Legacies on the Line in NBA Playoff Race

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2013

Legacies on the Line in NBA Playoff Race

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    The 2013 NBA playoffs will commence in a few short weeks, and accompanying them will be compelling new storylines.

    Whether they're young or old, legacies are being constructed and finalized with each passing game, as failures and successes will provide historical identities for some of the league's most celebrated players.

    With the legacies of several superstars hanging in the balance, the games in the weeks and months to come will be crucial not only to teams, but also to the players themselves.

Steve Nash, L.A. Lakers

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    Steve Nash has accumulated a bounty of personal accolades throughout his lengthy career, but the absence of a championship ring continues to haunt the Los Angeles Lakers point guard.

    Nash's willingness to come to Los Angeles was predicated on the idea that he would finally be able to capture that elusive championship, but this season has proved that goal was a pipe dream.

    Pau Gasol is just now returning from a foot injury (per The Associated Press), so while the Lakers may have established nice chemistry without him, it's going to take considerable time and effort to integrate him back into the offense.

    The Lakers will have a better shot at capturing a title next season, but for now, all Nash and the Lakers can hope to do is play the role of spoiler once the postseason gets under way.

Dwight Howard, L.A. Lakers

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    At 27 years old, Dwight Howard still has time to repair his broken image.

    Unfortunately, the 2012-13 season hasn't been kind to Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers, as the nine-year vet has struggled to coexist with the team's other superstar personalities.

    To shed the image of superstar crybaby, Howard will need to achieve team success first and foremost.

    Currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference, that goal appears unattainable.

    However, with Howard looking like the future of the franchise, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities for the big man to thrive in the years to come.

    Although his legacy will take a hit after an unimpressive inaugural campaign out West, once Howard becomes the centerpiece of the team's offense, his profile will receive a significant boost.

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    The highly anticipated return of Derrick Rose to the Chicago Bulls lineup continues to feel like a dicey proposition.

    Rose has been vague in his assessments of his ability to make a return this season, while head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn't been able to report a definite timetable for the point guard's return.

    Should Rose make a triumphant return to the Bulls lineup and propel his squad to a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, his decision to return will be celebrated as gutsy and noble.

    However, if Rose comes back too soon and injures himself even further, he could wind up costing himself and his team chances at future success.

    With the Bulls looking like a long shot to make noise in the playoffs, Rose's best decision may be to sit out the remainder of the season and return stronger than ever in 2013-14.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks' 2010-11 title run propelled Dirk Nowitzki to the forefront of the NBA's superstar conversation, but it's been all downhill since then for the German sharpshooter.

    After being swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Mavericks continued the demolition of their roster, with Nowitzki remaining one of the few constants.

    Nowitzki has failed to make a significant impact for the Mavs throughout the 2012-13 campaign thanks to knee surgery that sidelined him for the first two months of the season.

    Now, scrambling to make up ground, Nowitzki and the Mavericks find themselves 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

    An uphill climb awaits Nowitzki, but their remains an outside shot that he'll be able to salvage what once appeared to be a lost season.

Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks

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    Vince Carter has acquitted himself nicely in his second season with the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 13.2 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting from the field and 40.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

    Carter's career is one that will undoubtedly be remembered for several highlight-reel spectacles, as team success has eluded him over the years.

    The Mavericks' 2012-13 season hasn't done Carter's legacy any favors from a career standpoint, as the team is currently in possession of the Western Conference's 10th seed. 

    There's no doubting that Carter's legacy would have been helped by some better supporting casts, and the 2012-13 Mavericks are just another example of Carter's misfortune.

Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

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    Prior to the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Washington Wizards, there was a sense of optimism surrounding the preseason favorites out West. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were both returning from injuries, and the team appeared primed to thrive with all five starters healthy.

    The Lakers' most recent defeat exposed why the team will not be making a championship run in 2013, and head coach Mike D'Antoni let loose with some harsh words that put a damper on those hopes (via ESPN):

    I told them today, we put our hands in [the huddle], and you guys have probably seen it, we say, "Championship," and go out [on the floor]. That's laughable. Championship? You got to be kidding me. Nobody understands the importance of every possession offensively and defensively. Every time they got to come out with some kind of determination to be a good basketball team, and [until] then, we're just, we're fooling ourselves. Right now, that's what we're doing. We're just making a "sham-mockery" out of it.

    The one player who's thrived throughout the Lakers' destructive season has been Kobe Bryant, who's averaging historically significant numbers for a guy who's 34 years old.

    Posting 27 points, 5.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game, it's a shame that Kobe's individual accomplishments have been overshadowed by the Lakers' collective failures.

    Unfortunately, that's the nature of the beast. The Lakers enter every season with high expectations, and team failures will always overshadow personal achievement.

    For now, Kobe will have to look forward to 2013-14 in hopes of capturing his sixth ring.

LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    To say LeBron James' entire legacy is on the line would be a gross overstatement.

    However, it must be noted that there's plenty riding on the next few months.

    LeBron has a chance to repeat as an NBA champion and be a part of a team that could feasibly break the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' record of 33 straight wins.

    A second title would only help James' case in the conversation of the game's greats, boosting his legacy in ways that were previously unimaginable.

    There's also the scary flip side.

    Should LeBron and the Miami Heat collapse in epic fashion, his legacy will take a massive hit. Given that the Heat have ripped off 25 straight wins as we approach the postseason, it's widely assumed that the Heat are the undisputed favorites to capture the title.

    If for some unforeseen reason the Heat falter, LeBron's season will go down as one of the most disappointing in recent memory.