Magic Johnson is right . It is time to break up the Lakers and not just because of the way they got swept by the Mavericks. It’s more because of the way they lost yesterday. The thuggish actions of Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom ( and Ron Artest , two games earlier) disgraced the Lakers and sullied their name . It’s time to ship them out and move on …
Like many other Laker fans , I’d hoped for a fairytale ending for the Lakers this season : A threepeat for Phil Jackson as he headed off to a well deserved retirement in Montana. Right from the start of the season , however, I’d had my doubts. When the Lakers started out 8-0, I was only too aware that they’d feasted on the lesser teams . They proved me right by then losing a few and generally being unable to beat the elite teams . The 17-1 run after the All-Star break raised hope that they’d finally rounded into championship form but they promptly lost 5 in a row and staggered into the playoffs tied with Dallas for second place in the Western Conference . Their first round difficulties against a New Orléans team without David West were disquieting but I was confident that they’d beat Dallas , a team that has proved fragile in the past. Never in a million years did I think they’d lose ,and in such miserable fashion too. What went so horribly wrong ? I’m sure the LA papers have a million theories but I haven’t the heart to read them . Here is my take on the subject.
1.The team lost its focus . During the champoinship years , the players led by Kobe Bryant played with a single-minded intensity. This year they didn’t . Lamar Odom , never known for his focus , was distracted by his marriage to Khloe Kardashian and their reality TV show . Ron Artest, having finally become part of a championship team , lost his hunger.All Ron-Ron’s personality issues came to the fore as he was out of sync with Jackson’s desires throughout the season. Bynum was lost for two months at the beginning of the season because he selfishly postponed his knee operation so that he could go to the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. He never did come all the way back and there have to be serious questions , not only about his fragility but also about his maturity.
2. The Lakers were old and slow. Derek Fisher was the worst starting PG in the league last year ; this year he was even slower , even more of a defensive liability. In addition , playing two 7 footers denied opponents the paint but slowed down the team on offense. Ron Artest too seemed a step slower on defense and seemed to have lost even his limited offensive instincts . Making matters worse was Jackson’s reluctance to play rookies . Jackson is a great , great coach but he has never developed bench talent . In the pre-season , all one heard was how good LA’s second rounders , Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were. Yet , they never got a sniff during the regular season . Steve Blake and Matt Barnes were supposed to be key off-season acquisitions but were played very sparingly as Jackson kept his rotation very short and over worked his starters. Without an infusion of young blood , is it any wonder that LA looked old and tired?
3. No outside shooters . When opponents pack the paint , a team has to hit its outside shots. LA didn’t have anyone who could do that consistently.
4. LA forgot how to play as a team . A lot of the blame here must fall on Kobe . He is a tremendous player and he won not a few games with his last-minute heroics. However , this caused him to stop involving his team mates in the game and to even shoot more.
Like it or not , this is the end of the Kobe Bryant era. He has been playing in the NBA since age 17 and almost every year he has had played additional games because of playoffs , Olympics and World Championship commitments . The heavy workload and his slashing style have taken their toll and he cannot do all the things that he did even two years ago. Despite his fanatical training regimen and work ethic , he is entering the downside of his career. To win another championship , he needs more help. Unfortunately ,because of his high salary (and the contracts of some of his team mates ) , the Lakers do not have much space to maneuver. Pau Gasol , Lamar Odom , Ron Artest and Derek Fisher are all in their thirties and under contract for at least two or more years . Fisher has no trade value and Ron- Ron , after his shenanigans , is toxic. I don’t see how the Lakers can get Kobe the help he needs to win another championship in the two years that he has left and when he will still be playing at anywhere near his peak ability.
Whatever they do , I hope they get rid of Andrew Bynum . For all his potential , he is too much of a head case . His physical fragility is bad enough but his mental attitude is worse and the flagrant foul on J.J Barea is a stain on his and the Lakers reputation . I hope the Laker front office trades Bynum and Odom, gives away Ron-Ron if possible , cuts Caracter, Ratliff, Joe Smith and Luke Walton , persuades Fisher to retire and re-builds around Bryant and Gasol. Pau Gasol played poorly in these playoffs but he has contributed mightily to LA these past three years , often playing out of position at center against bigger stronger players and holding his own . It hasn’t been fun watching the Lakers this year ; a younger faster team would be more enjoyable to watch even if they won less. I know that the high expectations of LA fans don’t permit a lengthy re-building process but I wish that the Lakers could build through the draft ( and some judicious trades) rather than going the superstar route . What Oklahoma City and Memphis have done is he right way to go but I know Mitch Kupchak doesn’t have that luxury. Kupchak and next year’s coach ( Brain Shaw?) certainly have their work cut out for them.
The Jackson era in LA is ending on a sour note but Laker fans cannot be anything but grateful for the championship years. Phil , Kobe , Pau , Derek… thanks for the memories .