Rescued from the chat archives: The lockout and legacies

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
12:36
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The added benefit of Wednesday's chat -- aside from it just being awesome -- was the reminder of a question I wanted to explore from a previous chat:

Turner (Indiana): Who do you guys think the lockout for a full season effects more? LeBron's career, legacy/Kobe's Legacy,career/Duncan's career,legacy? I feel like LeBron is losing the most considering he's still at the top of his game and he's still without a ring for a full year.

I completely agree, Turner.

Though hardly washed up, the story of Tim Duncan's career has likely been written cover to cover. Four rings. Impeccable reputation. A Hall of Fame lock who spent his entire career with one franchise nobody has done more to put on the map. Consensus greatest power forward of all-time among "the pundits," and perhaps greatest teammate honors as well. Quite possibly the only Shaquille O'Neal contemporary never dissed by The Diesel at any point, which may be the most impressive achievement in its own right.

Yes, Duncan could snag another title, but unless a seriously effective soak in the fountain of youth is involved, it's unlikely that championship will come with Duncan as the driving force. Thus, I doubt another title would really enhance how we feel about The Big Fundamental. Timmy is who he is at this point in his career, and 99 percent of the NBA population would love to reach that status.

To a lesser but still sizable degree, I think Kobe has also more or less defined who he is when it comes to his legacy. Obviously, a sixth title would tie him with Michael Jordan, and you may have noticed those two get compared every now and then. However, another ring might literally make him Jordan's equal, but probably not in the court of public opinion. I've heard a lot of people harp on the two Finals losses, the 2006 first-round loss to Phoenix (after a 3-1 lead) and getting swept by Dallas in 2011 as the prime difference between him and MJ. Perhaps another two or three titles might change minds, but I get the sense Kobe is viewed as having hit his ceiling in career mystique.

Mind you, I'm not necessarily endorsing this opinion. As I've written many times, I find "Kobe vs. Jordan" an exceptionally tedious topic. However, I'm not oblivious to Bryant living in a world where his legacy is viewed through the prism of "Michael," and there's not much wiggle room. Kobe may just have to settle for being known as the second-best shooting guard of all-time, an all-time top 5-10 player and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Our careers should all be this shortchanged. Either way, Kobe's pretty bullet proof against a lockout.

(If anything, the Laker most needy of an ASAP resolution is Pau Gasol, whose Hall of Fame entry could potentially ride on another title. At the very least, one more exceptionally strong season, championship or not. Pau has outstanding NBA credentials, even better marks overseas, but is also linked to a lot of failure. The Griz getting swept three times under his watch, even acknowledging some tough opponents and underwhelming supporting casts. The 2008 Finals. The 2011 playoffs. The way "Ga-Soft" refuses to die. It would be beneficial to shed some baggage. Pau could make it anyway, but another title would probably tip the scales in his favor for good, and the Lakers' window as contenders ain't getting any wider.)

For his part, LeBron needs next season in a desperate way. I realize he's turning just 27 this season, entering his prime with plenty of basketball still on the docket. But he's also coming off a tumultuous 2011 season that began with his controversial "Decision" and ended with an increasingly passive and ineffective Finals. The longer LeBron goes without redemption, the harder it becomes to cement the legacy media, fans and LeBron himself anticipated when he entered the league. In the meantime, the more time James spends being regarded -- fairly or not -- as a talented but egocentric player weak in the clutch, the more that image becomes his reality. Story lines have a funny way of sticking, and LeBron is currently mired in an unflattering narrative. An additional year with that lingering perception does him zero favors.



For that matter, Dwayne Wade has also taken heat (pun intended) for Miami's demise in the Finals, but not nearly to the same degree as LeBron or Chris Bosh. In other words, little has changed. Wade receives a greater benefit of the doubt, because he's won a title as a team's focal point. Nobody questions his leadership skills or stones in the clutch, which distances him from LeBron. But that doesn't mean he's impervious to lockout damage.

Even as someone who's long felt James has reacted poorly to heightened expectations, I think he'll eventually get his head straight. In the meantime, Wade turns 30 next season, the ninth in a career filled with injuries. It's only a matter of time before, practically speaking, the Heat has to be "LeBron's team" on the court. Thus, a missed season could be a missed -- and perhaps final -- opportunity for Wade to win without the words "sidekick" or "Robin" popping up. (Ask Kobe how much fun that experience is.) Throw in how Wade's 2006 championship can't ever be mentioned without the names "Bennett" or "Salvatore" popping up, and another ring as head alpha male sound even more appealing.

Weighing variables like stature, situation, expectations, and age, Gasol, James and Wade strike me as three stars with the most to potentially lose from a lost season. But perhaps I'm missing someone with more at stake?

Another Laker? Dwight Howard? Carmelo Anthony? Dirk Nowitzki? Kevin Durant? Kwame Brown?

Feel free to weigh in.

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