PICK UP THE PIECES: Where the Lakers Go From Here…

Posted: May 13, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NBA
Tags: , , , , ,

I was going to write this days ago, but there really was no need. Even as you read this, the debate, defense and predictions of what happened, is happening and will happen with the Los Angeles Lakers is still being constantly debated. Anytime a champion is knocked off, especially with all of its same pieces intact (especially a widely considered best player of his generation at full speed), there will be some eyebrows raised. So while the pro-Laker crowd and the anti-Laker groups have it out like a Presidential Primary five days after the 2010-11 version of the Lakers because a moot point in this years championship picture, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve taken from them, what’s going on right now and what will be. Is this a temporary bump in the road? An issue that was bound to happen anyway? Or is this a forecast that moved into place much quicker than anybody foresaw? Let’s go.

What happened? I’m not exactly sure how that happened in Dallas and L.A. a week ago. As I said before, the Lakers had the best first round draw of any team in the West, and while they didn’t exactly blow the Hornets away, there certainly was no indication that it was a team on the verge of a quick and embarrassing sweep. In many instance, championship teams wait it out and strike late, but that seems to be what everybody was waiting for from the Lakers all season, and it never came. The March blowout win over the Spurs seemed to be a statement game that this team was finally hitting its post season stride and would be ready to make a sprint back to the Finals, but after who the Spurs revealed themselves to be, in hindsight that doesn’t mean very much. They had already started a downward slide and had long since peaked, and the Lakers simply revealed that in a brutal fashion.

Is Kobe looking at an impassable task in restoring his Lakers this time?

What ended up happening in the end is that Mavericks did the same thing to LA that they did to the Spurs, revealed them as not being who they were in the past. The Lakers finished with the same record they did a year ago, when they took home their second championship in three years, but from the jump this team didn’t seem to have the “dig down and take it when we have to have it” that last year’s club had. And really the only thing it can be placed on his complacency and believing their own headlines. When that seeps in, it hits the egos of the guys on board. And while Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson have the composure to ignore these things, that can’t be said for many of the others. Ron Artest needs no introduction, Andrew Bynum showed how thick his skin was when it was all said and done, Lamar Odom is taking a jump step into Chad OchoCinco-reality land and Pau Gasol’s house was apparently on fire the whole time. Now whether these elements are valid reasons for the implosion of the club is up for debate, however what is not up for debate is that the Lakers were the most talented club in the Western Conference still this year, but what was happening behind the curtain kept that from every fully re-insert itself this year, and got exposed in final act.

But the biggest test for this cast (if it returns…) is what’s next? Will this be a catalyst for them to return to form and dominate, similar to how the ’95-’96 Bulls reacted to losing early in the Playoffs in the Jordan #45 season, or will it serve as second dose of what ended the previously Laker dynasty, where in-fighting and chemistry issues tore the team apart? A few crucial issues hinge on which reality is up next….

1. There is no Phil to glue it together. Phil Jackson is done. He has no incentive to try to rebuild a club at this point in his career, and with his accomplishments combined with his health issues and the general way this season played out, there has to be little attraction to him returning. Whoever inherits this club, whether it be Rick Adelman, Brian Shaw or even Professor Xavier, has a core of guys that are used to handling things a certain way under a certain guard, and there could be major resistance to change in that formula. Greats like Kobe Bryant have a certain amount of deference and stubbornness to their way of doing things that must be adapted to. This is far from the most desirable position to insert yourself into on the sidelines.

The most important figure from two past Laker resurrections won't be around this time for the task.

2. Something has to give in their approach. For a long time the Lakers have won with a great balance of scheme in the triangle, superior match up problems due to their size and having the best player in the NBA to bail them out on both sides of the court. Well some of these factors will remain intact. Kobe will still take, and hit, shots that most guys won’t even have the courage to try. But him and Derek Fisher are getting older, and they are living on reputation on defense. While for a long time Kobe has been one of the toughest perimeter defenders in the league, his numbers fell across the board this year in addition to his overall range slipping. They have to get younger, more active defenders everywhere on this club, but definitely in the backcourt. This problem is compounded by the fact they will probably lose Shannon Brown, who is their most active and bouncy player to free agency this summer, so they have to work free agency and acquire some new blood for what will most likely be a new scheme. And they have to get that Steve Blake stuff out of there, he isn’t what they need at all. A quick ballhandler that can push defenses off the bench would change everything about what they can do, and add a wrinkle they haven’t had in many years.

