The sneaky greatness of Dirk
Let’s start things off with some trivia. Which name comes next in the following sequence: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain…?
The answer caught me by surprise this last weekend when Dallas’ German Giant eclipsed the 29,000-point plateau, distancing himself from Shaquille O’Neal for sixth on the all-time scoring list and closing in on the aforementioned top five, who happen to comprise the 30,000-point club.
For many of us who have become numb to the steady greatness of Dirk, this milestone was a valuable reminder of what his presence has done for the game: grabbing the mantle from Hakeem Olajuwon as an unquestioned NBA superstar born overseas, furthering the wave of sharp-shooting big men and taking multiple pay cuts to win a championship in Dallas.
But we can wax poetic about Dirk’s legacy some other time. If this season is any indication, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. As it turns out, the Mavericks are really, really good. Losing out on DeAndre Jordan was supposed to render them a bottom-feeder scrounging for ping-pong balls. Instead, the Mavs are battling for a top-five seed in the merciless West. Meanwhile, Nowitzki, at age 37, is averaging a cool 17.4 points per game.
The day might be far off, but I can’t wait to see that goofy, one-legged fadeaway eventually cast into bronze.
All quiet on the Western front
The Feb. 18 trade deadline came and went with little fanfare, especially considering the firestorm that ignited in the final hours during this time last season. However, the lack of many big moves, especially in the Western Conference, should be unsurprising. That super-team in Oakland is on a war path to not only win a championship, but also shatter hopes, dreams and records in the process. Mortgaging one’s future for the opportunity to be crushed under a hailstorm of small-ball and 3-pointers in the playoffs doesn’t make sense. With the massive jackpot of free agents this summer and the impending salary cap increase, the offseason looks like more fertile hunting ground, especially coupled with the fact that the Warriors likely won’t be able to keep Harrison Barnes and potentially other key supporting cast members for next season.
Nevertheless, one team on the Pacific did push more chips forward, as the Clippers shipped off Lance Stephenson and a first-round pick for Jeff Green. It’s a bold strategy to be sure, but Chris Paul, at age 30, is reaching the end of his prime years and the Clips do have that combination of talent and seething anger to give their rivals further north a good series.
Overall, though, this trade deadline might be remembered more for the moves that didn’t happen. The Clippers got better with the addition of Green (though at a questionable price) and the Tobias Harris addition will make the Pistons a fun team to watch develop in coming seasons. Nevertheless, the real storyline has to be Houston missing out on shipping an obviously disgruntled Dwight Howard and having its Donatas Motiejunas trade to Detroit nullified after a failed physical. The holding pattern across the league in anticipation of free agency also meant that the Hawks didn’t get any truly compelling offers for Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver or Al Horford, which could make the rebuilding process that much more painful in Atlanta.
Triumph in the Tundra
The All-Star game is a bit of old news by now, but the Minnesota Timberwolves put on a showcase in the ancillary competitions that will live on in memory. Zach LaVine again showed off his physics-defying athleticism in winning his second straight dunk contest, while first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns took home the Skill Challenge trophy in the first year big men were allowed to compete.
It still feels like yesterday when the Timberwolves took two point guards in Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the fifth and sixth overall picks in 2009, just before a skinny sharpshooter from Davidson went seventh overall to the Dubs. In the last three seasons, the late Flip Saunders morphed a team on the border line between middling and insignificant into an envious collection of many of the most promising young talents in the league, especially after flipping Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins. It’s a shame that Saunders won’t be around to man the bench when the T-Wolves’ young core begins to contend for a playoff spot, but he has to be proud of his work when looking on from above. In comparison to two teams who drafted immediately below them in 2015, the Lakers and the 76ers, the immediate and long-term future looks much brighter in Minnesota, which could very well come to dominate the NBA five years down the road.
Ask Vihan how it feels to write a column about NBA success when the Hawks, currently experiencing a 57-year Championship drought, are thirstier than the state of California at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.