The Lakers 106-90 Game 5 series/season-ending loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was mostly a formality. After losing three of the first four games, two of which saw the Lakers squander significant fourth quarter leads (one of those losses coming at home), only the most fanatic of Lakers fans felt the team was going to go into Oklahoma City and pull out an against-all-odds elimination game win.
The ending to the 2012 season for the Los Angeles Lakers was the most anticlimactic since the 2006-07 season, when the team finished 42-40 and lost in the first round to the Phoenix Suns. What followed though, was fascinating.
- Kobe Bryant went on multiple radio stations demanding, reniging, and re-demanding a trade within an 8-hour window.
- Kobe was recorded saying the Lakers should trade Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd.
- The Lakers re-acquire point guard Derek Fisher before the start of the 2007-08.
- The Lakers trade Brian Cook and Mo Evans to the Orlando Magic for swingman Trevor 11 games into the 2007-08 season.
- The Lakers trade Kwame Brown, the rights to Marc Gasol, Javaris Crittenton and Aaron McKie to the Memphis Grizzlies for Pau Gasol
And just like that, the Lakers had the primary pieces in place for a team that made three consecutive NBA Finals appearences, winning two of them.
So a lot can be gained from anticlimatic endings of Lakers seasons.
Getting the team back to the elite status most of their fanbase feels as its birthright is tricky, but not impossible. For all those calling for the Lakers to “rebuild” (a fashionable term in the NBA these days, even if most don’t know how to do it), the Lakers actually just completed Year 1 of their rebuilding process.
All things considered, there are worse ways to rebuild a team than claiming the third best record in the conference despite having (arguably) the second best talent in the team’s home city. The Lakers:
A.) Added new coach Mike Brown to replace a legend
Many have yet to fully accept what it meant to have Brown come in and take over a team that quit on Phil Jackson. Second round of the 2011 playoffs, that is what happened. Brown inherited a team that decided that they were good enough to turn a deaf ear to the head coach with eleven championship rings. Regardless of anyone’s opinions of him as a coach, those are almost impossible circumstances to generate success under, especially considering…
B.) Jumping headfirst into a strike-shortened season.
This isn’t a unique excuse because the entire league had to do the same. But the Lakers did play the most amount of games before the All-Star break (they are the NBA’s marquee draw), and you could see the effect in their road record before the Derek Fisher trade (6-13).
Brown struggled establishing a steady rotation, particularly at the small forward and bench big man positions. Metta World Peace admitted to being out of shape early in the season (he claimed in the Game 5 postgame interview that he came into camp weighing 275 lbs) and had the worst statistical season of his career (7.7 ppg, 39% shooting). Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks combined to start 28 of 66 games, but neither provided much consistency beyond some Barnes hard fouls. The threesome of World Peace, Barnes and Ebanks could not make up for…
C.) The loss of Lamar Odom
Odom didn’t provide much of anything to the Dallas Mavericks after being traded there at the start of the season, which in retrospect seems fair since the Lakers received nothing for him in return (yes, they do have the money to use later, but in terms of on court production for the 2012 season, they got nothing). The Lakers losing Odom created not only an abyss at small forward, but an abyss in locker room leadership. Regardless of Odom’s emotional instability, he seemed to find his niche in Los Angeles. Let’s not forget just twelve months ago he was receiving the Sixth Man of the Year award after turning in quite possibly his best season as a professional (14 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg on 53% shooting).