For all the Jordan/Kobe comparisons, here is one that the Lakers management should pay attention to. In the end, Michael was still a great defender, but he didn’t have to be all the time. He could focus on maximizing what was his easiest gift to give on him physically at that point: buckets. Extend Kobe’s effectiveness and let him play his classic focused defense only when he has too. He’s still the key to how far this club goes, so make it as simple for him as possible.

3. Get Back to the Draft. Last but not least, don’t disregard the Draft. If all else fails, you have to prepare around what you have now, and the Lakers have always been a solid drafting club despite getting some pretty bad picks. This has always been the case for all of their recent championship runs, crucial players have come from the amateur ranks. Jordan Farmer, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf, Devean George, Andrew Bynum and even Kobe. They have all been June pickups, and they have to get back to that. They need a new shooter and ball handler, in addition to shot blocker, 6’10 + type of guy off the bench. Even in this year’s so-so at the very best Draft, they can hit the floor running (perhaps literally) a lot quicker with some really appropriate draft picks now.

4. What the next big move? For a long time the Lakers have had no issue with making the biggest acquisition to put themselves in place to either go over the top in the League or move back into the spotlight. From Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq, they have shown the willingness to go make a big move to bring a guy from a dying situation in a small market, out to the big lights of both LA and the post season. Well, the time is now for them to follow in their own footsteps again. I have no doubts they could run this team back out there and continue to be a high seeded Playoff threat, however if they really want to take it back to the next level, they have to add that next piece that can carry them long-term. Like Magic did for Kareem, Kobe for Shaq, it’s time to bring that piece in for Kobe.

GM Mitch Kupchak has to make a Obama vs. bin Laden type statement in restocking this Laker lineup.

What is great for them right now is that they have no shortage of guys that fit that bill spread around the league. The name of the game right now is to bring big names together and pair them up in nightly All-Star Games. Well there’s a Version 4.0 of the “Big Man in Need” in the NBA right now, by the name of Dwight Howard, so be proactive Mitch Kupchak. Don’t let him hit free agency. He’s already getting upset with the national media about how they are discussing his free agency to be next summer, and now the local media is applying pressure too. Go save the guy and pull him out now. If Dwight knows the Lakers are coming full speed for him early, he’ll start laying the full court press of power plays on Orlando GM Otis Smith, and by late summer he’ll be dying to trade him and just get something in return to save his franchise (which would go down at epic speeds with Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson left to guide them. Think Cleveland, 2k12). Package up Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and 2 two of those soon to be irrelevant, “we’ve got Kobe and Dwight” late first round picks, and change the direction of your franchise in a manner that they have historically adhered to.

The situation is far from “Game Over” in LA, and they are not short on assets in any way. But handling these issues immediately ensure that next year doesn’t repeat this year, and then really give the Western Conference justifiable ammo, and hope.

  1. Oates says:

    As a Laker fan, I think they can in fact win it w/ pretty much the same nucleus. I see it as this:

    – Steve Blake & Luke Walton serve no purpose on the Lakers and possibly the NBA, they gotta roll. Might throw Matt Barnes (Doug Christie v2.0) out too.

    – Gotta get rid of Gasol or Odom. You cant have two overly talented but relatively undependable players on the same squad

    – Go out and get a shooter. The problem w/ this year’s edition of the Lakers, in my opinion, is when Kobe drives the lane or Pau wants to kick it out of the post, the Lakers had no one on the outside to shoot the 3. So everyone could collapse on the Lakers inside & totally not respect the 3. They had Vujacic & sometimes Farmar in previous seasons. This season…not so much.

    – Gotta get a PG, D-Fish just doesnt have it all anymore.

    – Coaching will be crucial as you touched on. Even at the age of 13, I was skeptical of new coaches especially if I didnt deem them as smart or smarter than my previous coach. I could see how losing PJ & more than likely the triangle will be rough for the Kobe-ster. Adelman would be an interesting candidate. Joining the franchise that would dominate his nightmares in the early 00s

  2. Tibbs says:

    You made alot of valid points in your article. The Lakers suffer from not having a bench more than anything else. The next coach of this bunch HAS TO HAVE Credibility and has to have the ability to massage egos. Good article tho! Keep it up man.

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