Death Of A Dynasty Part 2?
By Tim David Harvey
Embarrassing...that was the only way to describe the Lakers exit from the 2011 NBA playoffs last week. The defending champions offended their throne as they crashed out of the second round 4-zip to a team that used to never beat them...at all. Still as the Dallas Mavericks showed their real worth and contention, the Lakers sent their beloved leader and the most successful coach in NBA history off to retirement with his first ever playoff sweep. So with no Jackson, a lot of action and questions to be addressed how will the Lakers 'Iverson' this post, postseason purgatory?
Jerry Buss looks to put a stop to this with the help of Mitch Kupchak getting his Jerry West on and bringing in new franchise, championship talent. Rumor has it that Buss plans to take a 'wrecking ball' to the team and if that's the case who will go and who will form the new bricks and mortar to cement a championship contender back together?
Obviously Kobe is untouchable like Kevin Costner and this leader-when healthy-is unstoppable like Denzel Washington. The best when at his best, Kobe can take the Lakers to the promised land again, but who will get there with him? Mitch's last big investment Pau Gasol, arguably is the reason the Lakers ever saw June to July again in the first place, but recently the 'soft' comments have come back to add to Gasol's hard times. If that wasn't enough the 'zen master' was even enraged by some of his plays. Meanwhile in Memphis his brother Marc (who he was partly traded for) still hasn't reached for his fishing rod. Still despite these problems Gasol has still been and is a great second option to Bryant.
Sure he couldn't handle like minded player Dirk Nowitzki, but the truth is on his day there aren't many post players better skilled or more passionate. Part of the trouble is Pau plays at his best at the forward positions and he has been banged up somewhat at times filling in at the centre position, where he is rightfully sized in height but inadequately so in weight. Which bring us to our next problem. As good and great as Andrew Bynum is becoming, one of the last, true centres in the association has the injury question mark looming over his head more then Greg Oden does. Still for the amount of times Bynum's gone down, he's bounced back with consistent double, double avengence. Now that's something to marvel at.
Still it's one of these players that looks like the bait that will reel in a trade for a real, big replacement. With trading big stars before they become free-agents becoming the new 'LeBron decision avoiding' trend, Dwight Howard could bring some Magic to Los Angeles like it was '85 again. Said to be interested in playing for the Lakers as much as the acting opportunities that Hollywood has to offer (what you say Jack?), the defensive superman of the league could usher in the next era of big legends in Lakerland. Just don't tell O'Neal that this is 'Shaq part 2' minus the legendary skills and assists. Could the potential of Howard's end in Orlando birth a new, fresh start for the raw feeling Lakers? Kobe and Dwight would be the perfect one-two punch, with their combined prowess on both ends of the floor and Dwight's sheer power that could make the Blake Griffin highlight reel a sideshow at STAPLES once again.
Surely some Laker fans will react like Kobe on hidden camera back in the Jason Kidd days to the possibility of keeping Bynum (or even Gasol for that matter) with Dwight alright to come over. Still as much as they may say "ship his a** out", it's important not to forget what each player has done for this team and is capable of doing. With all the Eddie Murphy style trading places, and decisions leading to top jersey's becoming throwbacks in a matter of weeks these days it's important for a team to regain some cohesiveness and continuity these days (as good as Miami are doing). It's important to realize that even when a reign ends it's better to fall together then fall apart (isn't that right San Antonio? Keep your heads up!). At desperate times like this, desperate measures aren't always needed. remember this is the team that still won back-to-back titles, just because bad things have happened before things came in threes doesn't mean this team are done. As good as a trade for Howard would be there is still a vital importance at rock bottom times like this for a team to regroup and picks themselves up together. After all this is a team game, and not a money one...or at least it used to be.
Let's hope some of these exit interviews don't result in real exits. Sure it'll get us talking but sometimes silence and work is the best weapon. Word on the court is that Shannon Brown could be part of a potential deal but losing him after all the Lakers did last year to keep him would take the spark out of a team that desperately needs a plug like budding stars (and Shannon's one too). Able to heat up like a microwave (we see you Vinnie Johnson) Brown could go down as one of the purple and golds best bench players ever and will serve as that extra bit of sustenance needed when the team goes cold (and it's been real chilly as of late). Besides at times like this only his 'out of your seats, on your feet dunks' can raise the spirits. Also after his Game 2 flagrant led to a Game 3 suspension a lot of unfair blame is heading Ron Artest's way and it was last year where he said you could blame him if they lost, not this one. Ron made a mistake but last year he made the engraving on Larry O'Brien. People should stop throwing 'bows at Artest in return because his passion was needed and he is still one of the best perimeter defenders the league has to offer and God knows Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks and the Lakers need him now.
