I posted a while back about why I love the Lakers at one of our recent, and all too frequent it seems, dark spells when the haters and doomsday merchants seem to outnumber the fans, optimists and even mildly satisfied human beings in the world. For me it kind of boiled down to one thing.. because they’re my team. I feel like a part of the organisation. Not as a front office employee, a coach, a player or the guy who fixes the lights in the washrooms, but as a common every-day fan. I don’t live in Los Angeles or California or America or even the Northern Hemisphere any more, but I’m there every day nonetheless. The Lakers are a part of me since back as far as I can remember, be it the Sky Hook or the Magic draft day, buying Shaq or trading for Kobe. What’s more I’m part of the Lakers, they need me as much as they need Jack on the sideline or Chick from Heaven. I’m part of the support that keeps this great franchise at the top of the world and I’m proud of that.
What’s changed recently? We’ve had outbursts from players, coaches and management. Fingers have pointed and fans have been outraged, some have sided with our star player, some with the front office in the drama that only seems to be possible in Hollywood. What’s really changed though? Have the values really shifted, have all our players really threatened mutiny, has betrayal and money turned us to the dark side? Is Chick turning in his grave at the rifts that appear within his beloved team? Maybe the answer to the questions isn’t about yes or no. Maybe the answer is about perspective, about stepping back and looking at our team, our organisation and taking stock to get an idea of how bad, or perhaps good, the situation is.
Immediately I’ll probably get the ‘homer’ tag from some for even entertaining the idea it may not be ‘doom and gloom’, let alone those who wish to burn at the stake those who accept mediocrity, but wait, I’ve done nothing yet, let me speak and follow where we go.
The Lakers are a dynasty. I here the word bandied around other teams and, for the most part, it’s totally unjustified. You have to win against the odds and with adversity and prove it again and again. You have to ride the roughest spells to come back and do it again when no-one thought you could. If Ali was a team rather than a man, he would have been a dynasty. Not because he won and won again, but because he lost and won. He did it when they said he couldn’t and did it in style. He defended his title (San Antonio take note) under the toughest conditions and, whether or not you liked the man, you looked up to him and respected him. One key difference with a team and a man is the ability to re-generate time and time again. Very few franchises have been able to drop and return. The Celtics are trying for that now, but that’s a crystal ball move that we don’t know how will play out yet. Lakers have done it and what’s more, with the support of all of us, they’ll do it again, of that I’m utterly convinced.
Okay, so I believe this is a dynasty and will win it all again, but what does this prove? Firstly, it gives me some faith in the front office. I don’t like reading about public statements and media releases the way I have this summer. I like to believe that trades are not done in the public forum but by people earning the money they collect from the fans to keep our dynasty alive. That said, we are not under new ownership and suddenly in moving in new directions. We’re a dynasty, that means the people at the top WANT us to be successful. Success equals money and fame, that comes from winning in the sports world. So many people seem to have forgotten that the organisation is primarily about winning with posts about how idiotic the management is and how they want us to fail. Ridiculous in my humble opinion, they want to win as much as us, they have hopes and dreams for sure, but their own money – not to mention reputations, rely upon the extension of the dynasty.
Dealing with the Kobe stuff. This is the hardest part isn’t it? It’s like your own son turning around and saying he doesn’t want to be a part of the family any more because he wants to win and doesn’t think we will. Ask yourself, if this was your son, would you cut him loose? If your son committed a crime and went to prison, would you stay with him? I believe we should do whatever we can to keep Kobe happy WITHOUT changing our commitment to winning both now and in the future. Our values our right. Our direction is right. The hard job is convincing Kobe that’s the case Mr Buss. I hope and assume the conversations in private have stated this over and over again. We’re not supposed to know exactly what goes on behind closed doors, but let’s hope all the right things are being said to Kobe. If Kobe still wants out, and this may be the case, then what?
Trade Kobe? Only for the best value – that’s something that unfolding events may have made it impossible to achieve right now. What option does that leave? We play hard and make the right moves to be a contender with the team we have built around Kobe. In a year our bargaining position is worse only if Kobe still wants to go, in two years it’s only an issue if he wants out. I said that when Indy wanted Odom and Bynum for O’neal that was too much and I absolutely stand by that. Making that type of move won’t make us better and I can’t see that Kobe’s winning instincts will be eventually satisfied by a commitment to change rather than a commitment to be a contender. So the best move is.. no big trade, not Kobe and not Odom. I know a lot of you don’t like this, I know it feels like we’re letting Kobe or winning down, but really that’s not the case if you step back from it.
Lamar Odom is the perfect fit for this team and fills numerous holes without ever whinging or crying about anything. Hell, after what he went through last year I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d taken massive steps backwards, but that’s not the case and he’ll bring it this year. I don’t think he’s inconsistent like the majority of you. I think he’s a filler that does what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s scoring, frequently it’s rebounding and passing. Defensively he’s only so-so, quite weak one on one due to his ‘tweener status, but a reasonably good team defender. I’ve always said the issue with Odom lies in perspective rather than what he brings. I believe Odom brings exactly what this ball club needs, unfortunately he doesn’t bring exactly what a lot of fans want. He’s not the legitimate big-time scorer that we think we need, but an all-rounder that does all the things we need to succeed. I wouldn’t trade Lamar for anything less than a blockbuster style trade.
