After last night’s epic battle, the bottom three teams in the Western Conference are now separated by a mere half game. The lower echelon consists of the Lakers (11-8), Denver (11-8), the Warriors (10-8), and followed by consensus playoff contender Houston (10-9). It’s not as though the teams with better records are a picnic to move beyond either.
If the season continues at this pace, our team will squeak into the playoffs and face a very formidable opponent in the first round. The question will not be, “can we win” but rather “will we win?” The Lakers have the ability to beat most teams on a given day, but winning a seven game series followed by another seven game series followed by another and yet another is quite a
different story than winning one game on a given day.
I posed the question earlier in the season, “Do the Lakers Have What it Takes?”
Nearly 20 games into the season, you can forecast our chances at succeeding in the four series gauntlet leading to an NBA title with some decent accuracy.
This article has been three full weeks in the making because I didn’t want to be accused of having knee-jerk reactions.
Picking up from where we left off last season, our developing youth truly has developed. It’s no surprise that Andrew Bynum has led the way in this respect. Last season, Andrew (or Socks as I call him) was the biggest bartering chip the Lakers had. With his potential coming further into fruition, Andrew is now off the table completely. In fact, the only player whom the Lakers were willing to give Andrew away for was Garnett. As Tuesday’s game showed us all, the lowly talent we offered for Garnett was no match for the titans of basketball that McHale received in exchanged for K.G. While most of us were gleeful that our depleted squad could still cut through their defense like a hot knife through butter, fans in Minnesota have seen the truth: McHale sold them out in order to resurrect the old Leprechaun.
Jordan Farmar was rumored to have been a throw-in to several deals, including one that would send Jermaine O’Neal to the Lakers. His consistent effort and performances have come to no surprise to L.A. fans that follow UCLA. A small percentage of the Lakers Nation knew that Jordan would eventually approach a high level guard in the NBA. Right now, he’s the closest player we have to Tony Parker, and Jordan will continue to improve not only as the season progresses, but from season to season. Jordan Farmar is only 20 years old. However, management likely does not consider Farmar untouchable and in fact might be one of their best bartering chips.
At the end of last season, Lakers fans were enthusiastic about Lamar Odom. He “bled purple and gold” in our final game against Phoenix. Last season, Lamar went through things that none of us would even wish upon our greatest enemies. He lost his son, his all-star season was derailed by injury, and he had to have his shoulder surgically repaired at season’s end. In the off season, fans across the country debated if trading Odom for K.G. or O’Neal would even improve our team’s chances at the O’Brien. Without the benefit of pre-season, Odom has had to work his way into game shape. His outside shot and overall game performances have been inconsistent at best.
Lakers fans are, by nature, an optimistic bunch. We tend to look for the silver lining and find the good in our players and our team. Our view of Lamar Odom over the past 4 seasons has been shaped by these optimistic perspectives. During this time, we’ve heard time and time again from various TV analysts that “the Kobe and Lamar tandem just doesn’t work”. Like many of you, I’ve wondered why these commentators always have something negative to say about our team.
However, this season, most fans have been watching with a wayward eye. Much of this was due to all the off-season speculation and pending need to improve our team quickly. With this, the preponderance of fans have come out in favor of trading Lamar Odom. The minority still believe that Lamar is the real leader of the Lakers and that everyone else has forgotten his brilliant games, such as the one he put up against Detroit earlier in the season. According to these fans, Lamar is still working himself into shape and we will soon see why he has a star shaved into his head.
The question of the day isn’t “are we a good team” or “do we have solid players” or even “can we win,” but rather the question of the day is “where do we go from here?”
As stated, you can forecast for yourself our odds of succeeding at the four series gauntlet.
With Kobe still furious over perceived attitudes, comments, incapability, and disrespect from certain people in the Lakers front office, sitting back for a few seasons while “the team” develops might not be the best route. Still, there are fans who believe this is the best route.
With Kwame Brown’s contract expiring at season’s end, we may lose him to free agency if a team decides they need a big strong body down low to put them over the top. This could mean Kwame is offered as much as the MLE this off season. Kwame does bring quality to the Lakers’ front line, mostly because he’s a better fit right now than Chris Mihm. Still, Kwame’s expiring contract would be value to a team that finds itself stuck with a lousy long term contract. This would mean Kwame has significant trade value under the following conditions: a team must have a player with a long term expensive contract that will keep them from rebuilding.
Lakers fans have purposed trades such as Ron Artest for Kwame Brown straight up. In a purple and gold world, this could happen. Let’s face it though, we live in the real world. Ron’s contract is already expiring, so Kwame holds no value to the Kings. Technically, O’Neal’s contract is also expiring should he opt out, but for all practical purposes, O’Neal would have to throw away tens of millions of dollars to opt out and if he walked, you could say his entire $20 million paycheck is expiring.
In New Jersey, Jason Kidd continues to play extremely well but also extremely displeased. Last night he missed the game because of a “headache”. Kidd’s hiatus was only surpassed earlier this season by the opposing point guard, Marbury. Jason Kidd’s large multi-year contract would make New Jersey a viable trade destination for someone such as Kwame.
