Because if Dwight Howard could have just been average this year, the Los Angeles Lakers wouldn’t be in this “potentially missing the playoffs” predicament.

Howard’s shooting 49.4% from the stripe this year, which might not seem that much worse than his career average coming into this season of 58.8%. Bad free throw shooting is bad free throw shooting, and I think there’s a tendency to lump together those who shoot under 60% on free throws.* But there’s a huge disparity between those two numbers. 49.4% on two free throws is one-tenth of a point per possession (.988) worse than the Orlando Magic as a team (.989) this year.

*So long as they don’t reach Andris Biedrins-abyss levels of horror.

The Magic are the fourth worst offense in the entire league. Dwight Howard is shooting free throws like the Orlando Magic play offense. I’ll give you a second to grab your air sickness bags, because things are about to get bumpy.

58.8% is still awful shooting on an unguarded, unhurried 15-footer, but it’s also more efficient (1.176 PPP on two attempts) than the 1986-87 Lakers were. You know, the most efficient team in Basketball-Reference’s database. Obviously, Howard’s never going to play a game where he gets to shoot free throws on every possession, unless they give Mark Jackson an unlimited roster — and I’m pretty sure the universe doesn’t give out basketball Contra codes to people other than LeBron James.

I don’t mean to pick on Howard. All of these fine gentlemen should be on notice, in fact; they’re players qualified for the minutes per game leaderboard this year who are shooting worse than 55% on more than 100 free throw attempts:

badfreethrowshooters

Seriously, DeAndre? 39.2%? The Clippers are the fourth best offense in the entire league, but when opponents send Jordan to the line, they’re reducing the efficiency of that Los Angeles possession by over 27%. A DeAndre Jordan trip to the free throw line is 21.5 points per 100 possessions worse than the Wizards. THE WIZARDS.

Here’s the kicker with Dwight, though. Granting everything that’s happened to the Lakers this year and all of the infinite moving parts in this vast, vast situation that we call existence and all that cosmic gobbledygoo, they might be breathing much more easily tonight and tomorrow if Howard had hit 59% of his free throws this year instead of 49%. He’d have scored 71 more points on the season. That increased point differential would give the Lakers an expected win-loss record (after 81 games) of 46-35, instead of their current actual (and expected) record of 44-37. They could be a lock for the playoffs, in the driver’s seat for the 6 seed.

It’s certainly not a lock. It’s better than a 50/50 shot, though — especially from the free throw line.

Statistical support courtesy of NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.

The Most Kobe Bryant

All too often, sports discourse navigates its way to the concept of legacy. Nearly every playoffs, legacies are built up or torn down at each other’s expenses: LeBron James fixed his legacy last year, but not before Dirk Nowitzki temporarily destroyed it by cementing his own legacy that was forever tarnished by Dwyane Wade (whose legacy was aided by Shaq who also aided Kobe’s legacy until Kobe legacied his own legacy for himself) and Baron Davis (whose legacy should have been a different legacy if only he cared enough about his legacy to legacify it). Much like this paragraph, the discussion means well, but can hardly stay out of its own way as it eventually crumbles into a convoluted mess of phrases and names.

Despite all this, the concept of legacy has a very important place in sports discourse. The way the phrase is used isn’t misplaced – rather, it is premature. A legacy, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” It is impossible to receive said transmission when the ancestor is standing next to us. Legacy is dependent on time itself before it can take shape or form.

As such, discussions of legacy always strike me as overeager and impatient. Who are we to proclaim how Player X will be remembered in 20 years? How can we so boldly state that another decade of play from him and another decade of digestion from us will do nothing to change the opinions that were formed over the span of a two week playoff series? Where do we draw the line between friendly conjuncture, curious projections, and bone-headed stubbornness that the immediate shall sustain because the immediate is where we are most comfortable?

Against my better instincts, however, Kobe Bryant’s presumed torn Achilles turned my attention from the increasingly rare phenomenon of a fantastic April basketball game to thoughts of his legacy. In defense of my own hypocrisy, I do believe it is somewhat less presumptuous to hold these discussions as a player nears the end of his career, when we have historical perspective on most of his resume. Sure, there are final kinks to be sorted out, but a player’s crowning achievements don’t usually come near retirement. Even if they do, rarely do they change our perceptions of them. I’d offer the examples of Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, both hall of famers who only finally broke the title barrier at age 37, as proof.

Similarly, Kobe’s crowning achievements have, to the best of our knowledge, come and gone. Even if preseason hopes of a sixth title had borne fruit, the significance of that ring would have been more numerological, in the MJ-tying sense, than validating. We know Kobe Bryant is an all-time great, and we have seen him at his best; a final ascension of the Everest could not change that.

And yet, there has been something mythical to Bryant’s 17th season, something that, even if not directly transmitted to his ancestors, was magnified upon reception nonetheless. Because at some point in the past few years, Bryant had stopped being a basketball player and transformed into a character, the lead of a one-man autobiographic fiction.

His interviews had lost all sense of professionalism, as clichés and political correctness became profanity-laced outpour of self-confidence. In the 2011 playoffs, down 3-0 to the Mavericks, when Kobe implored us to “call me crazy, I still think we can win this,” or last week, when Kobe shrugged off a controversial no-call on a desperation Ricky Rubio heave by saying “We would have gone into overtime and won the game. It’s as simple as that.” Such quotes would have sent other players to the PR dungeons; when Kobe says them, we chuckle.

He had played through injuries in his finger, wrist, legs – a who’s who of body parts that most functioning humans would typically need to walk all the way to the bathroom, let alone play a sport for a living. In the Golden State game itself, Bryant had fallen badly twice before the Achilles tear, getting back up and staying in the game both times. Even after his injury, he still took the two ensuing free throws, leaving open the option of a return, and option that still, somehow, exists in the back of my brain, even as “6 to 9 months” decorates headers and flashes across tickers.

The twisting, contested 30 footers, the bold defiance of presumed chronological and physiological truths, the constant reminders by both him and those around him that his will is indomitable – they were at once both true and surreal. Bryant had taken human traits and stretched them to their limits. Not just in the sense that his physical accomplishments were cyborg-esque, but like a character in a skit who repeats his well-versed punchline often enough to entertain but just scarcely enough to sell us the illusion that what we’re watching is real. The effortless forays into double-digit assists when Steve Nash injured his hamstring, the 47 point game against Portland, even the two non-chalant threes to tie the game against the Warriors before he left for good – all of these toed the line between basketball genius and character actualization. This is Kobe Bryant, watch him do Kobe Bryant. Cue Laughtrack.

By the time it was decided, by either Kobe or Mike D’Antoni, that Bryant would hereby play all 48 minutes of every single game, it was no longer clear to me that Bryant’s legacy is, indeed, cemented. His truly magnificent prime was enough to decree that this would not be the best basketball Bryant we’ve seen, regardless of accomplishments, but truly magnificent primes aren’t necessarily what we remember. Kobe Bryant had become so much of a Kobe Bryant that sheer personality had become too tall to be overshadowed by such petty things as 5 titles and 30,000 points.

In the “rank your best players of all-time” game, Bryant will no longer move up. His team has objectively and subjectively failed this season, in which he has a part by default. But in the fickle game of human memory, a 34 year old pounding his way through the falling debris and the ensuing rubble can register louder than a 22 year old dominating in tandem with a behemoth, or a 28 year old scoring at will and making faces at Smush Parker, or a 31 year old raising his arms to the sky. This Kobe Bryant may not have been the best Kobe Bryant, but he was the most Kobe Bryant.