This season saw the early exit once again of the Los Angeles Lakers from the NBA playoffs, our resident Lakers fan Dustin, offers his take on what he would like to see the team do this summer.
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
The Los Angeles Lakers have found themselves forced out of the NBA playoffs in the conference semi-finals in embarrassing fashion to a team clearly clicking at the right time.
Last year, the team doing the dirty work of eliminating Kobe and crew was the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, this year, the young Oklahoma City Thunder who some tout as the best team left standing in the playoffs. And once again, the Lakers and their fans (me included) head into an offseason full of uncertainty. If there were whispers last summer that the team would be overhauling its’ roster, heading into this summer, it’s this guy yelling into a megaphone.
Some fans like to say that Lakers fans are just spoiled, that they don’t realize the team has a distinct inside advantage with two of the games’ best big men. However, with Pau Gasol’s second playoff wilting in as many years, and Andrew Bynum’s 24 going on 13 attitude towards the team, it may be time for the Lakers to blow up the team while they can.
So here are a few simple suggestions from a humble Lakers fan and what I would like to see from the team in the off season.
- Start with the Spaniard – When the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, I immediately thanked the basketball Gods for making the unbearable Tomjanovich saga seem like a distant nightmare. From ’08-’11, the Lakers were the top seed in the Western Conference, they made the finals three straight times, winning back-to-back titles in ’09 and ’10. They were heading into the 2011 postseason looking for their second three-peat in the decade when the wheels fell off. The team was swept by that champion Mavericks team and generally looked old and tired; on top of that, hall of fame coach Phil Jackson left the team in the offseason. One large factor blamed for the Lakers defeat in that series was the disappearance of Gasol. In 10 games in the ’10-’11 playoffs, Gasol averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds, compared to his career playoff average of 17 and 10, he simply wasn’t as aggressive as in previous years. This lead to an offseason of trade rumors including his almost trade to Houston for point guard Chris Paul. When the trade got vetoed by Emperor Palpatine (or, David Stern as he’s known to the mortal world) Gasol stayed with the team and entered the ’11-’12 postseason with redemption on his mind. Unfortunately, redemption stayed in his mind and he averaged 12 points and 9 rebounds as the Lakers saw another early exit. By no means is Gasol a bad player, maybe, at 32, he’s a bit on the decline but this isn’t about getting rid of someone past his prime, it’s more ‘this has been fun and all Pau but we gotta trade you while we can still get something good in return because clearly this isn’t working anymore. Thanks for the two titles though.’ But where would Gasol go? It’s a bit impossible to imagine, but I believe the Lakers still need two things above the rest: a young, capable point guard and a few solid bench players. So why not call Washington and see if they’ll take Gasol for John Wall and a few draft picks? Does it seem highly unlikely that the Wizards would go for that? Of course, but it’s the Wizards so you can never really be too sure; the slogan for this Lakers offseason should be ‘Eh, it’s worth a shot.’ The Golden State Warriors traded their best scorer for a center with a broken foot, maybe see if they’ll trade their other young scorer, Stephen Curry, and hope that Kobe has room on his next flight to Germany for the explosive young point guard. Considering how the season ended for the team, getting laughed at over the phone by another GM probably isn’t the worst thing that could happen, so if you’re going to trade Gasol, at least make sure it’s worth your while and not just another Lamar Odom fiasco.
- Bye-num- Picture this, you’re out shopping at Target, and as you’re perusing the bath towels, you spot the most beautiful girl in the world, she notices you looking and you look away, but then, something crazy happens; she approaches you. She compliments you on your mesh shorts and Lakers shirt ensemble and that night, you’re out on a date. Next morning, you wake up and she’s gone. You spend the day stuck in a funk, bitter and upset at yourself for falling for someone so conniving, you vow to never do that again. Two days later, she calls you and you repeat the whole process over again and again as a cruel, ‘Groundhog Day’ sort of nightmare. This is a feeling Lakers fans have known all too well over the course of center Andrew Bynum’s young career. After being drafted at just 17 years old in 2005, Bynum has been alternately brilliant and maddening, a point driven home more-so by the fact that management seems unrelenting in their assessment of him as the future of the team. In seven years with the team, Bynum has only played a complete, injury-free season once (twice if you count this years’ lockout shortened season, but he missed the first four games due to suspension, not injury). In the 2010 playoffs, Bynum played through a torn meniscus and helped the team win the NBA title. He followed that gritty, inspiring performance the next postseason by clotheslining Mavericks guard J.J. Barea and being ejected and suspended in Game 4 of the Mavericks second-round sweep of the Lakers, and also, Phil Jackson’s last game as LA’s coach. The loudest trade rumblings seem to suggest sending Bynum to Orlando for Dwight Howard, but that doesn’t really seem like the best idea either. This season has been dominated by many headlines, but none had such a lasting impact as the drama in Orlando between Howard and his now former coach, Stan Van Gundy. So the idea is we trade our at-times dominant center who will sometimes seemingly take plays off whenever he sees fit, for Howard, who has never, ever done anything detrimental to put his team in a rough spot. So where does that leave as a landing spot for Bynum? I say call Minnesota, see if they want to rebuild the Timberwolves around Rubio and Bynum and get Kevin Love in purple and gold. Yes, it diminishes the Lakers’ sheer size advantage, but Love is a young, hard worker, oh, and he’s 7’ and can do this with no problem.
- Clearing out the bench- The Lakers current bench mob consists of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Devin Ebanks, Troy Murphy and Metta World Peace. Yep. Oh, and Josh McRobert. Just let that sink in for a second. Got it? Ok, now here comes the hard part: that motley crew of players currently made a combined 20 million dollars this past season, a good chunk of change considering it’s these contracts and the teams’ salary cap problems that present the biggest problem in the offseason. They likely won’t be able to sign a marquee free agent like Deron Williams or Steve Nash, but they don’t represent every option out there. Free agents like Roy Hibbert, Aaron Brooks, George Hill, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams are all available and require less than 5 million dollars a minimum offer. So losing players in trades for draft picks and cap space all of a sudden doesn’t feel as much like a death sentence.
It’s tough to tell if Kobe Bryant can last long enough for the team to enter a rebuilding phase, which is the biggest deterrent to blowing up this current incarnation of the Lakers that are just two years removed from an NBA title. But the lack of passion shown in the Lakers last game this season, the Game 5 loss to the Thunder, where Kobe scored 42 of the teams’ 90 points, is what could tarnish Kobe’s reputation most. It’s the Catch-22 that Lakers fans try to pretend doesn’t exist; Kobe scores 42 on 33 shots, but doesn’t register a single assist. He takes over games and scores at will, but he never seems able to inspire the rest of the team to play with that same intensity and will to win. If management wants Kobe to be a Laker for life, and they don’t have the resources or the time to completely rebuild, why not upgrade a few of the bench players, trade Metta World Peace and Steve Blake in a deal similar to the Walton trade that brought point guard Ramon Sessions to the team in March.
It’s possible the team could make a few moves similar to these, but it’s also possible they’re content to keep who they have and battle to stay relevant and competitive against the emerging young teams in the Western Conference, it’s tough to tell, but either way, the city will be watching, waiting to see what the team will do next.