THAT COMMOTION YOU SEE IS AN ANGRY MOB SETTING FIRE TO THE LAKER BANDWAGON

“The ship be sinkin'”-Michael Ray Richardson, in reference to the 1984 New York Knicks

“Stick a fork in the Lakers!”

Turn on your radio, TV or computer lately and this is the overwhelming sentiment surrounding the two-time defending champions, based on consecutive lackluster showings in marquee made-for-TV games and, um, I’m not sure what else exactly. nevertheless, it appears a good number of people are ready to leave the lakers for dead.

As my Mom used to say, “In or out”.

With panicked fans jumping off the Laker bandwagon as if it were on fire, I can’t help but shake my head at the fickleness on display here. Perhaps it’s a function of the way “journalism” works in the internet age, but the predictions of imminent doom have reached comedic proportions in a hurry, including wacky trade scenarios involving Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and even Kobe Bryant, which iain’t happening unless Mitch Kupchak is fired tomorrow and replaced by one of those wacky Lakerline callers. I mean, I’d hardly be shocked if  Big Josh from Venice traded Kobe to Phoenix for Steve Nash or whatever, but this is real life we’re talking here.

I mean,  Jesus people, take a deeeeeeep breath.

Are you calm now?

Good.

Fact is, the Lakers are sitting at 34-15, #2 in the west and on pace to match last seasons 57-25 record  and are doing so with their fair share of injuries, including several weeks without Matt Barnes, who had effectively taken the Small Forward job from the rapidly-melting Ron Artest, who now wants to be traded (or not. Confusing, I know. Blame Twitter), presumably to a team whose Coach won’t criticize him publicly for shooting 40% and getting his pants pulled down on National TV by Paul Pierce. Safe to say it would be almost impossible to underestimate the value of Barnes to this team right now, especially if Artest isn’t able to get his shot or his lateral quickness back.

Additionally, even though Laker fans have grown all too accustomed to Andrew Bynum’s annual vacations,  losing Barnes and back-up Center Theo Ratliff threw a monkey wrench into the Frontcourt rotation, and the teams’ reluctance to go get a viable replacement (no offense, Joe Smith) forced Phil jackson to play Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom more minutes than would be wise. To Lamar’s credit, he’s responded with his best season as a Laker. Pau on the other hand has looked at turns both tired and timid, culminating in his 2008 Finals flashback performance last Sunday against Boston. Watching that game, I couldnt help but be reminded of the horrors of that series, with Garnett doing everything short of literally punching Pau in the mouth and taking his ball, while Pau did nothing much more than make really whiny faces and cry at the refs’ alot. It’s the kind of thing that keeps a man up at night.

 Regardless, I’m kind of baffled at the lack of perspective amongst almost everyone involved, from the media right down to the Laker front office. It’s as if all of these people who have been watching basketball for so many years have forgotten everything they’ve learned about the cycle of dominance in the NBA. You know, the part about how every year you are on top it’s harder to defend the title? How the necessary motivation required to go into Sacramento or Indiana at the top of your game on a nightly basis becomes harder to muster when you’ve got two rings on your finger than it did when you were, say playing on a marginal play-off team in Memphis?

Hell, anyone who even goes back as far as 2003 remembers how much tougher that year was for the Lakers, especially in the regular season, with Shaq a little fatter and the rest of the team a little more satisfied with itself. Jesus, I mean this stuff is basic human nature, right?

Now with that said, don’t go getting the wrong idea and assume I think there’s nothing wrong here. Of course there is. The thing is, these problems are infinitely lass dramatic and alot more correctable than people seem to think.

For starters, the team just isn’t playing hard enough from night to night, and honestly I dont’ expect this to change much from now ’til April, nor do I really think it should. Much like last years’ Celtics, who were picked to go to the NBA Finals by absolutely nobody, this veteran-laden laker team would be wise to conserve it’s energy for the time that really matters.  It’s the smart thing to do. Of course, there is a risky element involved in turning it off and on like that, but I’d say back-to-back Championships are enough to earn the benefit of the doubt.

With that said, the lack of consistency and aggression from the supporting cast, notably Gasol and Bynum, is alarming. As has been proven conclusively by the varying results of the last three post-seasons, the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of Pau, Lamar and Andrew are the ultimate factors in determining whether this team is good enough to win it all. In 2008, Andrew was injured and lamar and Pau were getting punked for their lunch money by KG and Perkins in route to a rather humiliating Finals defeat.

It wasn’t pretty.

Of course, the last two years Pau showed marked improvement and dare I say, real courage in the trenches, lamar held his own and Andrew Bynum was actually in the line-up (sort ot, anyway), and wouldnt you know it, the lakers won consecutive Championships. It’s not advanced Calculus or anything: teams win Titles, not individuals, and Kobe Bryant (or  even LeBron, as we’ve learned conclusively) alone is not gonna get the job done by himself.

Other than that, it’s painfully obvious the Point Guard situation needs to be addressed. More than enough has been said about Derek Fisher in regards to his class as a person and his contributions to the Lakers. Honestly though, he can’t go at this level for 40 minutes a night anymore, and he’d have a tough time staying in front of a parked car at this point. Steve Blake has been serviceable, but far from the hand-in-glove fit we expected him to be, primarily because he’s been unable to hit shots and draw the respect of defenses.

Of course, it’s won’t be easy considering they gave away their most valuable trade chip earlier in the season went they shipped Sasha Vujacic and his 5.5 million dollar expiring contract to New jersey in an effort to trim what is already the league’s highest payroll. On the flipside, they acquired a trade exception in the deal which would allow them to acquire a player of that salary level without sending a player back in return, but it hinges on Jerry Buss’ willingness to take on even more salary.

If he is, (and really, Buss’ track record is as good as any), you go get a point guard who can stay in front of people and won’t put so much pressure on the rest of the team defense. Hopefully the guy can shoot a little too since that never hurts in the triangle. Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe try to pick up a spare big man, preferably an athletic one with a little range on defense. Fifteen minutes a game from said big guy will ease the burden of the overworked starters and provide the depth they’ll need in the postseason.

Problem solved. These two pieces should be within the Lakers’ grasp without having to trade anyone of real significance. Hell, with buy-out season approaching, they might be able to pick them up for nothing.

Then, they can be left alone to answer the all-important question that will ultimately tell us if they are good enough to to Three-peat.

Do they still want it bad enough?

We’ll find
out sooner than later.

email John Hathwell at jonnyhath1@yahoo.com

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