I root for the New York Rangers and the New York Yankees and I love the N.Y. Giants but I live and die with the Los Angeles Lakers. My infatuation is a long standing one and goes all the way back to the days of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Along the way there have been many high points ; the 1972 team of West, Goodrich,Chamberlain, McMillan and Hairston, the Showtime era of Magic Johnson and the glory years when Kobe and Shaq were dominating the NBA. The last few years , however, have been disappointing .
I was not unhappy to see O’Neal leave L.A; I was always a Kobe fan. I was fed up with Shaq’s selfishness and his pouting and his me-first attitude. I was glad to see him depart for Miami. It was a real downer when Miami, behind the heroics of Dwayne Wade, won the NBA title a couple of years ago after being one one quarter away from a 0-3 hole. Not only did I have to watch the Lakers make an early exit from the playoffs but I had to listen to the big Socrates mouth off.
When news of the Gasol trade first came out, I didn’t quite realize what it might mean for the Lakers. Sure, they were getting a good , steady unassuming power forward in exchange for peanuts but it still didn’t seem like it would enable them to compete with San Antonio and Phoenix.That night, however, Kobe was being interviewed on TV after the Nets game and he was positively giddy with delight at the prospect of having Gasol on the team. The way the Lakers have played during their winning streak since then has been a revelation. The icing on the cake was the victory over Phoenix in Phoenix, in Shaq’s first game as a Sun.Not only did they win but it was anentertaining game to watch. What could be sweeter? Sure, Shaq was not in condition and was still trying to accustom himself to the Suns style. But then on the other hand the Lakers were playing without Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza.
According to the pundits, this trade vaults the Lakers right to the top and some are even projecting a Lakers- Celtics final. I think it’s still too early to make such predictions espescially with the flurry of trades that took place just before the trade deadline.
This is what the NBA Western Conference looks like to me.
Dallas Mavericks: Initially, I thought that the acquisition of Jason Kidd from the Nets was a master stroke and would make the Mavs the front runners. I have since had second thoughts. Yes, Kidd will provide the mental toughness and determination that the Mavs lacked but he is 35 years old and I don’t know if he can do it night-in and night-out. In addition the Mavs gave up a lot in that trade. Devin Harris was very quick and was able to defend the roadrunners like Tony Parker and Alan Iverson. Furthermore, trading away Diop leaves the Mavs rather thin at the center position.
Phoenix Suns: Apparently , Shawn Marion had worn out his welcome in Phoenix and the Suns were not sorry to see him go. But in Shaq , they have gotten an injury prone 35 year old who has missed significant numbers of games the last two seasons. Nash is a consummate passer who will be able to get the ball to Shaq in the low post and Shaq’s presence enables Amare Soudemire to go back to his natural position of power forward. If Shaq is able to play at even 80% and is able to remain healthy, Phoenix has got to be considered a favorite… but I don’t think Shaq has that much left in the tank.
San Antonio: made a nice pick-up when they got Kurt Thomas, a rugged defender who will do the dirty work down low and be of immense help to Tim Duncan. The team is loaded at every position, has an experienced bench and a super coach in Greg Popovich. They have to be considered the front runners.
As for the Lakers they have already shown what they can do. That game in Phoenix was wonderful to watch but , on irder to win it all, they need a healthy Andrew Bynum and even Trevor Ariza. Until those two come back and show they are 100% or close to it , the jury will be out.
In the loaded Western Conference, just getting out of the first round of the playoffs will be a dogfight. In addition to the teams mentioned above , there are the Denver Nuggets ( with Carmelo Antony and Alan Iverson), the Utah Jazz ( winners of 11 straight since acquiring the sharpshooting Kyle Korver), the New Orleans ( with the exciting Chris Paul) and the Houston Rockets ( with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady). Any one of these teams could pull off a surprise but…
providing that Bynum and Ariza come back healthy and Kobe doesn’t injure his finger further, I think it will be the Los Angeles Lakers against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
Whatever happens, it looks like the Lakers will be in the hunt for the next few seasons and that should make all Laker fans like me happy, very happy.