Quality Remodeling

It's been five years. Five years since some of us were "Ridin' Dirty" with Chamillionaire. Five years since we took in the deaths of Cyclops, Charles Xavier, and Jean Grey in the last installment of the "X-Men" trilogy. Five years since the U.S. soccer team finished dead-last in Group E of that year's World Cup.

This week, the music world means tuning Adele, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber into your iPod. We flock to the movie theaters for the latest offerings of the "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Hangover," and even "Kung Fu Panda" franchises. And the country is a little more optimistic about our soccer prospects after a stirring qualification for the knockout stage in South Africa.

A lot can happen in five years' time. But two values remain constant, especially when it comes to sports. When Dallas finished off the young upstarts from Oklahoma City last week, the first word that came to mind was redemption. The next night, Miami completed a comeback win in Chicago to shrug off the Baby Bulls. Another word flashed in my brain: validation. Usually, you find one of these qualities in a NBA Finals series. But in 2011, both are abundant in terms of team and the individual parts.

So, how much of each can we attribute to the main players in the year's series? Let's go down the list.

LeBron James (25 percent redemption, 75 percent validation)

For the King, it's been a year of vitriol. As he said last week after putting away the Bulls, "I say we've got about a month left. About a month left of continued hate. We'll see what happens next year."

The Decision. The promise of multiple championships. It all rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I may have some "latent hate" myself (Bad weather joke? Anybody? All right). But I understand that James made this decision in free agency and that he took less money to accommodate this partnership. Even though the way he handled it annoyed me, I wasn't ones of those shouting "Boo" from the rafters when it all went down. I know a lot of others feel that way, as well. In that case, redeeming oneself isn't really necessary.

I believe the Heat will win titles, two, three, maybe four to be exact. I thought it wouldn't happen quite yet, but it would happen. However, it's the first one that will make most of us shut up. If they complete their mission Year One, it will put a quick stamp of validation of why this all came together in the first place.

Dirk Nowitzki (85 redemption, 15 validation)

The seven-foot assassin admitted that he can't even watch the 2006 Finals. We all know he was the main cog that led the Mavs to a 2-0 lead and a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3. We also remember how the Series turned south for Dallas once the Heat closed out that third game with a furious rally.

Although he is credited with restoring the Mavericks back to, and possibly beyond, respectability, Dirk has also received the lion share of the blame for the franchise's failings. Over the last few weeks, Nowitzki's done his best to erase those doubts and critiques. The efforts he displayed against Portland, the Lakers, and Oklahoma City have given him a newfound respect. Now he's got his shot, against the organization that provided his biggest "shame," to make that redemption whole.

Chris Bosh (10 redemption, 90 validation)

There's really nothing for the Heat power forward to redeem in this situation. Sure, he was disgruntled in Toronto. Unlike LeBron, Bosh demanded his talents go somewhere else before last Summer got underway. But it's not as though he went into a situation where he was the man, as he was north of the border. Bosh is the third cog in the team machine. He knows it. He appears fine with it. And when needed (e.g., against Chicago), he can shoulder the load.

Like James, Bosh took less money to open up an opportunity to play with better surrounding talent. All this (or any) title would do is validate his choice as the right one.

Jason Kidd (5 redemption, 95 validation)

Kidd's already said that he doesn't plan on retiring. However, even if he gets another couple of seasons out of his career, this may be his last chance to grab the gold ring (the NBA does hand out brass for things like this). J. Kidd is definitely headed to the Hall of Fame, but he would like to be off the list of legends that couldn't quite accomplish that ultimate goal. To avert being etched on the stone where names including Malone, Barkley, Stockton, and Ewing would be a relief to the veteran point guard and a small, but significant stamp on his credentials.

Heck, the time for redemption was eight years ago. That was Kidd's last appearance in the Finals. His New Jersey Nets went down in six games against San Antonio, and that was one year they were swept by the Lakers.

Dwyane Wade (50 redemption, 50 validation)

There's not really anything that Wade can gain at this juncture. He's already got his ring, and the way things have shaped up aren't much different than they were in 2006. D-Wade has a better tertiary player, and the "second banana" has increased in terms of talent value, but the role players might not be as great.

The shooting guard is also in the position of "staying" power. He didn't have to move to the talent ... they came to him. South Beach was already part of "Wade County," and James and Bosh just took up residency. In my opinion, whatever happens in the next two weeks, Wade comes out clean in the redemption and validation departments.

Jason Terry (100 redemption, 0 validation)

He's the other main piece from that Dallas team that lost to Miami in '06. But things are different this time around. Terry was a starter in that six-game series. The former Arizona Wildcat was second fiddle to Dirk and Dirk only. Now, the Jet is called on more for emergency flights than constant service. It's been a toss up between him and teammate J.J. Barea for Sixth Man of the Postseason.

This series won't put any exclamation points on a trip to Springfield. But it will exorcise the ghosts of Finals past. I mean, my god, the man put a tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Trophy on his forearm. That tell you anything?

Pat Riley (0 redemption, 100 validation)

It's seems silly to say that a man that has coached five teams to NBA titles, and was responsible for putting the last one together, would have to redeem anything.

I almost as tempted to say that same about validation. But there was a small slice of doubt when Riley assemble this squad after last year's season. His 2010 salary dump brought a whole new meaning to "Spring Cleaning." And after acquiring James and Bosh, questions popped up about how the team could get other pieces to fill the void. Those pieces have filtered in nicely to this point. Validity comes full bore if they can pull off a championship before any tweaks need to be made.

Mark Cuban (40 redemption, 60 validation)

The year 2000 brought more than just a new set of numbers to the calendar. Since buying the Dallas franchise in January of 2000, Cuban has been the most lively, outspoken, brash, and "annoying" owner in the Association (well, not annoying to me). But his spin on the court has been all positive. Who would have thought that the Mavericks would become one of the most consistent winners in the NBA?

There's one thing that's missing from Cuban's mantle: that dang trophy. He badly wants to hang a banner in the American Airlines Center saying that his team is a world champion. Five years ago, he was two wins away from displaying one. But now, that time in his life is decided by his misguided boast about planning a victory parade instead of the magnificent turnaround he orchestrated. Matter of fact, you can tell he's learned his lesson on boasting from his relative silence during the playoffs.

But if the Mavs do emerge victorious, this will underscore and validate all the work he's put in over the last decade.

Tuesday night should be the start of an intriguing Finals series. Although it won't help me get redemption from my last column, I hope it can provide a valid end to a wild playoff run.

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