July 1st marked Canada’s birthday for us who live up north, but the day also meant the commencement of the NBA’s free agent frenzy. With that in mind, the question Laker fans should be asking is not if the club should add any pieces as it was in previous years. It’s now what moves need to be made in order to ensure they don’t get bounced in the second round for a third consecutive year.
Before the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder began, I wrote an editorial detailing the plot cycle of a NBA team, likening a team’s progress to that of a piece of literature. A month later, the Thunder are now a step closer to reaching the climax of a championship by reaching the Finals this year, while their defeated opponents, the Lakers, seem to have already peaked and are on their way to refreshing the plot cycle. As history has proven, you must get worse before you can get great again in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant himself acknowledged the reversal of roles between the statuses of the two Western Conference powerhouses after Game 5.
“Well it’s kind of reversed right? We came in here a couple years ago, we had played with each other for years…it was just flipped…they’ve really grown tremendously.”
Personally I think everyone who watched any part of the series can tell you the Thunder played with the same swagger and confidence as the Lakers did when they made their championship runs, you didn’t need Kobe to tell you that. However I found Bryant’s comment refuting the changing of the guard more telling of the current situation the Lakers are headed for this summer.
“It’s not one of those things where the Bulls beat the Pistons and the Pistons disappear forever. I’m not going for that (expletive).”
For one, I love the fact that Kobe referenced an earlier moment in NBA history, it further shows how much he loves the game. More importantly, if Bryant doesn’t want the Lakers to fade into the shadows then some things need to be done this off-season in order to amend that.
Here’s the truth: the way the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Lakers were constructed, a championship was unrealistic.
Quick question, besides Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, which other members of the team could be depended on? Let me answer that for you.
Metta World Peace when his head’s on straight, Steve Blake when his shot is falling and just about nobody else really.
On top of all that, you had a new coach who had no training camp and limited practice time to implement his system. Part of that system included getting Andrew Bynum more touches on the low block in order to satisfy owner Jim Buss’ man crush on the All-Star center. Bynum’s growth caused his teammate Pau Gasol to shrink due to his reduced role. Don’t believe me? Phil Jackson, the coach that captained the Lakers ship to five titles, felt the Lakers lost their symmetry on offense once Bynum’s touches overtook Gasol’s.
How did the Lakers really expect to improve upon their 2011 finish when management replaced Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and Derek Fisher with Josh McRoberts, Andrew Goudelock and Ramon Sessions? It was the basketball equivalent to telling chef Kobe to cook a three course meal with a pack of pasta.
Evaluating the talent level of the final four of the playoffs this past year, the Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, their rosters all had one things in common: they had three top guys who knew the pecking order (sans maybe Russell Westbrook) surrounded by a core of five to six rotation players who fit perfectly into the style of play the team is predicated on.
Sure, the Lakers won one more game during the 2012 postseason run than the 2011 one but is that how we’re really judging success now when the overarching goal for the franchise has and always will be to add championships banners to the rafters.
At this rate, the Lakers might very well become the Western Conference version of the Atlanta Hawks. The team that consistently reaches the playoffs, wins a round or two before being inevitably bounced by a different foe that that is supplanting them on the NBA food chain.
The mistake that Hawks make summer after summer is believe that their core of players (Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith) will improve so significantly in the off-season they’ll be able to counteract the moves everyone else is making to improve their roster. The result? The Hawks have lost either in the first or second round of the playoffs for the last five years running. Atlanta has finally seemed to realize this strategy won’t work, however, as they traded Johnson to the New Jersey Nets on Monday.
I fear that if Jim Buss sits on his wallet and doesn’t allow Mitch Kupchak to work his magic, the Lakers could be heading towards a similar fate.
I’m not asking for Dwight Howard or Deron Williams to land in their laps, because that’s unrealistic. But at least make a run at the middle tier of free agents who can contribute right away. Guys like Aaron Brooks, Jose Calderon (if Steve Nash signs with the Raptors and the Raptors use their amnesty clause on him), Jameer Nelson, J.R. Smith, Spencer Hawes and the returning Brandon Roy.
The Lakers already lost out on reacquiring Lamar Odom, and if they fail to make some sort of splash in the free agent pool over these next couple months, don’t be surprised if they don’t make any noise when the games begin again. In sports, failure often repeats itself if the same elements are being plugged into the equation. Losing out on free agent acquisitions this summer might result in the worst regular season of Laker basketball since the club acquired Pau Gasol four years ago.