By John Hathwell

They did it again.
Through all the usual turmoil surrounding the defense of a Championship, all the second guessing of the Ron Artest signing, the injuries to Kobe and Andrew Bynum, the whispers of Kobe’s decline, and the battles with Oklahoma City and Phoenix just to get there, The Lakers snatched the title from the Boston Celtics in Game 7 after trailing by 13 in the second half with a show of pure grit and more than a little desperation.
In the aftermath of arguably their greasest triumph, The Lakers were celebrated by the basketball world as heroic, gutsy Champions of the highest order, a Team for the ages and an example of determination in the face of long odds.
Actually, I made all that up.
Truth is, The Lakers championship was an afterthought mere days after bringing home the trophy, swept away in the storm of the LeBron sweepstakes.
Not that Kobe cares about that kind of shit.
Luckily for him, this isn’t an orginization that tends to bask in it’s glory for too long, and pressed into action by the events off the off-season, Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family made swift moves to improve as much as you could reasonably expect them to, bringing Phil Jackson back for at least another year, and trading in half the bench for upgrades.
While none of the signings they made were earth movers, the fact is they got better, and you could argue that this is the best bench they’ve had in recent memory.
Realistically, they traded Jordan Farmar for Steve Blake, D.J. Mbenga for Theo Ratliff and snatched up Matt Barnes at a discount price, making them steadier, smarter and tougher, in that order.
Heading into 2011, this team has a chance to be a menace, with Blake being the steady point guard Farmar never was, Ratliff available to block a shot or two and shoot a jumper without the threat of breaking the backboard (note to DJ; when Laker fans were chanting at you to shoot in the waning moments of games, they were being sarcastic) and Barnes on board to be the Hockey goon they’ll need against the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant and LeBron. It’s hard to overestimate how vaulable a Artest/Barnes duo will be defensively, giving opponents 48 minutes of nightmarish, physical defense.
That’s not to say everything is perfect here. Andrew Bynum’s annual knee problems have come early this year and Kobe is s
ubject to the same “over the hill” whispers he heard all last season, or at least until he fully recovers from knee surgery. The NBA being what it is, nobody is immune to the threat of injuries derailing championship aspirations, but the Lakers have earned the benefit of the doubt after three consecutive Finals appearances featuring guys gutting it out with nagging ailments or worse.
Of course, LA is also likely to be the beneficiary of a relatively open road to Finals, while Miami, Boston and Orlando will spend several weeks beating on each other for the right to face them.
What else?
Well, injuries aside, some of the marginal guys have looked awesome in the pre-season, with Shannon Brown looking like he’s been studying tapes of Rip Hamilton’s mid-range game and Sasha Vujacic looking motivated by his impending free-agency and the fear of making Kobe angry again after his poor reaction to being schooled by Goran Dragic in game 6 against phoenix.

And they say Kobe doesnt have a sense of humor.
In the immediate future, Pau Gasol, and to a lesser extenet Lamar Odom will be counted on the shoulder the load with Kobe still shaking off the cobwebs, (he shot 27% in the preseason) which hardly qualifies as bad news considering Gasol’s ascension to elite big man status. Truth be told, running the offense through Pau has often been the Lakers best option the last few years, especially against team that can’t match the Lakers size up front.
Otherwise, the regular season will be all about staying healthy and maintaining continuity until it’s time to defend the crown. Getting there means little, a by-product of being back-to-back champs. Anything less than a title will be a failure for these guys.
IF THEY GET LUCKY: really, status quo is all that they need here. No catatstophies and they’ll be fine, and likely finish first or second in the West.
IF THEY DON’T: Kobe finally starts to show the decline that many have expected from him or he or Pau goes down with a major injury. Otherwise, they should be fine.
REALITY: when push comes to shove, this team is gonna be tough to beat when the chips are down. Deep, experienced and determined, there isn’t much these guys haven’t seen, and knocking them off is gonna be a helluva challenge for anyone, especially any of the teams from the west.
When all is said and done, this team will be competing for a third title, with a good chance to bring it home.

Sure, he’s probably the all-time Laker, and yes, he’s made a lucrative second career as a  businessman and entrepeneur.
But trust me when I tell you, Magic the pitchman is hilarious, and not always in the way he intends. It’s hard to explain, really. I mean, bless the guy, but he’s just a goofball.
Don’t believe me? Well, sit back and watch these and ask yourself-are you buying what the Magic Man is selling?


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