Odom was also one of the only guys left (especially after the depature of Fisher) who could communicate effectively with Gasol, giving him the opposite of Kobe Bryant’s tough love approach, as well as get players not named Kobe Bryant the ball in effective spots for them to score. He may not have been an ideal fit for Mike Brown’s offense, but a player with Odom’s natural talent, in my opinion, could have found away to be successful as long as he was feeling loved, so to speak. But all love was lost following…
D.) The voided Chris Paul trade
Dealing with the ramifications of the Chris Paul trade fiasco that had every Lakers player not named Kobe Bryant wondering if they would wake up to news that they had been traded, Odom in particular. For whatever reason, he couldn’t get over it and demanded to be dealt, even though as it turned out that was against his best interest. Pau Gasol was visibly and vocally concerned about being traded all the way through the trade deadline. David Stern and (allegedly) the other NBA owners, either directly or indirectly, sabotaged the Lakers season by nullifying the trade that would have sent Gasol and Odom to Houston and New Orleans for Paul (with other lesser pieces going to Houston). While the end result may not have made the Lakers Western Conference champions, it surely would have made them a better team on paper, and likely would have made an entirely different player out of…
E.) The “Child-Man” known as Andrew Bynum
The biggest enigma on the Los Angeles Lakers roster is Bynum. No one knows what makes him tic. No one knows what to expect from him day-to-day. No one knows if he even wants to play in Los Angeles.
What everyone knows is that Bynum played the healthiest season of his career this season (started 60 games, averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks) and started in the All-Star Game. Is he the best center in the NBA? Statistically its fair to make the argument that he is, but after seeing him get dominated by the likes of Javale McGee and Kenneth Faried in the first round of the playoffs, and Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka and Nazr Mohammed in the second round, its fair to have your doubts as well.
Bynum does no favors for himself by appearing detatched both in games and during postgame interviews. He may very well be disappointed tha he isn’t getting as many touches as he would like on the offensive end, and that could directly effect the outcomes of Lakers games, but that doesn’t excuse the multiple instances of lackadasical defense and inability to get down court that anyone who has watch five consecutive minutes of Lakers playoff basketball (besides Game 1 versus Denver) has seen from Bynum.
If Bynum had Chris Paul as his point guard not only would Paul have gotten him the ball more to his liking, but were Bynum to pull the mopey/lazy/emo routine, Paul would have lit into him in a way that defies his barely 6-foot frame. Paul’s on-court leadership is something the Lakers could have used dearly in 2012.
Of course, there is another guy on the team who theoretically could have done the same…
F.) Kobe Bryant leading by example isn’t enough.
Losing Fisher and Odom would have been bad enough they were done separate of each other. But losing both? There wasn’t anyone left to bridge the gap between Kobe and the rest of the team.
Metta World Peace? He’s not exactly stable enough to play ambassador (or anything) over a period of 4-to-6 months. Pau? He had already proven to need his own go-between for himself and Kobe in the 2011 playoffs. Bynum too. It certainly wasn’t going to be Mike Brown, who has all but said publicly that he coaches everyone on the Lakers roster except for Kobe, whom he allows to do whatever he wants.
Which puts the impetus on Kobe now more than ever to come down off that mountain and lead “his guys” (Bryant’s words) as a true member of a team and not some point-scoring demigod.
Through 16 seasons, Bryant has either carried himself
- Outside of the team (1996-2004), when Shaquille O’Neal was the team’s central figure and though the team was divided into camps with most of the players being anti-Kobe, t was almost a rallying point for the players and they won 3 titles.
- Above the team (2004-present), when he typically communicated only with players he “trusted”, and barely acknowledged the others. Fisher, Odom, even Caron Butler all served in one way or another as his second in commands. No, Kwame Brown was not one of them.
Going forward, if Kobe and the Lakers aren’t going anywhere, Kobe the true team leader has to emerge. It goes beyond putting up a gaggle of points and expecting players to rise in the big moments. It’s about showing the players, teaching the players how to do it.
Kobe is the 16-year vet who players should feel comfortable approaching, and he should feel comfortable in his position as team leader to accept them and make them into the best players they can be regardless of whether or not they are as talented as he is.
Not every player on the Thunder are as talented as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Not every player on the Spurs are as talented as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. The unity you see out of both of the teams that are in the Western Conference Finals doesn’t come from talent alone.
The number one question on Lakers fan’s minds in the aftermath of their is “how can our ownership get our team to look like those guys?”
The number one question on Lakers ownership’s mind following said loss is “how do we get our fans to accept that there is no easy fix that will get them what they want?”
Both questions should be rhetorical since both factions of Lakers Nation had to have seen this day coming. The good news is history has shown that it won’t stay like this for long.