COMMENTARY | For most NBA fans, Game 7 of the NBA Finals is must-see TV.
But for some Los Angeles Lakers faithful, the game between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat will be a painful reminder of the fact that their squad had an early and unceremonious exit from the 2013 NBA playoffs and was tabbed as a lock to represent the Western Conference on basketball's biggest stage.
Fortunately, there are still several aspects of the game that deserve further examination. Here are five story lines that involve the Lakers and their franchise legacy as it relates to the Finals:
1. Organic vs. Homegrown
It's a classic "good vs. evil" battle with the Spurs being the quintessential protagonists in this case. They have the stoic but likable coaching legend in Gregg Popovich, the superstar franchise lifer in Tim Duncan and a system that showcases basketball so beautiful that even the most ardent Spurs haters have to respect the game.
The Heat are the NBA's modern Evil Empire. They have the best player in the world, which also makes him the de facto most hatable player in the series. They assembled their team with three of the world's best players conspiring to join forces in a league founded upon rivalries and the best players historically wanting to crush one another.
The Lakers, too, have been antagonists in the NBA for the better part of a decade -- potentially longer depending on who's debating. They've acquired big-name free agents and stars via trades and offseason signings like Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and haven't been afraid to overpay them to do it, playing well outside the luxury tax sandbox year after year.
The Spurs have an opportunity to win one for the good guys on Thursday night with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan all still going strong as original San Antonio draftees. They're also one of the Lakers' greatest all-time rivals.
Lakers fans should be interested in this outcome for the implications of that alone.
2. Kobe Bryant vs. Tim Duncan
Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan play different positions, in entirely different systems and have personalities that couldn't be more different from one another.
However, they are tied at the hip because their career narratives have found them combined for nine NBA titles, three NBA MVPs and five NBA finals MVPs. They play on teams with a propensity to win and have the undeniable championship pedigree.
In their younger days, they did a commercial together before anyone knew just how parallel their journies would be. Game 7 has the potential to reshape how sports fans look at both players' legacies. Bryant is 5-2 in the Finals, while Duncan is a perfect 4-0. A fifth for Duncan would change that whole dynamic.
3. LeBron James' 2014 Free Agency
When it comes to free agency, everything is highly speculative as players are conditioned not to give any information out so they can leverage their positions with teams in order to sign the biggest contract possible. It's all business, but emotions play a part as well. With that in mind, it's impossible to know what LeBron James will do with his player option come the summer of 2014.
But it makes sense to conclude that if the Heat lose, the Big 3 could be more inclined to part ways. If that's the case, then the Lakers would immediately become suitors for James' services when when their biggest salaries clear the books. It's impossible to say whether or not he'd entertain a move to L.A., but it's hard to ignore the team's track record of landing the biggest fish in the league.
4. Pop vs. Lakers coaching legends
Outside the obvious choice in Phil Jackson, the Lakers have other coaches that rival Popovich and the incredible legacy he'll leave behind regardless of Game 7's outcome. If Pop gets his fifth NBA title, he would equal Pat Riley (four with L.A., one with Miami) and John Kundla (Minneapolis Lakers) for third on the NBA's all-time coaching champions list.
If the Spurs can overcome the odds (they are 5.5-point underdogs according to Bovada) and upset the defending champs after the way they lost Game 6, he'll stand out among the most elite coaches in history.
5. The G.O.A.T. Debate
Bryant, Magic Johnson, James and Duncan all have a stake in the "greatest of all time" debate along with Michael Jordan and a select few others. People make these comparisons ad nauseam. But a fifth title for Duncan would make him one of just three players since 1969 to have at least five titles and three Finals MVPs along with Magic and Jordan.
That's elite status from every angle, and it gives him an edge over Bryant's five titles and two finals MVPs. The Black Mamba's fans don't want to see that happen.
James has plenty of time to win his second championship if the Heat lose Game 7. He's only 28 years old. But with such a loss, he would be 1-for-4 in the NBA Finals and however unfairly, the media would criticize him.
A win, though, would substantiate his place in the debate and cement his status as the greatest player in the game today with a serious case as the best anyone's ever seen. That would be cause for concern for the legacy of the Lakers' greatest champions.
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Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor and Founder of Sports Out West.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Tim Duncan
- Kobe Bryant
- San Antonio Spurs