Friday, June 25, 2004

The Lakers Gripe Page

Okay, here's the deal: The entry for this date will be the ONLY place on this blog---okay, on ANY blog---that I mention the Lakers, or anything NBA. But if you are one of the -0 persons interested, I will keep adding to this date's entry when the mood strikes over the coming days, weeks, months, I don't know, it' s all too depressing...

The thing is I thought I was prepared for the idea of the Lakers without Shaq. His habit of going through the motions (at best) until the playoffs was getting old. In fact it was amazing to see him for a couple of games in the playoffs, especially game 4 of the finals, when it turned out he still could do many of the things that Shaq used to do. Apparently he just can't do them all that often, or on less than two full days rest.

But then they started talking trade, and talking about who they might get for him, and then I got really bummed. Shaq not being a Laker is bad enough, but what's worse is who could become a Laker instead. Those guys from Dallas? DALLAS? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Dallas is even worse than Sacramento: they are both entertaining teams with enough talent to put on a good show, but they can't actually win anything against a good opponent. Especially Dallas. There isn't a player on that team I can think of I'd care to see in a Lakers uniform. They just don't have it.

Well, nobody seems to really know what's going on. But it's nothing good so far. Derek Fisher has opted out of his contract. What's the Lakers without Derek Fisher? He could still sign with them, but... So Fisher is a free agent, Kobe is a free agent, Shaq wants traded, Malone ain't talking, the best coach in NBA history was asked not to return--- and who says he'll be back? Gary Payton. GARY PAYTON. The one guy they need to get rid of.

The writers are writing in circles. Payton wouldn't say he's coming back unless he knew his buddy Shaq was coming back. But Shaq is really serious about leaving. Which means?

It's Kobe's team now, that's what all the changes are about. Only Kobe isn't saying anything, except to let the Clippers know he's available---and they're shedding players like mad to be able to afford him. THE CLIPPERS?

The owner who started all this has gone off to Italy. I wish I had. His general manager, who nobody seems to like, seems to be delaying doing anything about Shaq, hoping either that Shaq changes his mind or he gets better offers. Jerry West, who built the Lakers championships team, is exiled in Memphis, and he says he doesn't believe Shaq will leave, and he certainly doesn't expect the Lakers to trade him to a team in the West (like Dallas, or Sacramento.) But if anybody with Jerry West's basketball mind or common sense was still running the Lakers, would any of this be happening?

Meanwhile I'm waiting to here from one of the players who is trustworthy, what really happened in the finals. I haven't yet worked up the courage to watch the game 4 tape to see if it's true that Shaq was open in the 4th quarter and Kobe didn't get him the ball, and that's why they lost the game that Shaq dominated.(Not that I could really tell anyway.) Watching the Houston series again, it was clear how important a healthy Karl Malone was to their winning the first round, so maybe they couldn't have taken four games from Detroit. Game 5 would seem to indicate that.

Okay, that's enough for now. Everything (except Phil Jackson returning) is still more or less possible, like Shaq, Kobe, Fish and Malone return to the Lakers, and Gary Payton gets traded for a power forward. I mean, what else nearly good could happen? Kobe and Shaq are so expensive, what really good team can afford either one? Well, I've got my old Lakers playoff tapes, and my old Chicago Bulls playoff tapes. I guess until they wear out I'm good.

UpDATE 7/16

It's not so much that the Lakers traded Shaq, or that they mercifully traded him for 3 players I don't know much about (some say they're good, some say they're bad) and not for players from Sacramento or Dallas, but that these players come (from Miami) with such preexisting fat contracts that the Lakers have little room to improve further, unless they can trade somebody else--and all they've got at the moment is those three guys, and Gary Payton. With Derek Fisher also officially gone---having won his championships he opted to make some money with Golden State, can't fault him for that---the Lakers almost have to keep Payton now, or play without a point guard as well as a center.

See, that's the major problem. Shaq may not have been the player he once was, but he was still big. And now the Lakers are let's just say significantly undersized at the center position, assuming they even know who they might play at that position. Now if these new guys don't work out, they've got to pay them anyway and they can't afford anyone new, even though there doesn't appear to be a really good center out there anyway. They'll be lucky to get Vlady Divac, who was a Laker before he was traded to make room for Kobe many years ago, and might be interested in returning if they can find some way to pay him. He is at least sort of tall and a veteran with some knowledge of the game and the position.

No one knows if Karl Malone is coming back---he loved Shaq but he also loves Kobe and the LA fans. On the other hand, he's being recruited by San Antonio, which has a legitimate chance at the championship next year---which is why he came to LA---and his wife is from that Texas city. So chances are he'll go there, and then the Lakers will really be questionable. Unless managment has another move or two up its sleeve before the season starts.

The big news of course was that Kobe will be back. Probably crucial to that were statements by the Laker owner and GM that Kobe had nothing to do with Shaq being traded and Phil Jackson being un-asked back, although both of them thought that management's preference for Kobe undermined them. Kobe denies he had anything to do with it, he told both he'd be content to play out his career with them, but he did have issues with them the hell should I know?

So the Lakers will be a run and gun team, they hope, and good enough (the sports seers say) to make the playoffs but nowhere near good enough to get very far into them. The other very good teams in the west just got a lot better, simply because Shaq is no longer in the west. He and his new but supposedy more team oriented Kobe-type shooting guard are supposed to make the Miami Heat a surefire playoff team---not too difficult in their conference---but if Kobe and Shaq couldn't dent Detroit, can Shaq without Kobe? Maybe, maybe not. The Lakers are betting that Shaq has one or two more good years at best---probably next year---but that Kobe will become the premier player in the league and stay pretty near the top for the next seven years or more. Next year? The Lakers could be fun to watch, and the Heat could be, too. But as things stand now it's not likely either will be in the finals. Just as well. I can spend the time working on my shot (I can no longer with any degree of accuracy call it a jump shot.)

August 3 UPDATE So the Lakers did sign Vlade Divac, and a forward who can spell at center, and who can run, in Slava Mevendko . But the possibility of the Lakers being a playoff team next year rests entirely now with the decision of Karl Malone.

Malone apparently has offers to play for the Lakers (with Kobe) or the Heat (with Shaq) or for San Antonio (where he arguably would have the best chance for a championship ring, but would be part of a completely new bunch of players that might or might not be a team.) Though Malone came to the Lakers at the behest of Shaq and maintains a good relationship and lots of admiration, he also developed a great relationship off and especially on the court with Kobe. The on-court partnership began to sparkle most conspicuously against San Antonio in the playoffs. It was evident at times in the few games both played during the season, and then in flashes in the Houston first round series. If Malone had not gotten hurt, it's more likely that the Lakers would have been able to hang on and win the championship against Detroit. (Not a lock, obviously, given what looked like team fatigue, but he was the missing element.)

With Malone, Kobe has somebody he can trust on the offense, and somebody he can rely on to play defense. Without Malone, the Lakers will be on a steep learning curve, and without much maturity in the playoffs. So stay tuned: the Lakers season is on the line.

On another note, I watched with actually a great deal of pleasure as Italy dismantled the U.S. Olyimpic team, made up mostly of second and third tier NBA semi-stars. The Italians play a different style, but it's smart basketball, with lots of player movement and crisp passes, and accurate shooting. Apparently they've learned that scoring points will win games. They increased a ten point lead to nearly 30 in the fourth quarter. Not only isn't the U.S. team anything like the Dream Team, but the rest of the world is playing their game. Italy has been a mainstay of European basketball for years---hey, that's where Kobe Bryant learned the game (and learned Italian) when his dad played there.

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