Twenty five or so games left in this nightmare. Here’s where the Lakers stand or rather, where I stand on the Lakers.
Of course, The Basketball world is still mourning the loss of Jerry Buss, as am I. Had a chance as a 17 year old to spend the better part of an hour talking basketball with Buss, during game 3 of the Lakers’ 1992 first round playoff loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the night the LA Riots broke out, as luck would have it. While the city was burning all around us (and honestly, I had no fucking idea it was since it was 1992 and carried a pager, not a phone), we talked about how the team could improve and rebuild, and although I was a precocious Basketball savant at that age, there were things about the intricacies of the League that all of the newspaper reading and stat studying couldn’t have taught me. Looking back now, it’s a minor miracle that some kid, the friend of the son of a prominent musician, found himself in an intense Basketball chat with the owner of the fucking Lakers, but that was Buss. While his playmate companion sat silent, we talked at length about the draft, the available point guards at that time and alot of other stuff that has long since slipped from my memory. When all was said and done, Buss handed me a card and urged me to call the Basketball office for an internship or perhaps a job. Then he grabbed his date and disappeared.
For god only knows what reason, I Never did make that call. Fuck, I was seventeen years old. I will always have that story though, along with the memory of who Jerry Buss was, a true lover of the game who would take time to discuss it with someone who cared as much as he did. For reasons too numerous to mention, the Lakers will never be the same without him. -JH
I. Kobe deserves a better ending than this
He really does. The Summer of 2007 seems so distant now, but back then Kobe was ever so close to being gone after three years of frustration, slander and unkept promises. There he was, wasting his prime years playing alongside Chris Mihm, Smush Parker and the Infamous Kwame after being assured by Jerry Buss and the Laker braintrust that they would do what it took to build a winner around him. Things we’re so far gone that Kobe went on local radio and swore he’d never wear the Purple and Gold again. Adrian Wojnarowski wrote this week that the Lakers had a done deal with the Pistons, pending Kobe’s approval. Of course, Kobe relented at the last minute and in less than six months, the Lakers had snapped up Pau Gasol and went on to make the next 3 NBA Finals, winning two of them.
Still, the thought of Kobe having spent three of his absolute prime years (ages 26 to 28) on teams without almost no talent seems not only sad, but borderline criminal. Fact is, the organization completely wasted the peak physical years of a guy who has five championships and a body of work that easily qualifies him as a top 10 (or perhaps top 5) all-time player.
Oh, if only.
Thing is, in alot of ways, what is happening now is almost as big a travesty, if not more so. While nothing can be done about the past, there is still plenty than can be done now, only it’ll never happen. When all is said and done, the numbers will place Kobe among the very greatest players ever. Shame that the number that matters most is five, not the six or seven it could (and should) have been.
II. The Ship Be Sinkin’
Already covered this a few weeks ago, but the Lakers really are in deep shit with little Jimmy Buss in charge. When the NBA’s glamour franchise is being run by a trust fund baby, the best-case scenario is that he is smart and/or humble enough to get out of the way and let the qualified Basketball people run the show. As evidenced by the hiring of Mike Brown, the shunning of Phil Jackson and the gutting of the Lakers scouting staff (which was replaced in most part by Jimmy’s gambling buddy Chaz) all signs point to there being zero fucking chance of that happening.
Oh, but it gets worse. If Jimmy was able to make this kind of mess with a 100 million dollar roster, how do you figure it’s going to work out after this year, when the NBA’s new fangled luxury tax kicks in?
Speaking of which…
III. It’s gonna take a truckload of money to fix this mess (Thanks to the new Luxury Tax Rules)
The math can get confusing, so bear with me while I break it down to the bare essentials. In recent years, the league has placed a limit on what teams could spend on their players, so that the NBA didn’t turn into Major League Baseball, where the Yankees often spend 200 million annually in salary while The Rays and Pirates spend about 50. As it stands now, any team that goes over the luxury tax limit (currently at 70 million dollars) pays a dollar-for-dollar tax. This year, the Lakers’ 100 million dollar payroll is going to cost them another thirty mil. in penalties alone.
