Phil Jackson once famously told a reporter several years ago that he doesn’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. The Zen Master felt that if a goal is worth achieving, it should be self-motivated instead of being dictated by the turn of the calendar. You’re allowed to say things like that when your resume includes 11 championships as a head coach and two as a player.
However if there was ever a time when the team he used to coach needs a list of resolutions, this would be the year.
Heading into 2013, the Lakers now sit at a respectable 15-15 after a dreadful 1-4 start. Even with the recent improvement in play, if the playoffs started today the Lakers would not qualify. After acquiring Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the off-season, very few people expected the Lakers to be in this position at the quarter mark of the season.
Here are the resolutions I would assign to the key members of the Laker organization.
Kobe Bryant: Keep Your Teammates Motivated
By now you must be familiar with the statistic, when Kobe scores 30 or more points, the Lakers are 7-12 this season. Translation, when Kobe overshoots, his teammates become disengaged on both ends on the floor. Before the season, Kobe praised that this is the most talent he’s played alongside with, yet ironically the face of the franchise is playing more like he’s surrounded by Chris Mihm and Smush Parker rather than Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
This past Thursday on Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq were discussing the impact of getting role players easy buckets early in the game, as it opens opportunities up for the star players to take over later in the game, but more importantly it gets them in a rhythm, instead of leaving them to question when they would receive their next opportunity offensively. Bryant needs to heed that advice, to serve players like Jodie Meeks, Darius Morris and MWP the appetizer before he brings out the main dish himself. It’d also be nice if Kobe could establish Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol in the post more, as only a handful of teams have the size and length to defend the twin towers the Lakers possess.
Ken Berger of CBS Sports documented that during Christmas Day, when the Lakers closed out the Knicks, Kobe scored his 33rd and 34th point at the 6:39 mark of the fourth quarter. From there, Steve Nash took over, scoring or assisting on 12 of the Lakers’ last 15 points (including the game sealing dunk from Pau). This could be the Lakers recipe to success, keeping their opponent on their toes during crunch time due to the myriad of options the Lakers have at their disposal. It’s not the typical Kobe hero ball we’ve been accustomed to during fourth quarters of the past, but it’s certainly just as effective.
After all, level two of the Kobe system is adaptation.
Remember last year when Matt Barnes was a contributor off the bench for the Lakers for much of the regular season before seeing his minutes decrease gradually culminating in not seeing the floor at all in Game 5 against Oklahoma City? Well this year, he’s been an instrumental member of one of the best second units in the NBA as a Clipper. Interesting what consistency can do for a player’s confidence, isn’t it?
Since taking over as head coach, Mike D’Antoni has been tinkering with the Lakers’ rotation like he’s playing NBA 2K13. It started with bringing Metta World Peace off the bench upon Steve Nash’s return against Golden State. A week later on the road against Denver, Darius Morris played the game’s first seven minutes, before taking in the rest of the game, as a spectator.
Not to mention, Antawn Jamison (remember him?) hasn’t logged a single minute in the last five Laker games despite being a forward that stretches the floor with his 3-point shooting ability, one of D’Antoni’s favorite skills as a player.
To be fair, with the amount of injuries that have hit the Lakers, D’Antoni has had no choice but to shuffle the deck. More changes are on the horizon as well, when backup point guard Steve Blake returns from injury, most likely cutting into Morris’ minutes. D’Antoni also just reached the 20th game coached milestone, in the Portland game on Dec. 28th, so we’ll cut him some slack with the fluctuating minutes he’s been handing the bench players.
Mitch Kupchak: Decide What You Want To Do With Pau Gasol and Convince Dwight Howard to Remain a Laker.
Pau Gasol has been on the trading block for what seems like an eternity now. The trade rumors reached a climax last season when even Kobe got tired of hearing it. He publicly defended Pau last February by saying: “I wish (Lakers) management would come out and either trade him or not trade him, It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I’d rather them not trade him at all but if they’re going to do something, I wish they would just … do it.”
After the Lakers traded Andrew Bynum and others for Dwight Howard this past off-season, Bryant echoed his sentiment claiming that as long as he is a Laker, Pau will be one as well.
Unfortunately Gasol has been plagued by his knee tendinitis and now plantar fasciitis this season, which ignited the trade Pau bandwagon again. This year’s trade rumours have revolved around shipping Gasol north of the border to the Raptors in exchange for Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. Enough is enough, with a year and a half left on his contract it’s time for Kupchak to decide whether or not to keep the Spaniard, who not too long ago transformed the Lakers from a team that struggled to get out of the first round to a legitimate contender again.
Speaking of contracts, Dwight Howard’s expires up this summer. While he’s sure to receive a flurry of offers from every team that is under the salary cap, the Lakers can offer Howard a five-year-max-level-deal worth $100 million while other interested suitors could only offer him four-years worth approximately $80 million. Sure, the $20 additional million Howard can pocket may entice Dwight to remain a Laker, but if insists that winning a championship is his end goal then staying with the Lakers beyond the Kobe era may be a risky situation, as no player besides Nash is locked up beyond the 2013-14 season.
Retaining Howard should be the Lakers’ primary new year’s resolution, to continue the pipeline of iconic Laker centers that have been a staple at the Staples Center (I’m aware George Mikan, Kareem and Wilt never played at Staples but I couldn’t resist the pun) The good news for Laker fans is that Mitch Kupchak has a track record of trading spare change for $100 bills, let’s hope that trend continues in the year 2013.