Sometimes it's not about coaches, even as the Los Angeles Lakers have made it almost solely about that at the start of this season.
Sometimes championship legacy is about the players, those who bridge eras, maintain continuity.
That's where the Lakers appear so lost. That's why the San Antonio Spurs almost never appear lost. And that's why the Miami Heat were able to again find their championship way after losing their championship way.
Over a two-day span at Staples Center this past week, a lesson in continuity was offered, one that may have to particularly resonate with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in order for the Lakers to meet what they perceive as their next championship mandate.
As he prepared for Tuesday's game against the Lakers at Staples Center, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about that championship bridge, how players from one championship era can instill a franchise's legacy on the team's next generation.
"It's very important," he said. "I know when Timmy came, David was very gracious, helpful, made everything easier and smoother for Tim coming in. And I think that's happened as we've gone forward. Tony and Manu have done the same thing with all the role players that we've brought in over the years. Kawhi Leonard, he's really had a good opportunity to learn just being there with Manu and Tony."
A day later, after the Spurs vacated Staples and the Miami Heat arrived, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem spoke of their roles in helping bridge the Heat's 2006 and 2012 championships, instilling the "Heat way," if you will, into LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
"It can't be any other way," Wade said. "It has to be that way. It has to come from the players. The coaches can say it, but they can get tuned out. It has to come from the players to be the ones to say, 'Hey, listen, this is how we do it, and it's not going to change.' People have to buy in from the players. It's accepted more that way."
As co-captains, Wade and Haslem took it as their mandate.
"Just make 'em feel as comfortable as possible," Haslem said, "and then you start breaking them into the system and how we do things around here."
Wade said James and Bosh were quick to buy in. Now those two have their first championship rings, while Wade and Haslem have matching sets.
And that's the thing for the Lakers. At times, Kobe has been viewed as aloof, Gasol as too deferential.
Because as Popovich and Wade and Haslem said, that often has to come from within the locker room, not from the coaching suite.
Steve Blake, the South Florida product and backup Lakers point guard, said he believes Bryant and Gasol can be that bridge.
"Kobe has always been cool and Pau's a great guy," he said. "They definitely make you feel the legacy here, that's for sure."
And yet the notion of a "Lakers way" almost seems like an abstract at this point, even as D'Antoni talks about a return to Showtime.
"When I first got here, it was the triangle," Blake said of the Lakers' offense. "And Mike Brown the next year was something else, and now even with Mike Brown starting the year, it was something else. And now it's going into something else again. As far as style of play, Lakers' way, I don't know what that is right now."
IN THE LANE
REVISIONIST HISTORY: When the Lakers shipped Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat in 2004, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, having majored in Soviet studies at Air Force, said, "The competitive part of me feels like the Soviet Union just disbanded." So Tuesday at Staples Center, a day before the Heat arrived, Popovich couldn't helped himself when asked about the Lakers' failed bid to lure Phil Jackson back to their bench. "I did have kind of a strange thought," Popovich said. "At one point, it seemed, from what we all read, that he was coming. I had this thought it was like putting the Soviet Union back together again. He was going to do a [Vladimir] Putin and put it all back together." Alas détente failed and Mike D'Antoni arrived in Jackson's place. "Because I'm a strange person," Popovich said, "that all went through my head."
BE LIKE RILEY: To his credit, Mike D'Antoni did say all the right things about the Lakers' legacy upon getting the job in Los Angeles, including a reference to the trademark style that current Heat President Pat Riley instilled all those decades ago. "I think the model will be something like 'Showtime,' " D'Antoni said of emulating Riley's approach with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Byron Scott. "But that's hard to reach. That was the best probably it's ever been done, but that's kind of how we will evolve things."
SECOND CHOICE: The Heat's road trip offered a pair of potential offseason Ray Allen landing spots on its itinerary, with the Memphis Grizzlies falling short in their bid and the Los Angeles Clippers instead opting for Jamal Crawford. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said he's not surprised Allen has made it work so seamlessly with the Heat. "Allen would have blended in with anyone," he said. "He shoots the ball extremely well. He moves well without the ball. Those kinds of guys just play wherever. He's done a nice job for them so far. I wish he had come to Memphis." The Clippers, by contrast, canceled their scheduled July meeting with Allen once Crawford agreed to terms. Ultimately it turned into a win-win-win situation for the Grizzlies, Clippers and Heat, with Memphis playing some of the best ball in the NBA, Crawford emerging as the Clippers' scoring leader and Allen developing instant offensive chemistry with the Heat.
OPPORTUNITY REMAINS: On one hand, with Andrew Bynum now out until at least January with his ongoing knee issues, it means the Heat still will not benefit directly from his absence, with the first of the Heat's four games against the Philadelphia 76ers not until Feb. 23. On the other hand, the Heat therefore will get the benefit of a true, extended read of how their power rotation might stack up against Bynum and the 76ers in a potential playoff series. The downside of such a late start to the four-game series is it also comes after the NBA trading deadline, meaning if the Heat find a need for more size against Bynum, the only remaining personnel option would be the buyout market.
OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE: The Grizzlies' Hollins was particularly pointed when it came to discussing the Heat's undersized power rotation, even at the expense of one of his former Memphis players. "It's not like Shane Battier is a run-all-over-the-court, put-it-up guy," he said of the Heat's de facto power forward and former Grizzly. "He's just a standstill four-man and will shoot threes. He's not going to attack one-on-one. That matchup is not as much as a concern as it is at five with Chris Bosh."
2. Times an opposing player has outscored each of the Heat Big Three in a game since LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade came together in July 2010, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Memphis' Wayne Ellington did it with his 25 points Monday, after Chris Douglas-Roberts did it with the Milwaukee Bucks two seasons ago.
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