Rather than write a blow-by-blow of the Oklahoma City series and point fingers every which a way, I thought it better to talk about the reality of not only now, but tomorrow and beyond. Last nights’ final loss to OKC might end up being so much more than just the end of the season, it might very well be the last meaningful chapter in the Kobe Bryant era, or at the very least, the last we see of this team in it’s current incarnation.
This then, is the truth as I see it.
I-PAU GASOFT HAS RETURNED, AND HE’S PROBABLY HERE TO STAY
Do you know what the worst part of the Lakers’ two 4th quarter implosions that essentially cost them the Oklahoma City series? Do you know what has made it ten times harder to stomach?
The fact that all the blame for it is being directed toward the wrong person.
It’s the curse of being Kobe. No matter what he does, it will always be about what he didn’t do to the people who hate him with a passion that frankly defies any logical explanation. If you watched the lakers’ implosion at the end of game 4, what you saw was a team that had no other option but Kobe.
Doesn’t matter if you are a stat guy or a “see it to believe it one”, Pau was a massive failure on both fronts this postseason. I can point out that he averaged a lousy 11 points a game this postseason (on an equally lousy 41% shooting), or I can just direct you to re-watch the 4th quarter of game 4 and get a load of that scared, “Chris Webber in the 2002 Conference Finals face” he was sporting everytime he touched, and eventually passed the ball. In yet another game where was going to asked to do everything down the stretch, where literally one more basket would have sealed the deal, this supposed “most skilled big man in the game” attempted exactly ZERO shots in the 4th quarter.
So yeah, I hear the “trade Pau” talk everywhere I go, but it’s easier said than done after a showing like that. Finding a taker for 31 year old forward who is owed 39 million dollars for the next two years and has completely pooped his pants in the last two postseasons ain’t going to be easy, and getting anyone of equal value will be fucking impossible. Reality is they are probably stuck with him unless they were willing to take a risk on another player in a similar situation.
Don’t know about you, but I have zero interest in Amar’e Stoudemire ever wearing the Purple & Gold. In fact, I might have just pooped my own pants even thinking about it.
II-THE FRONT OFFICE PICKED DECIDED BEAN COUNTING WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WINNING MORE TITLES
Of course, there are no guarantees of anything. I mean, the front office could have kept Lamar Odom or at least tried to get something of value for him, or they could have made the deal at the deadline to get Michael beasley and add some scoring punch to a second unit that has none at all. They could have done any numbers of things that involved adding payroll in attempt to maximize Kobe Bryant’s golden years, but the fact is, they opted to save money and try to win within some sort of budget.
Yeah, they did the best they could personnel-wise, getting Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill at the deadline, or at least the best they could do without adding payroll. In reality, they were left with a point guard who has suffered from a lack of experience and an iffy jumpshot in his first playoff stint, as well as a bench that misses the former sixth man of the year.
As transgressions go, this doesn’t exactly rank up there with the dismantling of the Bulls dynasty before they actually lost the title on the court or anything, but trust me when I tell you this: I’m never going to forget it. Not spending the little extra it takes to win titles when the pre-eminent player of his generation still has enough to get it done is going to haunt anyone who cares for along time, probably nobody more than Kobe himself.
It’s beyond rebuttal, really. This was a two-time champion that was swept out of the playoffs and decided it wise to trim payroll instead of add it. The only thing dumber than trading someone with Odom’s value for nothing more than a trade exception is not using said exception at all, which looks all but certain at this point.
III-THE FUTURE CAN BEST BE DESCRIBED BY THAT BRUTAL CLOSE-UP OF MITCH KUPCHAK AT THE END OF LAST NIGHT’S GAME
Because really, bright isn’t the word I’d use to describe the Lakers’ prospects at this point, and old Mitch knows it. Doesn’t matter if you are talking about the unsteady state of management (and Kupchak’s shrinking role in it) since Jimmy Buss essentially took over the day-to-day operations or Andrew Bynum’s ascension to spoiled diva status or the terrifying reality of what the new NBA luxury tax will mean to a team that was already pissing it’s collective pants at the thought of spending money this year, let alone when the penalties are going to be three times as stiff.
Point is, we’ve probably seen the last of this incarnation. If they weren’t willing to take hit in the pocketbook to give themselves even a fighting chance at winning the title, they sure as fuck won’t do it two years from now when Kobe is 36 and the luxury tax is 3-1, dollar-wise.
Nope, they had a two year window (this one and the next) and it’s basically a foregone conclusion that this team won’t be any better next year. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in a package might have yielded a star in return, but that ship done sailed. Yeah, there is still the chance that they land Dwight Howard, but is anyone really embracing that idea at this point? As of now, they’ll have to come out of pocket just to keep what they have intact, nevermind actually getting better.
Pains me to say it, but we might have seen the last of the Lakers as even semi-legit title contenders for at least 2015 or so, when they’ve finally shed Kobe and Pau’s contracts and can start to rebuild around Andrew Bynum.
IV-MIKE BROWN IS NOT THE MAN FOR THIS JOB
Hey, we’ve pretty much known this from the jump, but it’s an unavoidable truth after only one year. This isn’t your average NBA coaching job. Shit, there isn’t really another one like it. There are two kind of Laker coaches: the ones who have enough stature to to carry it off and those that don’t. You are either Phil Jackson and Pat Riley or you are Mike Dunleavy and Randy Pfund.
Seriously, which category does Mike Brown fall into?
Call it lack of presence, lack of authority, or lack of a clue. Point is, Brown is just lacking. Funny thing is, all these years we heard Jerry Buss openly complaining about how much they were paying Phil jackson, and they were basically looking to get rid of him as soon as they could get away with it, at least the first time around. Of course, all it took was the one year apart to see the folly in their frugality.
Now, it almost feels like the same penny-pinching mentality played a part in the hiring of Brown? I mean, do you have a better theory as to why they put one of the highest paid rosters in the NBA in the hands of a man who was known for failing in the postseason with LeBron James on his team an for running one of the mnost uncreative, rudimentary offensive schemes ever seen?
I sure can’t.
Still, it would appear Jimmy B is committed to Brown as his coach the same way he’s been committed to Bynum ever since he drafted the 17 year old in 2005, and if that’s true, Brown ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
V-KOBE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THAT NIGHT
As much as I or anyone would like to see a happy ending to Kobe’s Laker career, it’s becoming more and more apparent that it just might not turn out that way. Yeah, he said all the right things this year about retiring as a Laker and such, but isn’t he inevitably going to blow his stack at the lack of urgency being shown by everyone but him? It would appear that all he cares about now is ring #6 (and 7 and 8 and…) and regardless of all the “I’m not gonna chase rings” rhetoric he’s spouting these days, it would make perfect sense for him to ask out if he felt like he didn’t have a shot at getting another one here. This isn’t your “play out the string’ type of guy, you know? We’ve already seen him demand a trade when he felt the team was leave him out to dry, why wouldn’t it happen again?
Look, nobody is going to come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear the team have already shifted to a “build around Bynum” mentality, only nobody is dumb enough to say that publicly and risk the public backlash that would follow.
For me, I just can’t fathom the idea of Kobe standing still and letting his last chances at immortality be wasted on a team going nowhere. I can’t say I know for sure how it’ll all shake out, only that it won’t be good.
And really, it’s gonna suck.