NBA

Kobe's legacy on the line in Game 7

FOX Sports Mitch Lawrence, Special to FOXSports.com
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LOS ANGELES

By all measures, Kobe Bryant has already punched his ticket to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and is a lock to join the NBA’s Greatest 50 Players of All-Time Team, whenever the league decides to have a re-vote. At this stage of Bryant’s career, with his resume, those points aren’t even debatable.

But Bryant has a chance to ascend to an entirely different place Thursday, a place where mere mortals are not allowed.

With a victory Thursday against the Celtics in Game 7 of the Finals at Staples Center, Bryant can become an even more iconic figure around here. The other Lakers will collect a ring with a win in Game 7. Bryant gets a ring, plus immortality.

Perhaps no other person involved in the NBA’s first Game 7 since 1984 between the league’s flagship franchises has more at stake than the Lakers’ superstar.

With a win, Bryant would:

* Notch his fifth ring, tying Magic Johnson and putting himself one ring away from Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

* Lead the Lakers to their second straight championship, further distancing himself from his contemporaries. Tim Duncan, another lock for the Hall and Top 50 team, has never even led the Spurs to back-to-back Finals, let alone two championships in a row. From this generation of players, only Shaquille O’Neal could match Kobe’s back-to-back feat, having led L.A. to three straight titles from 2000-02.

* Do what The Logo, Jerry West, never was able to do for the Lakers: Beat Boston in a Game 7 and win a Finals against the Celtics. West was 0-for-6 in the 1960s vs. Bill Russell’s Celtics, and 0-for-3 in Game 7s, including a tour-de-force Finals in 1969 when he became the only player to win the Finals MVP award as a member of the losing team.

* Do what Magic never was able to do for the Lakers: Beat Boston in a Game 7. Johnson was 2-1 all-time against Larry Bird, but 0-1 in Game 7s, losing in 1984 in his first Finals showdown against Bird.

* Establish himself as perhaps the greatest Laker of all time. He’ll be part of the debate, while going up on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore along with West and Johnson.

“In my opinion, the greatest Laker ever is Jerry West, because of everything that’s he’s done, as a player and then as a general manager,’’ Bryant said earlier in the Finals. “He was responsible for (signing) Shaq. He’s responsible for me getting here. It’s his body of work and the championships that he’s been responsible for. He put the whole picture together. You can have your own opinion, it doesn’t really matter to me.’’

All that matters to Bryant is winning Game 7 on Thursday. Then he gets what he really wants: Immortality.

Big Three's legacy

Game 7 could be the last time Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen take the court together, which means it could be their last chance to take their place among the Celtic legends.

Pierce knows that one title only goes so far in Boston. Throughout the Celtics' run to their second Finals in three years, the team’s captain has maintained the Big Three needs a second title on its resume to take its place with the other great Celtic teams.

It’s not a task that Pierce is running from, even if it got appreciably more difficult with the loss of Kendrick Perkins to a knee injury.

“I love that fact that if we don’t win multiple championships, I probably won’t be mentioned amongst the other guys in Celtics history who have done it before,’’ he said. “That type of stuff motivates me. It helps me to play my best. To win another championship would be the best thing that can ever happen.’’

Pierce and Garnett figure to be back next season. But Allen has told friends that he would be willing to depart as a free agent. Apparently, Rajon Rondo’s ascension on the team totem pole is making Allen think about joining forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami.

“You never know if and when you’re going to be back in this position,’’ Doc Rivers said. “And so when you get in this position, you want to take advantage of it.’’

Doc and Phil's future

For one of the rare times in Finals history, we’ve got a matchup where both coaches could be out the door after the series is completed.

On the eve of Game 7 and his bid to win his 11th ring, Jackson, the best free agent available this summer  — and that includes LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — made noises that this could be his last season with the Lakers.

“I still get up and say this is probably the last time I’m ever going to do this,’’ he said. “I can’t imagine myself going through this again. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of stress and pain and anxiety.’’

Conventional wisdom has Jackson returning, especially if the Lakers win their second straight title. Next season, he could go for his fourth three-peat, having pulled off the feat earlier with the Michael Jordan-led Bulls and then when he had Shaquille O’Neal with the Lakers. He’s rumored to be looking at a paycut, from his annual salary of $12 million, but he probably would still come back for less money.

“I really think Phil is going to be back here in Los Angeles coaching next year,’’ said Byron Scott, the former Laker who has been mentioned as a potential replacement if Jackson were to walk. “Why would he leave? This is a great job. He’s got, arguably, the best player in the league in Kobe Bryant. If they win their second in a row now, they might have a great chance to pull off a three-peat next June. So I don’t see any reason why he’d leave.’’

Rivers might want to leave, if he picks up a second title that would probably punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Having been a successful TV analyst before he took his first coaching job with Orlando, he probably could get back into that aspect of the business. He’ll take into account family considerations when making his decision, but it’s hard to see him walking away from a team that could have another title run in it, with some roster adjustments, along with the fact that he’s coaching one of the league’s marquee teams.

“I know one thing you can’t do is make a decision a week after a season,’’ he said. “Whether you win or lose you can’t. So usually after summer league is over and a couple of weeks after that, I sit down with (GM) Danny (Ainge) and just do what we do.’’

Read more of Mitch Lawrence's columns at the New York Daily News.

Tagged: Celtics, Lakers, Heat, Spurs, Paul Pierce, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan

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