Speaking of flagrants along with Gasol, Odom went out and 'hit the road Jack' more like a chump then a champ but still this 'Sixth Man of the Year' is one start and one All-Star away from being even more important to the Lakers then he already is. It was his consistency that kept this erratic Laker team going all year. The only wood he should be kept on is the pine and the floor, if the Lakers put this guy on the chopping block then they may as well stick the knife in their own backs. This versatile, dynamic talent is what's keeping the Lakers together. If only they could clone him five times over. Then you'd have a team. Speaking of the bench, it may be time for Derek Fisher to start coming off it more, as age is getting the better of him and the Lakers are in need of a new starting point. Maybe they shouldn't have let go of Jordan Farmer so easily (sorry Steve Blake, you still did good). Derek can still fish for clutch off the bench, he's still capable, but it's time for him to go ultra-Robert Horry come playoff time and be the man the Lakers know and love. Another straight 82 can wear out even the most durable of players...which Fisher is.
So what does that leave the Lakers left with? It's clear the Lakers need to keep their window open this Summer but as much as opportunity knocks it's easy to find it sitting right next to you at home. There may be some rust but seldom used forward Luke Walton could have been the assist over turnover king that the Lakers shouldn't have passed on. Right now Luuuuuuke; the STAPLES favourite staple has been receiving as many minutes as Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff and Walton is nowhere near being as old as those guys (although they are still effective, ready for another go round guys?). Luke could of been the Rick Fox actor that would have played his championship role to a tee. Besides this work hard, go hard talent is the only surviving Laker player from the older championship years sans Kobe and Fisher (and Fisher's Laker life comes with a North Californian and Northwest asterisk).
Still, obviously the Lakers are broke, so they are in need of some fixing. Aside from a big acquisition like Howard, there's plenty available on the free-agent market to play with. Guys like Jamal Crawford, Carlos Arroyo, Kenyon Martin, Shane Battier could help round out the team and give it the different dynamics needed for a fresh star. While there would be no harm in rekindling with former Lakers like Caron Butler, Sasha Vujacic, Vladimir Radmanovic or Ronny Turiaf for their experience and missed talents, but let's not go down the Kwame Brown road again. Sure the Lakers are in need of some fresh air, but at the same time they also need some breathing space and room to think things over before they make any drastic decisions.
Besides the Lakers have one pressing matter to attend to. As legendary, great and as grateful as it has been, like Jack Nicholson this is as good as it gets for Phil Jackson and bar asking the Lakers favourite fan to move over a few chairs, nobody is going to have as great an influence on the Lakers bench as the greatest coach of all time. Still as we show our appreciation to the greatest, we must remember the rule about all good things. For the Lakers to move on and get back up they must actually move on and Phil's mentoring to former Lakers championship great Brian Shaw could transpire into the next great, role player to head coach legacy. Still, even if that's not to be like Rudy T back in 2007, there will be many willing to pick up the dry erase left in Jax's place (Jerry Sloan anyone?) even if they aren't so willing to make shapes, or heads or tails out of the triangle.
So there you have it. It may have been all good a week a go and even better a year ago, but remember the Lakers have been here time and time again. Isn't that right Detroit? Kobe's walked off in a purple jersey, head down with ticker tape falling behind him before. Last week almost looked identical to 2008 bar the lack of green and the walking to the left like Beyonce. So don't think the Lakers glory days are irreplaceable. Honestly they've been humbled before. All they need to do is put this pride on rocks and this moment on ice and swallow it all together, most definitely and absolutely. For next season's a new year and the Mamba is ready to come out spitting with his venom. The doberman will be ready to get his team and reputation out the dog house and serve the critics and haters with their own helpings of humble pie. There's your food for thought. Now who's ready to do the dishes? TIM DAVID HARVEY.
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