Since the Lakers have a grand history – 16 NBA championships – they are associated with success.
When the playoffs begin, fans tend to believe the Lakers will prevail, regardless of what happened in the regular season
After all, these are the Lakers.
So, when the Lakers were driven out of the current post-season tournament by the younger, faster Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night, four games to one in the second round, a lot of people were jolted.
They shouldn’t have been.
The Lakers’ season was on the brink of ruin from the start. The playoffs were merely a continuation of the season-long turmoil.
I’ll go through the events, but before I start let me remind you that former all-star general managers Bill Sharman, Pete Newell and Jerry West are no longer involved and current GM Mitch Kupchak has to deal with Jim Buss, owner Jerry Buss’ son who has authority but is a relative newcomer to basketball. His previous work was in thoroughbred racing.
As for the coach, it isn’t Sharman, Pat Riley or Phil Jackson anymore but Mike Brown, who has no championships on his resume.
At center, the Lakers no longer have Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Shaquille O’Neal. They have Andrew Bynum, who has talent but isn’t consistent at age 24.
Oh, then there’s the budget. The Lakers cut costs when they parted with Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher. New salary cap rules were the motivation.
Last season, when Bynum was injured or ineffective, Jackson often called upon Odom with favorable results. This year Brown didn’t have that luxury,
Finally, let’s remember the NBA lockout hurt many teams and the Lakers badly needed a training camp where a new coaching staff could install their system. But that luxury wasn’t available.
The Lakers stumbled into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and had to go the seven-game limit before disposing of Denver in the first round.
The more games you play the task becomes more difficult. Fatigue sets in. You escape the first round but you’re being worn down.
The Lakers were routed in the first game of the second round, which came only two days after the Denver series.
By the finish Kobe Bryant had displayed his brilliance although his shot selection was being questioned. Bynum and Pau Gasol didn’t function as well together as was expected of the two able big men. Ramon Sessions was all right but no match athletically for dazzling former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook. And Bryant was almost matched by Kevin Durant, a three-time NBA scoring leader.
Throughout the playoffs at Staples Center, besides watching the games, I talked to NBA authorities I’ve known for many years.
One, a former Laker employee who still cares deeply about the team, expressed an interesting thought.
“It’s too bad what happened this season,
he said. “Kobe doesn’t have many years left and we just wasted one.”
I’ll save my thoughts on what will happen this summer for another column. But here are a few things to consider.
First, the Lakers will begin a new television deal next season, with Channel 9 no longer involved and every game to be on cable. It reportedly will give them $200 million. There are still strict salary cap rules with heavy penalties for exceeding the cap but the Lakers may invest more in quality players.
Talk has already begun about trading Gasol, something they attempted to do this season.
But do they pin their hopes on Bynum, who annoys them with his dreadful behavior? That would be a gamble.
Asked about the possibility of signing a long-term extension with the Lakers right after Monday’s game, he responded with “I can play anywhere.”
Thankfully, Bryant isn’t talking like that. Kobe remained hopeful and pointed out that Kupchak does very well in putting together competitive rosters.
But if Jim Buss is really calling the shots, as may be the case, will Kupchak stay? There have been reports that Portland is interested in him.
So, welcome to the off-season, which promises to be lively.
This is reality. The Lakers eliminated the Thunder two years ago in a tough playoff series that went six games. Since then the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs have become best in the West and the Clippers have gone as far in the playoffs as the Lakers. And don’t forget that Dallas, last season’s champion, is far under the salary cap and likely to spend heavily this summer.
So, changes are definitely necessary for the Lakers, who have a coach with three years left on his contract who has yet to demonstrate he can lead them back to prominence.
These are the Lakers of the present, not the past.