For me, these playoffs have been about cementing legacies.
How else could you put Kobe’s performance in the Western Conference Finals in the proper perspective? That was historic stuff. That is the stuff that puts you in as the greatest Laker of all time (well, save one until Kobe can win at least one more ring). However, this does not put him equal to MJ. That argument is stupid and prisoner-of-the-moment stuff. Myopic may be too broad for that.
However, this isn’t to knock on Kobe. That was virtuoso stuff. He played so well, and has since the beginning of the playoffs with few exceptions, that he has made us all feel really stupid about crowning LeBron the best in the Association. He will simply not be quelled for too long. He has down moments, all of them heavily scrutinized. Heck, even his Finals performance against Boston just two seasons ago wasn’t a shining moment in the Kobe highlight package.
When he is on this level, a level that was thought to be extinct for Kobe just a few weeks ago, he cannot be stopped, deterred, congested, whatever. It won’t happen. He saw great, not good, great defense and decided it didn’t matter. That is who Kobe is. He has been the best post-MJ player in the league.
Even his new rivals, the Celtics, have fortified their own legacies.
KG, though not the same rip out your heart, pound his own, and then trash talk you down the court madman that he was pre-knee injury, has shown he still had a little life left in his battered torso. He wasn’t the same in the Orlando series that he was the previous two. He may not have any gas left in the tank at this point. But, it’s a point he wasn’t expected to get to anyway.
Rasheed Wallace may have proven more about what type of player he is now, when he has lost much of his finely tuned skill set. He is still the guy who complains about every call, stays beyond the arc for more time than he should, jacks up a lot of unwarranted shots player that he was. Only now, those twenty-point performances are the rarity and not the norm, so his “antics” aren’t as tolerable or adorable.
Paul Pierce? Well, I still cannot figure out Paul Pierce. He can’t drive with regularity anymore, at least not every game. He has had a mini-transformation into a reliable three-point threat, leaving the initiating of the offense to those who are more capable.
Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters of all time. Despite his age, which is comparable to Pierce, Garnett, and Kobe, his performance doesn’t have that much drop-off in it. His numbers are down, but it seems that is mainly because his responsibility in the offense is way down compared to his days in Milwaukee and Seattle (RIP). Every shot he throws up seems like the prime candidate for the killing dagger. Fans know that he is dangerous and most likely to kill the rally or hit the critical shot when called upon.
Rajon Rondo is an entirely different beast. His career is just beginning, I hope. He has gone, as has been noted a lot of observers, the weak link to the strong. He runs the offense with fluidity and confidence. Usually, when he is out the offense sputters and devolves into a one-on-one style. Until the reformation of Nate Robinson, Rondo had to play +45 minutes a night just to make sure Boston stayed in the game or kept the lead.
Ron Artest is who he is. He seems like the puppy dog that has made a habit of taking dumps on the carpet but is also the best friend you could have otherwise. He takes bad shots (see: game 5 with about one minute left), but will make up for it with defensive intensity and all around hustle (see: about one minute later). He seems to be just an innocent bystander who gets caught up in the moment, only he is crazy enough to not know to separate himself from a bad situation. Say Queensbridge.
And those are just the remaining players. Think about who has come and gone.
Vince Carter finally got to the Conference Finals, but not as the best player. He had good games and really bad ones. He flashed some of the skills that make people fill with disappointment and outright rage.
Dwight Howard showed similar attributes. When it appeared he got serious, the series got serious. When he stopped goofing around and tossing up half-court warm-up shots and instead focused on rolling hard to the basket after setting the screen the Magic started functioning well (that, and Jameer Nelson stopped being bad).
Dwyane Wade showed his capacity to be a one-man dynamo against Boston. He rescued Miami from being swept, although it didn’t matter at all.
LeBron, whatever the reason, either displayed the first symptom of his Karl Malone type career or had his nadir before his inevitable rise to glory. I can’t tell which right now.
Deron Williams has people questioning Chris Paul’s claim as best PG in the game (which he is, don’t forget so easily, there is a reason he was ahead of Williams until his series against Denver).
Joe Johnson firmly established his position as unwanted star (in that he doesn’t want it, not people don’t want him to be one). He will not be the best player on a highly successful team unless it is filled with eleven other guys who are almost as good as he is.
Kevin Durant showed he is the future, and the future is coming sooner than we believed. He helped push the Lakers to as far as Phoenix did with a lot less help and a lot less experience.
Speaking of, Steve Nash proved he deserved his MVP awards, despite what naysayers think of his Conference Finals performance. This Phoenix team had no justification to be in the Conference Finals. That team, based just on rosters, probably isn’t as talented as the Denver, Dallas, or Los Angeles. It was surprising that they beat San Antonio (don’t lie, you didn’t think they could actually win against San Antonio). He lifted them to that level.
I hope we saw a foretaste of the future of Brandon Jennings with his series against Atlanta. Same with Russell Westbrook and Goran Dragic. And don’t get started with Stephen Jackson, who showed why he isn’t a legitimate star player in the league.
Even Chris Bosh may have proven he is destined to be some Batman’s Robin with his tagalong status with the prospects of Wade, LeBron, and Johnson speaking of engaging in a bit of high stakes collusion and he didn’t play a game in the playoffs.
Of course, in this era where wins and losses change the focus of conversation on a daily basis, all of this can change. One game by Kobe where he didn’t pass enough to Gasol and he will be judged as having reverted to his former, more selfish self. Garnett could explode and be judged as being the dominant defensive player of his era. Things change.
Also, for the record, Steve Nash is a top-5 point guard if not top-3. It’s Paul, Williams, Rondo, Nash, and maybe Rose. Who else would be in that class? And Rose is pushing it to just be fifth.