With the Lakers crowned NBA Champions for the second consecutive year, the question is already being asked : Can the Lakers make it three in a row ? Can they threepeat ?Addressing the topic , NBA analyst Tim Legler said last night that while there were several unknowns that could have an impact on the situation, the Lakers would have to be considered favorites to repeat as champions again.
In fac t there are so many such factors, that it is premature to make any definite predictions about next year. However , it is fun to speculate on such matters , so here goes…
L.A. Lakers: While it is true that they have a solid core ( Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest , Lamar Odom) under contract for the next four years, the Lakers are not without their problems. Chief among them is whether Phil Jackson will return to coach next year. There seem to be some strains between Jackson and the Lakers ownership with some rumors that he had been asked to take a substantiial pay cut , from $ 12 million to $ 5 million. After having led the Lakers to their 5th championship, it’s doubtful that management would have the nerve to suggest such a drastic pay cut but stranger things have been known to happen. Witness Phoenix , where Suns GM Steve Kerr preferred to resign rather than take a 10% cut in a year where the Suns had made it all the way to the Western Conference finals. Another factor clouding the issue of Jackson’s return is his health ; he may decide to walk away from it all. On the other hand, he has a solid chance at a threepeat and it may motivate him to come back , particularly if Lakers ownership makes it clear how much they want him to return. If the Zen Master does not return , I hope they promote from within ( Brian Shaw ?) because I’m not impressed wih the leading outside candidate , Byron Scott. I feel that Scott, while he may be a good motivator, is not strong on the X’s and O’s and is poor at making adjustments on the fly.
There are two other problems the Lakers will have to address. One is the point guard position, where Derek Fisher will have to be eased out. Much as I love Fisher’s smarts and motivation and his ability to hit clutch shots, age has caught up with him. He is a defensive liability espescially against young , quick PG’s like Aaron Brooks, Chris Paul , Deron Williams etc. His shooting percentage and PPG have gone down markedly over the years and the Lakers need a young talent with Fisher coming off the bench. Unfortunately neither Jordan Farmar nor Shannon Brown seems to be the answer. Farmar is erratic and looks too much for his own shot rather thanto pass the ball ; Shannon Brown , a terrific open court player is a one dimensional offensive talent. The one complaint I have about Phil’s coaching is that he employs a very short rotation ( which gets even shorter in the playoffs ) and does not develop young talent. Sasha Vujacic ( vastly overpaid) and Adam Morrison ( a dud) are expiring contracts that will no doubt be on the block and Luke Walton ( another overpaid player ) is not of much use either. The bench needs to be overhauled but Mitch Kupchak will be hardpressed to do it seeing that the Lakers are already over the cap in a year when the cap is expected to be reduced drastically. To make matters even worse, the Lakers don’t even have a first round pick, having traded it away to Washington . Best of luck , Mitch !!
Boston Celtics are probably even worse off. As is the case with the Lakers, the coach Doc Rivers is uncertain about his future and key assistant Tom Thibodeau, a defensive genius, has left for the head coaching job in Chicago. I thought Rivers and Thibodeau did a masterful job in Boston and they will be difficult to replace.Rajon Rondo is on the way to becoming one of the elite point guards in the game but The Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are aging fast and can no longer carry the team by themselves. Of the three, Ray Allen is a free agent and the Celtics may let him go unless he can be signed at a substantially lower salary.Rasheed wallace is probably done and the Celtics need to find a replacement for him and to upgrade the rest of the bench. Glen( Big Baby ) Davis is good but undersized and Tony Allen is almost wholly a defensive player. The Celtics need some young blood to spell Pierce and Garnett and re-vitalize the bench if they are to challenge for the title. Danny Ainge has been a very active GM and made some very good moves in the past ; he’ll have to do even more for next year.
Of the megastars who are free agents , LeBron James is the biggest and whichever team he signs with will be an instant contender. At the moment, no one seems to know which way he’s leaning , perhaps not even LBJ himself. Inspite of his strong ties to Cleveland, I doubt he will re-sign with the Cavaliers. The fluid situation there , with both the coach and GM yet to be replaced, would seem to militate against his returning there. Besides, I doubt that he sees Mitch Williams as a PG that he can rely on. If playing in a bigger market is his motivation, the Knicks or the Nets ( new free-spending owner,good PG in Devin Harris, the #3 pick in the upcoming draft and some existing talent in Brook Lopez ) are possiblities. If winning a title immediately is the main consideration, Miami and Chicago would seem to be a better fit. At Miami, he can play alongside another superstar, Dwayne Wade , but will he be willing to share the spotlight ? Chicago seems a more likely possibility, since they have an elite PG in Derrick Rose,a well respected new coach in Tom Thibodeau , a pretty good supporting cast in Luol Deng, Kirk Heinrich , Taj Gibson, & Joakim Noah though there is some bad blood between him and the last named. I guess we will find out next month where he decides to cast his lot .
Chris Bosh is a great talent but I don’t rank him anywhere near as high as high as LBJ or Wade. Inspite of all the talk about a meeting between the three to discuss possibly playing together , I don’t think it’s going to happen. Of the existing threats to Laker dominance, all have some flaw or the other. The San Antonio Spurs are aging, the Dallas Mavericks don’t seem to get it right no matter what they do, the Phoenix Suns have an interfering owner, and the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks seem to have plateaued as have the Orlando Magic. However, we’ve seen this past season how a team can be strenghtened immeasurably by a few good trades as the Mavericks and Celtics showed . Yes, the Lakers are the front runners but a couple of big trades could change all that. It should be an interesting off -season.