The Drive For Five: Duncan, Kobe, and Shaq Battle For Supremacy

Jeffrey EngmannCorrespondent IJuly 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 15: (L-R) Los Angeles Lakers Sasha Vujacic, Kobe Bryant and Luke Walton accept the Best Team award onstage during the 2009 ESPY Awards held at Nokia Theatre LA Live on July 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The 17th annual ESPYs will air on Sunday, July 19 at 9PM ET on ESPN.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

This is an attempt to put a finger on those accolades will eventually stick out like a sore thumb.
The drive for five rings will take place next season as Tim Duncan, Shaquille O Neil and Kobe Bryant all look to be find their place in a club where only true greatness presides. The winner presumably will be the best player of this generation, or more accurately put, in the post Jordan era.The plight to have each finger on one hand be engaged in basketball bliss will be a historic one.

There are only twenty two players in NBA History that have won five or more championships and the list includes a wide variety of players.  From Dennis Rodman, whose gritty play earned him five rings, to Steve Kerr, whose sharp shooting on the Bulls and Spurs helped him win five as well, to Don Nelson, who was the ultimate six man in Boston during most of the Havlicek Heinsohn era.

But let’s be clear, the significance of number five to this trio of NBA greats is a bit more crucial, as each has dominated their position in their own unique way. Combined however, they may match the presence of the man who dominated the era of basketball before them

Michael  Jordan is treated like deity in Chicago, perhaps because he treated losing as if it were sinful. He alongside Scottie Pippen historic run, capturing six rings in eight years during the 90’s endowed a decade to two players.  It’s hard to discern if Jeff Van Gundy wants to avert criticism but as an announcers he casually chimes in that some “players are not to be blamed for not capturing titles during the Jordan era.” Perhaps people need to think of the mystifying athletes and those who have come up empty handed after engaging in battle with them. Think of those who some believe are proverbial losers
Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett before the Celtic green made him believed that anything was possible, Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki,Tracy Mcgrady and Yao Ming all have been tagged with harsh labels because of their inability to win the big one. Even to a lesser Jason Kidd, Steve Nash had to bear the brute of criticism because they could not defeat  three of the greatest winners ever to play the game. 

Since the year Jordan left (1999) every NBA Finals has featured Shaq, Kobe or Tim Duncan. 
The level of consistency and dominance that each has had at their position is more than just impressive, it's scary. The all NBA team selections, and Finals MVP awards indicate that these three players are really in a class by themselves.
In my eyes, in a class with little distinction.

The argument that ensued after Bryant captured his first ring without Shaq was to whether he’s in the same realm as Michael Jordan if not compelling was interesting. But even if one disagrees that Kobe’s legacy is closing in on Jordan’s, it is becoming more apparent that  the ring put him on the same platform as Shaq and Duncan.
Duncan, dubbed the big fundamental by Shaq, is surprising the biggest and most accomplished star who is alwayed omissed in these “greatest player of our time“ discussions.

Since Duncan was drafted the Spurs have yet to have a losing season and besides the lockout year in which they were 37-13, the Spurs  have never won less than 53 games.

Shaq and Kobe have had their share of years they’d like to forget during that stretch and have even missed the playoffs. But even though Duncan and Shaq are still  effective in this stage of their career, their window of opportunity is inevitably closing. Shaq more so than Duncan obviously. 

Bryant, however  if not in his prime, is in his primordial state, feeding off the fact that there is a question as to who the best player in the league is.

So who will win number five? Recent history shows, that there’s about an 100 percent chance that one of the three will end up in the finals, and its hard to imagine that LeBron (Shaq’s new teammate), or Kobe would be denied on the grandest stage.

Let’s not sleep on Duncan either, who has never lost or been embarassed in an NBA Finals, something the other two can’t say.

Kobe’s Chance of joining the 'Bird Magic club' next season (29.4 percent)
Talk about adding fuel to the fire. Just in case Bryant needed any more motivation this will be probably be the last season Phil Jackson will be on the sidelines.

Pure speculation, but didn’t anyone else find it peculiar that he decided not to opt of his one year deal and sign an extension. Could Kobe try to do what Jordan failed to and successfully leave the game of basketball along with Jackson if they win a ring next season.

Kobe, may be the oldest 31 year old in the league, as he’s already played 1023 playoff and regular season games a'nd playing with Smush Parker and Kwame Brown probably adds on about five more years of pain and frustration on the mind.
But nevertheless the Lakers are still the team to beat next season. It has been said that they have finally resigned Lamar Odom, and though they could not keep Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown and Luke Walton should be able to hold down the fort. 

Fans who were utterly disgusted at Andrew Bynums playoff performance, have to remember he was not 100 percent. The experience, banging with Dwight Howard in the finals, should be a useful one that hopefully he can build on. He's also just 22 years old, and has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

With his improvement, along with the Gasol-Odom-Bryant nucleus, that the western conference has no idea how to defend, the Lakers should be fine barring any significant injuries. The once lauded bench of the Lakers was exposed last season. Vujavic has turned into one of those players that opposing teams are excited about when he checks in and Farmar, though talented, has struggled to find his place in the rotation.

