The Kobe Bryant era could be finished. Depending on what the Lakers do in the off-season, there’s no guarantee this team will get better.
The Lakers have been here before. In this case, they’ve been ruined after ugly playoff losses of the five-game variety.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls stumbled in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals then dominated the next four games. Magic Johnson retired from the game that fall because he was HIV positive, leaving the Lakers in a state of confusion that was so devastating, power forward Elden Campbell was the Lakers’ leading scorer in the ‘90s.
In 2004, Shaquille O’Neal was traded after L.A. got housed by the Detroit Pistons in what some called a five-game sweep, which made no sense at all. The next season, the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
Here we are again, the Lakers kicked to the curb in five games by Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden had their way with the Lakers’ perimeter players. Westbrook treated Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions like a junior varsity player.
Kobe Bryant needs one more NBA title to match Michael Jordan. A look at Bryant’s NBA resume:
Career scoring average: 25.4 points per game
Championships: 5 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010)
Championship appearances: 7 (lost in 2004 and 2008)
NBA Finals MVPs: 2 (2009, 2010)
All-Star Selections: 14
That JV player cost the Lakers a first-round pick.
So where does L.A. go now? Most say trade Pau Gasol. The problem with that is you probably don’t get enough in return for someone who still plays at a high level. Same thing for Andrew Bynum. Only Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic would be fair market value in return.
Before anybody gets trade happy, know this: the Lakers were the No. 2 rebounding team in the NBA last season. Only eight players in the entire league averaged more than 10 rebounds per game. Guess what? The Lakers had two of those players.
Don’t throw that away.
Kobe Bryant isn’t a patient player; he desperately wants a sixth ring and has the talent in Gasol and Bynum to win again. But those role players brought nothing to the table in crunch time.
“I think if we were just able to bring back the players that were on the team this year and have a full training camp I think we would be in a position to be one of those five or six teams that could contend,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “But it’s not like we don’t have a group that’s talented.”
Gasol’s game suffered thanks to the emergence of Bynum and the ball hogging of Bryant. In the Lakers’ last game, Gasol put up impressive numbers of 14 points and 16 rebounds. He still might be the first to get shipped out of town.
“I wish I could have clarification, but they can’t give it to me right now,” Gasol said after Wednesday’s exit meetings. “I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this team will be going next year.”
More than once Bynum has stated that he’ll play anywhere. L.A. will likely pick up the team option for next year, but who knows about long term?
Bryant will be 34 at the end of the year, not too old, but considering he has been playing since he was 17 and has made deep postseason runs most of his playing career, that’s a hell of a lot of mileage. He is still a great player, but he is definitely past his prime. Bryant is under contract for two more seasons. After that, what happens?
A lot depends on what direction the team goes between now and then.
Will these be golden years for the Black Mamba or will the twilight of his career be wasted?
Dr. O’Neal Would Make Some Magic
Stan Van Gundy got the boot and so did general manager Otis Smith. Now the Orlando Magic is starting over.
And they thought about bringing back an old friend to help rebuild.
O’Neal, the original Superman, not that VHS copy with static lines everywhere, Howard, was being mentioned as a replacement for the GM job. Less than a day later, O’Neal declined. The Diesel always knew what talent his teams needed to be in title contention.
The Magic reached the Finals in 1995 only after Orlando plucked Horace Grant away from the Chicago Bulls. O’Neal’s Lakers won with A.C. Green, Horace Grant and Samaki Walker at the 4 position. Robert Horry, however, got the bulk of those minutes. In Miami, Shaq teamed up with Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem to claim the Heat’s only title.
Of course, it helped that Shaq had Penny Hardaway, Bryant and Dwyane Wade to carry the scoring load.
Shaq was also humble enough to know when he lost a step. He willingly let Wade take over in the 2004 Finals. By the time the Big Aristotle played for Cleveland and Boston, he knew he was just a role player.
Having Shaq in the front office could have been the difference in Howard staying in Orlando. He could have been the Big Mentor to Superman 2.0.
Howard needs help though. You’re sadly mistaken if you think J.J. Reddick and Glenn “Big Baby” Davis can lead the Magic to a championship. Hedo Turkoglu isn’t the same guy who played brilliantly in the Magic’s 2009 title push.
O’Neal knew this. And O’Neal would never trade for Gilbert Arena’s pregnant contract the way Smith did. That was a waste.
Shaq obviously didn’t want to devote all of his time to being a GM. He isn’t just a TNT analyst. Reality shows, charities, commercials and other random activities are on the Diesel’s radar. As GM, that other stuff vanishes like an Antoine Walker paycheck.
It would be a tremendous privilege and Spider-man like responsibility to run an NBA franchise. Howard and Shaq both share the same contempt for Van Gundy, thanks to VG’s misstep with the Heat.
I don’t think Shaq had the heart to commit to this, he has too much going on.
Besides, Orlando doesn’t even have a coach.
Charlotte, Magic Eyeing Their Man
Jerry Sloan won’t take non-sense. The Charlotte Bobcats know this, which is why Sloan is a candidate for the open coaching position. Sloan is also intrigued by the Magic job despite not knowing if Howard will be there after next season.
Like Larry Brown, the addition of Sloan to a team would probably revitalize a squad. We never knew because Sloan coached the Utah Jazz for so long. He is the only coach to win more than 1,000 games with one franchise.
Sure, John Stockton and Karl Malone were around most of those years, but after they left, Sloan continued coaching Utah up and a few years later, the Jazz was playoff regulars again.
Players are held accountable under Sloan. They must play hard or they simply won’t get minutes. Despite being 70 years old, he is a man not to be messed with. He’s the type of person that you would want on your side during or before a bar fight breaks out. His cold stare might diffuse a scuffle before it starts.
Sloan will fight you literally, like the time he almost had it out with Chris Webber during the 1999 playoffs.
Webber leveled Stockton with a tough screen. Sloan and Webber stared each other down till Webber shouted, “You want some?”
“Damn right I want some,” Sloan responded. Sloan approached Webber, but a referee stepped between them. There is no doubt a confrontation would have took place.
Although Sloan has never won a championship, his Jazz came close in 1997 and 1998. Unfortunately, for Utah, it ran into the triumvirate of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Coach Phil Jackson.
Sloan is sure to maximize a young or veteran team. He’s probably the only guy with enough balls to coach a lousy team like the Bobcats.
Good luck, Sloan. If you coach in Charlotte, you’ll need it.