I hope you're all having a safe and happy Memorial Day. Each of the past few years on this holiday, my mind turns to Ted Williams. If you want to know why, read this piece on Money Trainn (full disclosure: running Money Train is a part of my day job), and this piece on the sadly now-defunct Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks, which I wrote in 2006.
My favorite meme going around this playoff season is the silliness surrounding the Lakers' supposed lack of heart and grit and toughness and ... it's too much for me to handle because it simply has no basis in concrete reality.
Maybe -- and this is a huge maybe -- there are an inordinate number of players on the Lakers who made it to the highest level of basketball in the world without actually caring about making either their team or themselves look good in the process. Maybe they've got a bunch of guys for whom "trying hard" just doesn't compute. Maybe they experienced wild success in the regular season in spite of their lack of hustle and effort.
The thing is, could you actually identify and define what that is? Let's say Pau Gasol is a lazy player. I don't actually believe this, but let's say one of his core, defining, attributes as a player is that he takes plays off and generally stinks for a few minutes at a time. Well, that would show up in his record, wouldn't it? It's not as if Luis Scola would be able to take more advantage of Gasol's laziness during the playoffs than Emeka Okafor would in the regular season. No. That would just mean that Gasol, in our imaginations, would be capable of a 22/12 season, and instead was "merely" achieving an 18/10 season. But in the end, that's who he is, and that player was a key part of a 65-win team.
Whatever "heart" they had was already rolled up into the final package to begin with, so arguing they have "no heart" now is just a way of saying that you have no idea why the Rockets were able to beat them after losing McGrady and Yao.
Jeff Van Gundy said the Lakers came out flat and weren't there to play. Van Gundy, though, (just like Eric Musselman, FWIW) has a vested interest in advancing the notion that a team's chemistry and heart are malleable, adjustable, develop-able, attributes, and not just offshoots of sound offensive and defensive coaching combined with talented players given time to get used to each other. He is a former coach, after all, and if he can't explain the players' psychology, then all he has to fall back on are Xes and Os, and that's not what TV executives think Average Joe wants to see and hear over and over again in his broadcasts. Furthermore, if JVG can't even see a heartless performance when it happens in front of him, then what kind of coach was he?
All of this comes back to Stan Van Gundy, the Magic, and the Cavaliers. Two weeks ago, all the whispers were that SVG was going to be fired. He looked inept. The Magic weren't ready for the playoffs. Just like in Miami, he'd gotten them to the brink, but couldn't take his team to the next level. Meanwhile, Mike Brown had the Cavaliers rolling. He was pressing all the right buttons, getting guys plenty of rest even in the playoffs, and the Cavs were an unstoppable force.
Here's the thing: All that's changed. The Magic are suddenly the hungry, tireless, ones. SVG is pushing all the right buttons, making the right adjustments. Allegedly running circles around Brown. And mark my words, if LeBron had missed that desperation three, we'd be through the looking glass and have a nation of basketball scribes at work with their pseudopsychologist hats on to "analyze" what made the Cavs so heartless, whether or not they're spoiled and think they already deserve to be champions, just like the Lakers are suspected of being, even though they went back to Denver and punched the rugged Nuggets right back in the mouth. Even though LBJ and Kobe are two of the most intensely focused players in the world.
It's simpler than that. Stuff happens when talented teams play each other. I'll tell anyone who'll listen that the NBA is more predictable than the other major sports, but that doesn't mean that there are no anomalies. Golden State beat Dallas. Denver beat Seattle. The Bobcats crushed the Celtics in Boston last year. Stars align. The ball bounces a little differently, and it's not because of a moral failure on anyone's part.
Finally, and this is totally off-topic, but here's a song I recorded last night. Death to Flying Things is my band's name when I actually play as a band, if that makes any sense. Anyway... enjoy.