Special thanks to Justin Page for writing this take and giving us the privilege to add it to TheLakersNation.com. Again, if you write anything Lakers related and you think that it deserves to be put TLN please e-mail us at articles@TheLakersNation.com.
The winds appear to be changing from cold and blustery to warm and calm in Los Angeles. A 7-4 start with quality wins against what are expected to be top-tier playoff teams in the Suns, Rockets, Jazz, and Pistons have Laker fans optimistic about what was expected to be a tumultuous season just weeks ago.
Phil Jackson clearly has the attention of this team and although he hasn’t solved the Kobe Bryant trade demand; he’s done a great job at diffusing the situation. The entire team is making an effort on the defensive end of the floor despite having two poor games from a defensive rotation standpoint against the Spurs and Hornets. At this point, two poor outings out of 11 games is a major improvement over last season.
In addition, Phil also has Kobe playing defense similar to the way he played this summer with Team USA and Kobe’s still being very efficient on the offensive side of the ball (26.9 ppg; 46% from the field) while shooting less (19.5 field goal attempts per game compared to last year’s 22.8). What’s even more impressive is the fact that his supporting cast is stepping up offensively. In two double digit wins last week against the Pistons and Bulls, Bryant didn’t crack 20 points in either rout.
The make-up of this current team is really intriguing and if you were an outsider and didn’t follow the Lakers you’d most likely look at this roster and see a few nice pieces but not an entire entity. But look closely and you can see the personalities are a big reason for their early success. Kobe obviously is the fiercest competitor in the league and his intensity is unmatched. He called out Bynum who in turn vowed that “this is my year.”
Odom is coming off an injury plagued 2006-2007 season and stated in the off-season he wanted to be a “Laker for life” despite being thrown into numerous trade possibilities. He said after the post-season Suns loss last year that “he hoped THIS team would be given an opportunity to turn things around.” The opportunity was given to him and now he has something to prove.
Kwame Brown’s is in a contract year, enough said. What about Vlade? You can see it in his play that he has a real chip on his shoulder after the worst year of his career last season. The embarrassment and disappointment of last year have turned into consistent play and a quiet confidence.
Chris Mihm wants a big contract and is coming off sitting out last season with an injury.
Farmar is just a joy to watch, you can tell he loves the game of basketball and just wants to be out there competing. You could tell that last year when he asked to play in the developmental league game. The Lakers brought in Fisher and drafted Crittenton, so he knows he has to bring it day-in and day-out.
Fisher’s a productive veteran leader whose work ethic rubs off on this young team, and you just can find guys like that for how cheap we got him. Throw in guys like Turiaf, Walton, and Vujacic who know they need to play as hard as possible in order to compete at a high level, and you have an entire team that has something to prove.
Maybe Mitch Kupchak knew all along this was going to happen? I never thought I would say this, but I think he’s done an excellent job handling the big issues he faced this off-season. He’s clearly learned from the Shaquille O’Neal situation and has said all the right things (actually he hasn’t really said anything publicly, and that’s the way it should be). Buss gave him an out, in that Buss could have been labeled the bad guy and the one that forced a trade to be made; that’s an out that a lot of general managers in Kupchak’s position would have taken.
Kupchak also didn’t panic when all the pressure was on him to make a deal this off-season, after Bryant demanded that something to be done. Remember all of the potential trades floating around this past summer involving Bynum and Jermaine O’Neal? These early season averages are surprising…
Bynum: 24.7 minutes, 11.5 ppg, 80% free throw, 58% field goal, 10 rebounds.
O’Neal: 30.2 minutes, 13.2 ppg, 68% free throw, 38% field goal, 7 rebounds.
Couple those numbers with the fact that the Lakers would of thrown in other pieces to make the deal work financially (Kwame Brown’s 8+ million expiring contract and even possibly a young stud like Farmar) and I think we should really thank our lucky stars Indiana didn’t except that deal. As far as Indiana is concerned, they have to be kicking themselves for unrealistically requiring both Bynum and Odom this past summer. Bottom line: that deal is as good as dead. Bynum’s strong early season start and his outplaying O’Neal in that 134-114 Lakers victory on Tuesday night all but assures Bynum’s address won’t change even if Indiana management decides to be reasonable and not require Odom as part of the package.
The Lakers made a great move in getting Trevor Ariza for Brian Cook and Mo Evans. On the court, they’ll be losing a nice bench contributor in Evans, but Cook was an overpaid lazy defender and his offensive productivity from the three-point line is disposable with Radmanovic playing the way he is. With the makeup of this team, a young future lockdown defender like Ariza is the right direction to go. It seems that he also has something to prove coming back to his hometown and just looking for an opportunity to get on the court. This trade also saves the Lakers $6 million over the next two years, and if Ariza happens to opt-out after this season, it will save them $9.1 million.