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Living in the Moment
Don’t go there. Don’t even start.
Tonight the Minnesota Timberwolves take on the Lakers, and that means talk-radio hosts and columnists looking to stir the pot are going to say it’s time for the Lakers to trade for Kevin Garnett. Laker fans need an intervention on this topic. It’s not going to happen — the Lakers can’t begin to afford him if he opts out of his deal after this season, and to trade for him would gut the existing roster to the point it would look like the ’02-’03 Kobe-and-Shaq-against-the-world Lakers. And how’d that work out?
Laker fans, live in the moment. Your team is 3-1, young and exciting, growing up before your eyes. There are guys you can watch evolve, who can become your own.
The perfect example — Ronny Turiaf. He is passion personified on the court, and in an era when some fans struggle to relate to NBA layers, Turiaf has assumed Kurt Rambis’s mantle of “the everyman’s favorite.” He expends more energy cheering from the bench than the New York Knicks starters do most games, and now he’s bringing that same energy on the court.
The first time I saw Turiaf play in person was at the Summer Pro League back in 2005, just a couple weeks after the Lakers drafted him out of college basketball's mighty-mite Gonzaga. For those who have never been, the summer leagues are filled with sloppy play but plenty of hustle -- these are guys trying to get noticed by NBA or international scouts and GMs. They are playing for their next paycheck; effort is not in question.
Even then Ronny Turiaf was like the Tasmanian Devil -- a whirling ball of energy sweeping away everything in his path. He was diving into the crowd for balls, outworking everyone for rebounds and playing with infectious energy and heart. My wife, a knowledgeable but casual fan (she was the stats person for her college team), turned to me in the first half and said, "That's my new favorite player." The crowds filled the Long Beach State gym to see Andrew Bynum, but they left loving Turiaf.
So it was sadly ironic that Turiaf's heart was so big that he needed surgery (to reduce an aorta that could have burst under strain) and was forced to watch the Lakers start the season from his hospital bed. You just never know how athletes -- who think of themselves as invincible -- will respond to life-threatening situations.
But Turiaf brought to his rehab the passion he showed on the court and was back in a Laker jersey before last season ended. This summer he played for the French national team (he is the only NBA player ever from Martinique) and came back to Laker camp with a sorely needed jump shot to go with his inside game.
And thanks to some lingering Laker injuries, Turiaf has been given his shot and made the most of it -- he is shooting 73.7% and dropped 23 points on Golden State. Then the next game he blocked a dunk by Seattle's Chris Wilcox then the put-back by Rashard Lewis in the fourth quarter to seal the Lakers' third win. Right now, the Lakers are nearly 5 points better per 48 minutes when he is on the floor.
Tuesday he may get his biggest test ⎯ minutes matched up with Garnett. Not sure how that's going to end, but I bet even Garnett comes away liking him. And if you're a Laker fan, you should too, and not wish for what might be.
AP Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez