Basketball fans are a funny bunch, myself included. We make fun of guys when they don’t win by calling them losers and chokers and then we act surprised when they put themselves in better position to shed those labels and put an end to the name-calling. If you’re a Lakers fan who still harbors venomous ill-will towards Dwight Howard, then I ask you to forget for a moment that it was the Lakers who Dwight turned his back on and focus only on what he told Sam Amick of USA Today a couple weeks ago:
“A lot of people say, ‘Well, if you would’ve waited a couple years, then this could’ve been yours (with the Lakers),’ And I’m like, ‘In a couple years, I’m 30. I don’t want to wait. I’ve been in the league 10 years. I don’t want to wait for things to happen. I want to be aggressive, to make things happen. And I’m looking at all these young guys who are just ready, and they’re missing one piece. And I’m like, ‘I could be that piece, and I don’t want to miss my chance. James Harden doesn’t come by every 10 years. It doesn’t happen. It’s no knock on other players who I played with, but you’re talking about all these guys who are young and are going this way, going up, so I’m like, ‘Man, this is a great spot for me. A great town, great organization.’ They’re going this way (points up).”
Even if you think Dwight was dumb leaving all that money on the table, or leaving a franchise with the Lakers championship pedigree, you at least have to acknowledge the last part of that quote. Not because of what he said about the Rockets because of what he seems to be implying about the Lakers. That they, unlike the Rockets, are old and headed downward. I still don’t believe the Rockets are a legitimate contender to win a title just yet, but nobody can deny that there isn’t an awful lot of uncertainty surrounding the Lakers future. Now compare what Dwight said to what LeBron said when he decided to leave Cleveland and join the Heat in 2010:
“It is going to give me the best opportunity to win and win for multiple years. I want to win championships and I feel like I can compete down there.”
Both men changed teams because they felt another team presented them with a better chance to win a championship. But just because the Rockets are closer to a ring than the Lakers doesn’t mean they’re actually close. To give up all those millions just to cut from the back of the line to the middle was quite a gamble, but I understood it. There’s a lot the Lakers can learn just by studying the past few offseasons and examining where the good teams went right and the bad teams went wrong. They’re now the 45-year-old divorced dad who needs to relearn how to talk to women after 20 years of marriage. The most important lesson they can learn is that in today’s NBA, perception is always reality. I guess you could call this the “Fake It ‘Til You Make It Era”:
- Step 1: Win at least 45 games
- Step 2: Make the playoffs
- Step 3: Avoid getting swept
- Step 4: Overhype your younger players
- Step 5: Write your own narrative
- Step 6: Get enough people to repeat the narrative until it’s believed to be fact
If there was one thing that bothered me about everything that went on during that first week of free agency it was the way in which the basketball community spoke about the Rockets. If you’d never heard of the Rockets or Chandler Parsons before you’d probably think Parsons was the next Larry Bird and that it was the Rockets, and not the Spurs, who came within one win of a title.
How much of that talk about the Rockets’ bright future was true and how much of it was just hype perpetuated by a community that didn’t really care where Dwight signed, so long as it wasn’t with the hated Lakers? Funny how so many writers changed their perception of Dwight from him being a shell of his former self with the Lakers to now being the final piece of a championship puzzle just because he changed teams. Even though I continuously lauded Dwight for rushing back from injury and playing through pain, was there anything anyone saw from him last season that would give them them the right to say that he was back to being a top-five player before even a single game?
I get that the Rockets best players are much younger than those on the Lakers but we can’t ignore that Dwight’s decision was had to have been influenced by hype for a team that didn’t really prove that he was the missing piece. The truth is even with 176 player games lost due to injury, the Lakers and Rockets had identical regular season records and the Lakers had the higher playoff seed because they owned the tiebreaker. Neither team made it past the first round but unlike the Lakers, the Rockets managed to win two games against the Thunder once Russell Westbrook tore the meniscus in his right knee.
If Westbrook hadn’t been hurt and the Rockets had also been swept, would people have still spoken about the Rockets’ future as glowingly as either he did here or she did here? Wasn’t this the same team that lost seven straight games during the season, was an unimpressive 24-14 against teams at or below .500, and nearly choked away a playoff spot by losing four of their last six regular season games? Two teams with identical records, both eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, and yet one team looks back at their season as a rousing success and is considered the next great team while the other refers to their season as “The Season From Hell” and is now talked about like the ex-wife whose husband left her for a younger women after 35 years of marriage.
The Rockets aren’t the only team granted elite status prematurely. Why are the Golden St. Warriors, who not only lost three of their four regular season meetings with the Lakers, but also finished just two games ahead of them in the standings, suddenly considered legitimate title contenders? Is it because they upset a Nuggets team whose regular season record and playoff-seeding were incredibly skewed due to their remarkable 38-3 home record? I can’t figure out when we decided that what a team does over the course of four, six, or even 12 playoff games, against only one or two opponents, began to outweigh what they did over the previous 82. Nor will I ever understand why the basketball community has chosen to romanticize a 47-win Warriors team and magnify how they split the first four games of their series with San Antonio while simultaneously ignoring how they lost the next two games by an average of 15 points.
This is now the world we live in, I guess. Trendy teams, trending topics, and short attention spans. So many have been so quick to anoint both teams as the future with so little hard evidence there to support it. I get that both teams are finally healthy, both added respected free agents, and both have very young rosters with plenty of lottery picks amongst them. But young players, especially lottery picks, can so easily fool us into believing each of them will either meet or surpass our expectations for them. The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to concurrently develop multiple young players without hindering the progress of each of them in the process.
It isn’t just the rosters that have been so overhyped. I keep hearing about how great a GM Daryl Morey is, yet in his six seasons since he was hired the Rockets either missed the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round in five of them. Dwight Howard reportedly wanted Mike D’Antoni fired but I haven’t seen anyone mention that after 242 games, Kevin McHale still has a losing record as a head coach. But he had post moves 25 years ago so now he’s the perfect coach to lead Dwight to a championship.
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