Breckenridge/Devon O’Neil " The NBA soap opera twist no one saw coming |

Breckenridge/Devon O’Neil " The NBA soap opera twist no one saw coming

With this year’s NBA playoffs shaping up to be the most anticipated in years, there is one story which hasn’t gotten the pub you’d expect, given the gossip it generated for months leading into this season.

It’s the soap opera/saga/love-hate fable the public came to know as “The Most Annoying Topic Anywhere.” Remember when Kobe Bryant was changing his mind on the hour last summer, demanding to be traded, then retracting the demand, then putting it back out there, then calling out everyone but the team mascot, questioning his GM’s ability to do his job, doubting his teammates’ ability to provide adequate support on the floor … remember all that?

Well, on Sunday, the Lakers ” picked in the preseason to scrap for a low seed in the playoffs, if they made it at all ” shot to No. 1 in the rawhide-tough Western Conference with half a week to go in the season, putting themselves in the driver’s seat to clinch home-court advantage in the West.

They did it with the same GM, the same role players (albeit a lineup bolstered by the midseason acquisition of totem-pole Spaniard Pao Gasol) and, yup, the same confusing superstar in Bryant.

It’s a terrific debate as to whether Bryant or electrifying New Orleans point guard Chris Paul should win the NBA’s MVP award this year, but by leading the Lakers to such a turnaround this season, Bryant has done two things: Reaffirm his status as a bona fide basketball magician; and offer that perhaps the only thing that needed to change was Bryant’s willingness to play basketball and leave the rest of the work to others, as he always said he wanted to do. …

South African prodigy Trevor Immelman had only broken par once in his five previous Masters, but he played well enough this past week to become the first competitor in 28 years to lead from wire to wire at Augusta.

According to ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt, Immelman is so naturally talented on a golf course that the legendary Gary Player ” a fellow South African who set a record Thursday by playing in his 51st consecutive Masters ” recently called Immelman “the best ball striker, with the best swing, since Ben Hogan.”

To the rest of us, he’s just another promising young pro who introduced himself to the world at the most famous tournament there is, a la Zach Johnson last year. As Immelman himself put it so eloquently Sunday night, “Here I am after missing the cut last week.” …

Back to the Association for some season-ending thoughts. First, no player in the NBA is more underrated than Utah point guard Deron Williams. A throw-it-down playmaker who is as big (6-foot-3) and strong as he is smart, Williams’ most telling stat this season is one you have to seek out: He has more double-doubles (52) than Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant ” combined. …

It looks like the Nuggets are going to make the playoffs after all. If they do, they’ll owe plenty of thanks to their grinders, Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, each of whom has locked up a very respectable NBA statistical title.

Iverson leads the league in minutes per game, averaging 42 while playing in every one of his team’s 81 contests to date. Camby, meanwhile, basically ran away with the blocks crown, swatting 3.6 shots a night compared to 2.85 for his closest competitor, Atlanta’s Josh Smith. …

Oh-by-the-way: Matt Holliday isn’t hitting .182 anymore. Try .340 now. …

Heard about the new full-body Speedo LZR swimsuit – the one that costs $500 and has been labeled a form of “technological doping”? Then you probably won’t be surprised by our Stat of the Week: Since the LZR was introduced in February, there have been 22 world records set ” 21 of them by swimmers wearing the LZR. …

In parting, I cannot believe there are still people out there paying huge amounts of money for Barry Bonds memorabilia. This after an anonymous buyer doled out $376,612 for Bonds’ final home run ball ” instead of, say, donating that money to help fight global hunger, or cancer research, or the AIDS epidemic.

Bonds cheated. He’s been indicted by the federal government for lying. He’s an adulterer. We should not still be celebrating him.

” Breckenridge resident Devon O’Neil’s $0.02 column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at

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