The L Word

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 16, 2009 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

No.  The other L word.  I’m talkin’ ’bout leadership, man.  Leadership.

Supposedly, Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t have it.  Yet, time and time again, I’ve seen ze German step up in huge ways for this team.  I’ve seen him take the team on his back and refuse to lose, I’ve seen him bring out the best in his teammates, and I’ve seen him inspire all kinds of other cliches.  He’s the best player on the team, and his play demands the attention of teammates and opponents alike.

But whatever it is, Dirk apparently doesn’t have it.  Or so I’ve been told.

With the playoffs looming and the Mavs playing their best basketball of the season, one can’t help but feel the slightest bit of optimism.  Without the weight of expectation, Dallas might just be ready to soar.  It’s what I want to believe and what I hope.  But all of that hope, the very basis of that possibility, hinges upon the ability of this team to maintain a certain level of consistency.  As I understand it, the source of that consistency is solid leadership.

I’m not exactly an expert in the inner dynamics of a team and its chemistry.  Perhaps no one is truly in a position to make those types of judgments aside from those that are a part of the team itself.  But if there is some great intangible force at work here, some undefinable and unquantifiable factor that separates the bad from the good and the good from the great, I’m fairly certain that Jason Kidd has it.

It’s simple to point to Kidd’s style as a shining example of his leadership, but pass placement has more to do with precision and skill and less to do with the almighty, ambiguous power of leadership.  For Jordan and Kobe, demonstrating that will and ability to establish their teammates showed an evolution of their games.  They were displaying skills that added to their versatility and effectiveness, while simultaneously showcasing basketball’s primary form of intra-team altruism.  A leader assists those around him; I’m just of the opinion that it doesn’t always involve passing them the ball.

Maybe it’s simply Kidd’s mindset that is contagious.  Maybe his quiet tenacity is somehow of a different world than Dirk’s “invisible” barrage.  That is for everyone and no one to decide, for us all to discuss but never truly understand.  But I do believe that Kidd is no more a vocal leader than Dirk, and in that way he is also reliant on his teammates.

Enter the JET.  The responsibility of leadership is rarely exclusive to one.  Who is the leader of the Spurs, Gregg Popovich or Tim Duncan?  How about the Celtics – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, or even Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo?  Or the Lakers – Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, or even say, Derek Fisher?  One leader can begin where the other ends, camouflaging weakness with a quilt of strength.

For the Mavs, that responsibility falls on Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry.  Each can dominate the opposition on the court, and each brings a different dimension to leadership on the hardwood.  Dirk is the face of the franchise, the best player on the team, and the established star.  Jason Kidd has a winning pedigree, Hall of Fame credentials, and a reputation for leadership based on the nature of his position.  Jason Terry’s play begs for him to assume the role, and his rapport with the fans and his teammates don’t disagree.

Who is to say exactly what role leadership will play in the upcoming playoffs.  But it seems within reason to assume that some combination of moxie, preeminance, and basketball supremacy will have a sphere of influence and notable implications.  We’ve always assumed that to be a test Dirk must face alone, but is there any harm in relying on three where one has come up short?