Bynum’s another big source of alternate hating and adoring. Truth is he’s a good prospect for a seven footer – and shouldn’t be confused with being the next Kwame Brown (who I’ll come to in a second). I doubt he’ll be the saviour of the Lakers, but I don’t think he’ll be a bust either, I see him as the second or third best player on this squad in a couple of years, giving us a force inside (without claiming to be the MDE or anything ridiculous like that I hope) that most teams really need to be successful at the highest of levels. It looks like he’s trying hard to be the best he can, I think his only limitation may be in his basketball brain – it isn’t there yet, it really depends on how much he’s learning as he goes. Time will tell. Should we trade him though? It massively depends on what we get back. For Kidd, yes in retrospect we should have, but he was playing awesome at the time at 19 with a huge upside – you can see why we didn’t, but hey, without a crystal ball you just don’t know. Also remember that the future would have been different and no-one knows how that goes, Kidd could have got injured game 1 with the Lakers and sat out the rest of the season. Bynum could have got the rest he needed and improved further.. who knows, you can’t linger on what might have been, you have to deal with what you have.
Kwame’s been labelled a bust early. Is he? For sure, by definition, but he still has something to offer this club, he works hard and is a good interior defender (certainly something we’re lacking). The other thing he has is trade value – and I guess the progress of Bynum will determine how much longer he stays with us before being traded. I can’t see him being offered a big contract this year by us, but it is his contract year so I expect to see big efforts from him. My biggest criticism about Kwame isn’t really his fault, I just don’t see him as the smartest of players. In short his basketball IQ seems to be very low – that’s why he can’t seem to get better (and this is the worrying thing I see with Bynum).
The biggest add I see for us over the summer is.. Radmanovic! What you say? Wasn’t he here last year? Not really, he was nursing a hand injury at the start whilst being labelled our saviour from outside and trying to learn a system that took him away from his natural game. Then there was that stupid snowboarding incident and recovery. If you’ve seen the pre-season games you’ll know that Radman is going to be a good player for us this year. He’s going to be our third top scorer – maybe second if the game goes that way, I see a great year for Radman and that’s why he’s here.
Critterton was a good add too – certainly the best player left for us to draft. I don’t see a big contribution from him until later in the year similar to Farmar. I think in the long run he’ll probably be a better player than Farmar – but they offer a good tandem at the point. That’s where Fisher comes in, not as the difference maker, but as a leader for the floor generals to teach them about poise and leadership. Fisher’s past his prime for sure, but he’s a player that gets respect and other players look up to – in short he improves the chemistry of the team and that’s a good thing.
Mihm did look pretty awful in the first pre-season outings I agree. Mihm was never a pretty player though, and I think he’ll do all right as the season progresses and prove a useful back-up – not that I can tell you who the starter will be at this stage. Turiaf is a great player to have on your team, but I would sooner he didn’t start. He’s a bench player with tremendous energy and hustle that you need to propel your starters – if he’s a starter that takes away that injection of energy to the game.
That really takes us to the three spot. Luke is another filler player. Often hated on for being a bit of this and a bit of that, but that’s kind of what makes him good. He’s similar to Odom at a smaller size. He’s got that second generation smarts and you can’t have too many smart players on the court – certainly at his age. Is he a starter? Maybe, I’m not sure here. The other option is Evans – more of a scorer and less of a facilitator, but like Turiaf, he provides energy off the bench and I like that.
Who have I missed? Sasha – okay, he’d be a great player in Europe but I’m not sure about the NBA. He runs a lot and puts in lots of energy but seems somewhat ineffective for the vast majority of the game. He’s worth keeping as his trade value is lower than his usefulness but I see him playing a bit role this year and no more. Coby Karl I like – he’s another second generation baller and, like Walton, comes from good stock mentally rather than physically. He won’t get much time this year, but could come good in the future. Cook – can shoot.. I don’t have much more to say than that, he’s a liability otherwise really and I don’t think we’d miss him that much, but again his trade value is very low and at least.. he can shoot!
Coaching wise I love Phil, just remember that he’s no more directly responsible for each individual loss than he is for each win. When I first started teaching a few years back, some of my students performed poorly in an exam and I was quite down. My head of department, and ever since my mentor, told me not to beat myself up when they performed badly, most of it came from them and I did what I could.. he then went on to tell me that when the all do really well, don’t pat yourself on the back too much, most of what they achieve comes from them, you do what you can to help. That’s a different perspective for coaching, I’m not saying the coach doesn’t matter, quite the opposite, but the job of the coach is to unlock the potential of players to perform the best they can – that’s why I feel we couldn’t have a better coach than Phil Jackson.
When I read my babble above I feel good about this team. We’re on the upswing not the down. We have options, we have the number one player and best coach. We have a management with a good track record if you step back and the possibly the best franchise in the history of American sports.
And if it changes, well.. then it changes and trust on this franchise to adapt and overcome. Lakers will win another title of that I’m sure and I’ll celebrate because I contributed to that.