His spectacular first season in Phoenix erased any doubts about Diaw's future as a long-term NBA player. Diaw was an easy choice for the NBA's Most Improved Player award following the 2005-06 season. In one season, he went from being a player who hoped that his option would be picked up to someone putting his autograph on a reported five-year, $45 million contract.
"I've never played for a contract or to be an All-Star," Diaw said the day of the signing. "I've never played like that. I play for us to go out there and win the next game, and I think that's why we won as many games last year as we did. Now the goal is to try and get a championship."
It's the goal of every player who puts on a NBA uniform to win a championship, and that's another area that will go a long way towards determining whether Howard or Diaw has a "better" career. Howard seemed close to putting on a championship ring after Dallas went up 2-0 on Miami in the NBA Finals last June. With Dallas loaded once again, it's certainly reasonable at this time to suggest that Howard has a better chance to win a championship than Diaw.
"He's turning into a great player, potentially an All-Star," Miami's Antoine Walker said during the NBA Finals. "The energy that he plays with on the floor, it's second to none."
What is the likely arc of Howard's career? It's expected that he will spend the next few years in Dallas, where the 28-year-old Nowitzki remains the focal point of the offense and numerous supporting scorers are in place. It's quite possible that Howard's scoring average will not even increase over the next few years. His chances of ever becoming "The Man" in Dallas? Small.
The fact that Nash is 32 years old (with two seasons remaining on his current contract) is one factor that might weigh in Diaw's favor. Even if Phoenix re-signs Nash at the end of his current deal, he'll be 34 then and might spend fewer minutes at the controls of the Suns' offense. Diaw, who by then might be capable of being Phoenix's primary ballhandler, could emerge as a Magic Johnson-type figure, a tall man able to use his superlative passing skills to give his team a dimension no other team has.
At the close of their careers, however, most basketball people will make their evaluations based on how many championship rings each player wins. The feeling here is that Dallas is a bit better positioned than Phoenix to win rings over the next couple of years. So my vote goes to Howard in a very close race.
Follow LIVE: San Antonio leads the NBA Finals 3-2 and can clinch the title with a win tonight in Miami.
PBT: LeBron James created self-imposed pressure to win "not two, not three, not four" titles. Thus, should the Heat's title chase fail, it's his legacy that will take the hit.
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