You ever hear the phrase "tough love"? Right now, the Lakers are showing the NBA what "tough love" really means...you see, the Lakers love being counted out, told they are too confident, that they don't have the same fire, and what they really, really love is being told they are soft. What did Jason Terry call Matt Barnes this morning on ESPNRadio-the "Charminator" because he is soft like toilet paper. The NBA needs to wake up. Some of the Lakers are not and never have been soft. These Lakers have never given up and keep playing hard whether good times or bad. These Lakers are, in no particular order, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, and Phil Jackson.
No real need to explain Kobe's toughness, his inner strength, or competitive fire. Sometimes, it looks like that fire will burn him up or that toughness will zap his energy, but it doesn't. It is just time that all the bandwagon Kobe fans and Kobe naysayers admit one thing...love him or hate him, Kobe doesn't have too many equals today when it comes to competitors...especially in the NBA. Maybe Duncan in his prime. Or maybe Garnett or Pierce (nah, you have to have more than one championship really to know how tough winning is). Kobe has always played tough and at times, had it tough. He played thru all the junk that happened in Colorado. He played thru the issues with Shaq and the constant barrage of gossip and insults in the media. He played thru trade rumors, injuries, and shooting slumps. Tonite, he banged the knee of Utah player and he stayed in to put the game away. Kobe is tough...and only a few NBA legends are at or near his level. Of course, MJ is right up there-probably a few notches higher. Magic and Bird are right there as is Russell and West. I would put Willis Reed, Havlicek, Frazier, Cowens, Wilt, Kareem, Duncan, and Hakeem right there. But they are below Kobe.
D-Fish is tough and I have explained it before. He takes screens and give screens like a full back. He hits shots with no time left. Gets criticized for all of the Laker woes including getting killed by opponent point guards, not being quick to rotate or get back on defense, and inconsistent offensive execution. You can't blame Fisher. You should remember when his daughter suffered the eye cancer and how stoic he was. He has given big licks and taken big hits. And, he does not back down from anyone. No matter how tall you are, look at Derek and tell me, he couldn't play fullback or safety in the NFL. To measure his toughness, just ask the players that have been screened by him or charged into him committing an offensive foul. Once those players get the little birdies to stop flying around their heads after running into D-Fish, they will try to tell you how tough he is, but it is hard to remember when you develop amnesia from that contact.
To observe how tough Barnes is, just watch last nite's melee and understand that is the reason Matt is here. He will not allow anyone to push any teammates or cause any harm to the Lakers. Some of you might say he is journeyman and not a real Laker. I say, if he is getting paid by Dr. Buss and providing the supporting muscle, then he is a Laker. Other teams may hate him but he wears the Laker colors and makes contributions not found on the stat sheet, so he is a Laker. When it comes to mixing it up, no one is better. John Ireland from the Mason and Ireland radio show in LA, said that Matt doesn't look to start a fight, but he looks to finish them.
Phil is tough and provides the tough love. This is not the easiest bunch of ballers to coach. From Kobe's super competitive nature and complaining to Bynum's sulking to Artest's emotional pendulum to Lamar's new reality show to whatever else pops up, he does not get rattled. However, he does know when to "zing" his players in the press, during the game, at practice, and pretty much anytime. I don't hear Phil attending many of the players' birthday parties, graduation for kids, or going out for burgers and beers. But he still cares and really what matters, he still wins more than other coaches. The toughness Phil shows is when he criticizes the team, the league, or anyone else. For one, he is usually right and Two, he always takes any responses or league warnings in stride. He looks laid back, but he is tough as nails and cool as a cucumber during the finals.
Why the NBA needs to wake up is because the Lakers are making a historic run to a 3 peat. They love being criticized, maligned, misunderstood, and insulted and they show the love by being tough on the other teams. Just ask Michael Beasly of Minnesota, Coach Stott and Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks. Also, just watch them. Have you seen Kobe as engaged at any other time this year? Jumping up and exhorting his teammates when on the bench. Clapping and yelling after a Bynum or Brown dunk. Double pumping his fist after someone else makes a big play. He is focused in the right way. He is holding himself responsible and mixing in tough love, encouragement, and leadership for his teammates. Fisher is showing everyone but quietly remaining a human tackling dummy. He doesn't go around picks, he rumbles nextto them and hopes to side step the screen. If not and he takes or gives a big hit-oh well. Phil smirks from the sideline and calmly pokes Cuban, the league ownership of the Hornets, Jason Terry, the MVP candidates, and whoever else he needs to poke for his folly. Barnes, well, as mentioned above, he is the muscle. I know Artest is strong and Bynum is not backing down; however, Barnes takes his cue from other tough guys in Lakers past-Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, Rick Fox, and Happy Hairston. He will never, ever back down unless on the bench. He is here to provide the toughness and be a great teammate. So where is this tough love?
In a nutshell, the Lakers love the fact people think they are tougher now than they have been in the past 5 years or since Shaq left. If I were the rest of the NBA, I would start chewing some nails or gargling with paperclips in an effort to be as tough as the Lakers.