Well, as of next year, the penalties are going to basically triple, and if a team is over in consecutive years it gets even worse.
The fact that the Lakers were actually willing to take on 30 million in tax alone was a rather large shock, considering they’d always done what they could to avoid paying the luxury tax at all costs. Honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out why they spent the last three years pinching pennies at all costs with a team that was one player away from another title, only to pay thru the nose this season. I’d love someone to explain it to me, really.
Well, as crazy as it was to it this year, it’s absolutely unfathomable to see them spend another 100 million on the team next year when the penalty would be EIGHTY MILLION DOLLARS, not thirty. Problem is, re-signing Dwight Howard would put them right at 100 million for next season, and giving Earl Clark the raise he deserves would make it about 105 or more. It’s a totally untenable situation.
What is the fix? Is there one? Well, even using the amnesty clause on Ron Artest only gets them down to the 93-98 million range, and he’s been more useful this year than he has since 2009. Trading Pau makes sense for players whose contracts are expiring would make alot of sense, but they’ve only got a week before the trade deadline passes and they don’t appear willing to give him up while there’s still even a slight chance to make the playoffs. Oh, and he’s hurt.
Totally fucked, they are. They are looking at spending 170 million or more next year for a team that couldn’t even make the playoffs, and there doesn’t appear to be any realistic way out of this mess.
The new luxury tax era is going to be an IQ test, more or less. Most teams will only be as good as the men running them. The time to weep for the Lakers’ future is now, my friends.
Ok so I lied. There is one way out of this.
If the Lakers are somehow willing to spend deep into the Tax to field a winning team, they (and apparently the Nets as well) would have an inherent advantage over the rest of the league. As crazy as it sounds, there seems to be evidence mounting in that direction. For one, the team committed to spending 30 million in taxes this year when in past years they ran from the Tax at all costs. Whether this decision is a direct result of Jim Buss being fully in charge now is merely speculation, but it would seem to make sense given the drastic shift in philosophy. On top of that, the Lakers new Cable deal nets them somewhere in the neighborhood of THREE BILLION DOLLARS, so if anyone has money burning a hole in their pockets, it’s them.
Maybe that’s the problem? Maybe I’ve been absolutely at a loss to explain their recent behavior because I’ve been judging them based on the old philosophy. Maybe Jimmy Buss is ready to spend whatever (and I do mean whatever) it takes to make this team a winner?
That really is the only way the Lakers can win in this new climate.
IV. Dwight Howard isn’t trying
At least not every night out. Whoever that was running around with boundless energy, crashing the boards and dunking and wagging his tail and shit, it surely wasn’t the same guy we’ve seen for the balance of the season. That guy has been seen sulking over his lack of touches, launching hook shots off of backboards and generally underwhelming all who were expecting, well, Dwight Howard. As touching as it was to see him come out and show some pride the other night, don’t go getting used to it. Fact is, this is still Kobe’s offense and Mike D’ Antoni is still the coach, so Dwight’s reasons for being a baby aren’t going anywhere.
Well, not this year, at least.
V. Phil Jackson taking potshots at the Lakers is both fun and deserved
And it won’t ever get old. At least not to me. Even if the truth is that Phil may have never wanted the job in the first place, that doesn’t mean he isn’t gonna kick a little more dirt on the Laker grave when he feels like it, especially since the current “braintrust” includes the dumb son of the Owner and not the daughter, otherwise known as Phil’s Fiancee.
I’m a crad carrying member of the Phil fan club. Always will be. Thing is, I don’t even agree what he said about D’ Antoni not using Howard the right way. Doesn’t even matter. I hope he makes anti-laker comments or jokes whenever the fuck he feels like it. Not only has he earned that much, but so has Jimmy Buss.
Rub his nose in the mess he’s made every chance you get, I say.