The reason that the percentage is even as low as it is for a Lakers repeat is because it‘s just so hard. The target is on their back, and everyone will be gunning for them. The west as always will be stacked, and even the healthy teams in the east will provide more stiff competition than the Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu led Magic in the finals. Perhaps the team most threatening to the Lakers is the team in San Antonio who has arguably had the best off season in the NBA.
Tim Duncan’s chance of putting a ring on his thumb (23.1 percent)

The acquisition of Richard Jefferson was probably more than enough to get Spurs fans excited for this upcoming season, but adding Antonio Mcdyess should make them absolutely crazy. Not only is Mcydess a great character guy, who gave 100 percent in Detroit even when things unraveled, but he is really good. Seriously, he’s not going to be the fifth starter on a championship team that average Joe’s at home envy because they know they could be in his spot and be along for the ride. He’s actually going to make a significant contribution on the team. Last season he averaged 9.6 points, and 9.8 rebounds a game, shooting 51 percent from the field, and was arguably the best big man in Detroit.

Obviously, the Spurs are still waiting to see if Manu Ginobli can return to his All World basketball playing self, but the main reason Spurs fans should be optimistic is that they finally have solid role players. No disrespect to the aging Bruce Bowen’s and Brent Barry’s of the world, but Roger Mason, George Hill, and Ime Udoka, will thrive in their roles and make the team that much better. If only they could convince Michael Finley to come off the bench.

Lastly, besides the all star play of Tony Parker which is a given, Tim Duncan is barely slowing down. He’s like Bernard Hopkins, though their athleticism is somewhat diminishing, they’re knowledge and skills more than able to compensate.
Shaquille O’Neal:17.5 percent chance of getting ring number five
I think the Cavaliers surprising loss in the eastern conference finals, was the best thing that happened to Cleveland, because it made Danny Ferry be aggressive in the off season. The likelihood of them beating L.A was small due to terrible match-ups one being guarding all the size the Lakers would throw at them. Enter Shaquille O’Neal.
David Stern had to be glowing when he found out about the King and the original Superman teaming up. Cavalier fans should be too.
Remember, if the Cavaliers don’t slip up in game one after a week layoff, the complexion of the Magic series is entirely different.
But once that doubt set in, horribly masked by Mo Williams predictions of winning the series, it was all over.
Everyone wants Shaq to be washed up for some reason, but he just continues to be efficient and effective. And as bad as he is guarding the pick and roll, he is still a solid post defender that will bang, and definitely bruise against the Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol’s of the world. But make no mistake about it, Shaq’s impact will be felt most on the offensive end.  Mike Brown now officially has two plays in his playbook
1) Iso Lebron
2) Post Up Shaq.

Many are worried about spacing, but the team still has great shooters. Whenever Lebron doesn’t feel like rising till his head hits the rafters  this season  he’ll dish it off to Shaq, and laugh after the Big Diesel sprints up the court after he throws one down. The best attribute that Shaq’s has besides his personality is his pride. He knows if he’s going to walk the walk, he’s game is going to have to do a lot of talking. It’s hard to envision him being the reason that Celeveland falters next season.

Also the addition of Anthony Parker will be huge can not be overlooked. Why?

His sister is Candace Parker and he beats her one-on-one. That’s all you need to know.

No seriously, if there is one word to describe him it would be reliable. Similar to Delonte West, he can be counted on night in and night out, to give solid contributions.  He gives the Cavaliers, a much needed wing player who can shoot well from the outside.

Lastly no more Wally Sczerbiak. That’s what you call addition by subtraction folks.

The team’s moves in the off season are an admirable attempt to better  match up with the current eastern conference champions.

However, the team that knocked Cavaliers out of the playoffs in 2008 will be very tough to beat if healthy.

The Celtics are still the best defensive team in the league, Aside the fact that Rondo was putting up Magic Johnson numbers against Derek Rose, in that classic first round series against the Bulls,  people may not grasped how much Rajon Rondo developed last season as a whole. Probably the biggest accomplishment that the Celtics made last season was taking the Magic to 7 without their most valuable player in Kevin Garnett.

The team arguably didn’t even have their most important sub in Leon Powe. He might not be back this season, but Rasheed Wallace will certainly fill the void of length, size and outside shooting coming off the bench that Doc Rivers and Ainge have desperately tried to find coming off the bench(maybe less Mike Moore and Brian Scalabrine?)
So the fact that the Cavaliers will have to face potentially Orlando, Boston, and L.A en route to their first ever championship, makes it a daunting tasks. But as long as Jordan Crawford’s not in the King’s way I’m sure he’s up for it.

Rest of the league's chance of winnng: 30 percent.
Boston, Orlando, Denver, are contenders heading into next season. But the off season is still young they play the games for a reason. But one thing’s for sure, the winner of the 2009-2010 NBA Championship will have to beat the best of this time


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