December 15th is now 9 days away. What’s so special about this day? It’s the first day that recent free agent signings are eligible to be traded. This means trades are much more feasible for all teams in the NBA, not just the Lakers.
We all have an opinion as to where we should go from here. Some say we ought to package Lamar & Kwame for a bigger named player. Some say we ought to stand pat and allow our team to grow. Others say we can afford to make small sacrifices to tweak what we already have. Some fans, still simmering from events a few months ago, say we ought to pull a Minnesota and trade Kobe for some young talent.
Everyone has their reasons and everyone has their opinions. While we aren’t the front office, it’s quite clear that our opinions do matter. There’s a reason why the Lakers traded Brian Cook. Mitch Kupchak was likely keeping his own tally of STD’s and felt it was worth it to throw in Maurice Evans just to get out from under his multiyear $3.5 million contract. No doubt there was at least some fan backlash regarding Cook’s contract extension, which would have factored into the decision to some level.
Therefore, post your thoughts. Post your arguments. Tell everyone if we should continue at this pace, or if we need a change of pace.
While you do that, I will post my own review of last night’s game. It’s a special review because it was the one day out of the year where I’m able to watch our team in person.
First, upon entering the arena, I came across Stu Lanz at the top of the stairs. He was engaged in a conversation with three others, and being the polite person I am, I butted in and said “Stu, I love the broadcasts!” and stuck my hand out which he shook in a firm strong way as he looked me in the eye and said, “thank you very much”.
My wife and I continued down to our seats (row 3) and I met up with some fellow members of the Laker blogging community. Once shoot around came to a close, several players made their way by our seats and I was able to interact a little with some of them. When Trevor walked by, I told him “welcome home, Trevor” and I put out my fist. He put out his fist as well, and he signed a few autographs. As a side note regarding Trevor, he actually has terrific shot technique. I think his troubles in his career have likely come from him feeling hurried. He doesn’t get his shot off very quickly in game situations, even though he’ll typically find himself so wide open that this doesn’t much matter. I think Trevor can easily develop a consistent 18 foot shot that would go great with his driving and slashing abilities.
Though several players walked by, I really only spoke with one. That was Andrew Bynum. I asked him if he was feeling better and he responded with “yes, I am.” Though his box score looked anemic, I felt he held his own against Denver’s impressive front line of Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and Carmelo Anthony. Still, I’m sure he would have faired much better had he not been so sick the day before.
The last two players on the court at shoot around were Jordan Farmar and Javaris Crittenton. I wasn’t surprised at all. This observation is only a microcosm of what happens day after day. From everything I know about these two guys, they are Kobe-like in their study of the game and in their pursuit of excellence.
Speaking of Kobe, many fans have proclaimed Kobe to be an aloof player who only cares about himself. When Kobe had to leave the game and had two enormous ice packs on his shoulder, Kobe made sure he was still a pivotal part of the game. In each time out, while the coaches were gathering amongst themselves, Kobe led the huddle. Sometimes he’d address the group as a whole and other times he’d speak to players individually… presumably telling them things he noticed.
At the end of the game, with the game on the line, Kobe pulled all the players together at the free throw line and discussed strategy and gave general words of encouragement. During other times throughout the game, Kobe would remind players of their role on a critical free-throw rebound, or out-of-bounds play. From what I saw, the idea that Kobe hurts his team in anyway just wasn’t seen and actually I left the game knowing that Kobe does everything within his ability and skill set to help build up the players around him.
Finally, the Pepsi Center consisted of roughly 10 to 15% of Lakers fans. We were everywhere. We actually had some Kobe-Kobe chants going for a few moments until the rest of the crowd would awaken and boo loudly to drown out our chants. The worse boo, however, was at the end of the first quarter when Kobe went down. I still haven’t seen the replay of this, but from what I saw, one guy tripped him up from behind (Kobe didn’t see the fall coming) and two guys landed on him. It did not look good. While Kobe grimaced in pain, some fans sitting next to me were actually saying what a baby he was and that he simply fell and that the floor isn’t that hard. I couldn’t believe my ears. Once Kobe stood up, there were a few claps, but they were immediately met with unbelievable boos! I could not believe my ears that fans would boo for someone getting up on their own. Did I boo when T-Mac went out against the Lakers? Come on! We love the Lakers, but we also love basketball.
Along those lines, Allen Iverson’s game was absolutely sick. Fisher was helpless against him, and whenever Fisher was in the game, Denver would run a screen so that Fisher would wind up guarding Iverson, and he’d immediately attack. Those 51 certainly aren’t all on D-Fish. We’ve shown a lack of ability to stop quick penetrating guards. I thought Kobe & Ariza played Iverson the best. Still, 51 points on 18-27 was extremely impressive. At one point, my wife says to me, “Does he ever leave the game?” Well, no. He played every single minute last night. This was their first of a back to back and their biggest player played every single minute. What does that tell you?
It tells you that even Denver knows it’s absolute war amongst the lower echelon in the West. Only a half game separates the 6th place team and the 8th place team. The current 9th place team is the Houston Rockets. This is no walk in the park.
Which leads me back to the question, where do we go from here?