The Definition of Soft

06.16.08 10 years ago 45 Comments

“Soft” is a word that’s thrown around a lot in pro sports, and has been used on a number of occasions during this year’s NBA Finals. Whether it’s aimed at Pau Gasol for his moves to the basket, at Lamar Odom for his allergic reaction to glass for long stretches, or at Sasha Vujacic for his flopping and defense against Ray Allen, everyone’s calling everyone a softy nowadays.

Strangely, though, I haven’t heard that word in regards to Kevin Garnett. At least I haven’t heard it enough.

As good as KG’s overall postseason averages look (20.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg), anyone who’s actually watched the games and knows anything about Garnett’s career has to admit he’s been coming up short, especially in the Finals. Garnett has repeatedly pulled disappearing acts in the fourth quarters of games, and in last night’s Game 5, missed some crucial free throws and point-blank shots in the paint that could have gone a long way in helping the Celtics clinch the championship.

For the longest time, we’ve heard the following when it comes to Kevin Garnett: If he had any kind of supporting cast, he’d have multiple championships by now! When he was in Minnesota racking up first-round playoff exits, the one year he had a team that could be taken seriously as a contender, KG led them to the ’04 Western Conference Finals. During that postseason he posted his monster Game 7 against the Kings in the second round, which was supposed to be the moment when KG got over the proverbial hump and turned into a legit, clutch performer. Yet here we are four years later, and that guy who hung 32 points, 21 rebounds, 4 steals and 5 blocks on Sacramento back then has never resurfaced.

KG has that cast now — two potential future Hall of Famers in Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — but we’ve come to find out beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s Garnett who is the support, not the focal point. Which would be OK if he wasn’t the highest-paid player in the League, if he wasn’t the one who all the Celtics coverage has centered around all year, if he wasn’t the one who is supposed to be an all-time great in his sport. Even as good as the ’07-08 NBA Defensive Player of the Year has been when it comes to guarding his team’s basket, glory in this game comes from putting the ball into the hole, and KG has been failing to do that when it matters most.

The fourth-quarter failures, the silly fouls, the backbreaking bricks and overall reluctance to step up and take over when his team needs him to (despite holding a significant physical advantage over anyone L.A. has guarding him), even the occasional times when he KG gets beasted by the allegedly soft Gasol, are all symptomatic of — by most basketball fans’ definition — a player who is soft. Reports out of Boston say KG has been going days without sleep throughout the playoffs, seemingly being placed as an excuse for his shortcomings. But while some would call that hyper-competitiveness, others call it fear.

What do you think Dirk Nowitzki, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter are thinking watching these Finals? Those three are the most vilified players in the NBA when it comes to the “soft” label. They’ve all drawn heat for failing to come through in crunch-time situations, for appearing unwilling to step up and take over. So why is KG getting let off the book? Why is he still a “warrior” and Dirk is still “soft”? Even if the Celtics ultimately win the title, they would have done it with their best player only having two or three outstanding games during a postseason slate that is currently at 25 games and running.

For the record, I don’t buy into calling professional basketball players — or pros in any sport, really — soft. These guys all play hurt (yes, even Vince), they have all put in long hours in the gym, they’re all extremely tough compared to 98% of the rest of the population, and they all want to win. I don’t think Garnett is soft, nor do I think Dirk, T-Mac or Carter are soft. But going by the definition I hear from most fans and media, KG has to be put in that group of notoriously soft ballplayers.

Some people are starting to change their opinion of Garnett because of these Finals, but if you are still of the opinion that Garnett is any harder than those players who are widely considered soft, defend your position…

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