Four days after being swept from the playoffs, abruptly ending the Los Angeles Lakers’ run at a third consecutive championship, members of the team sat stone-faced, fielding questions from the media about the immediate future of the franchise. There was a feel of uncertainty as the players gave a variety of answers for what the team needed to do to get back into title contention in the next year or two, assuming there is a next year. Kobe Bryant gave the most realistic answer of all considering the free-agency market will be a lighter this year than most; nothing.
While there will definitely be changes coming to the roster over the summer, calls to blow the team up may be a little bit of an over-reaction by the loyal fans and alumni of the purple and gold who expect nothing less than an NBA Finals’ appearance every year. Keep in mind that if Bryant’s game-ending shot would have gone down in Game 1, and the Lakers would have held on to their lead in the closing seconds of Game 4, it would have been a different series.
However, saying ‘if’ is a lot like saying ‘almost’ or ‘close.’ The truth of the matter is that the Lakers lost Game 4 and eventually the series because they were slow and run-down. Dallas was the better and fresher team during the series. No clearer example than where it showed was in the final game Sunday where the Lakers got caught in a lot defensive rotational lapses in which they got burned for a record 20 3-pointers, nine of them coming from Jason Terry. On most of those attempts, he was wide open.
If we can judge from that one horrendous massacre, then we can surmise that an impending summer make-over is imminent, but let’s be reasonable. Since the 2007-08 season, the Lakers have played into June, and they’ve won the title twice. Some people won’t buy the excuse that they were tired, but a body can only go through so much activity, and then it starts rebelling against you because of the lack of rest.
What may be the only answer to the Lakers getting back into the championship mix next year is a chance for nagging injuries to Bryant and Andrew Bynum to heal. A summer where there are no surgeries nor public engagements and tours as NBA royalty will do a world of good for the Lakers. When training camp starts in late September, they will come back hungrier than ever, ready to instill fear back into the rest of NBA, ready to reclaim what was once theirs.
Of course, some changes will be necessary. For instance, the quest to find a replacement for a legendary Hall-of-Fame coach such as Phil Jackson will be the major change that the franchise should be focused on, and not chasing after Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. Rumor has it that Rick Adelman is on the short list as well as longtime assistant and Bryant-endorsed Brian Shaw, but the Lakers appear to be taking their time before any decision is made.
Another factor to consider before totally annihilating this team too soon ala the 1998 Chicago Bulls after their championship run is the system that the Lakers ran. The Triangle Offense is not built for an aging and slow team, which the Lakers are. As they illustrated in the final game against Dallas, when the offense isn’t clicking, there is less incentive to play defense. Whoever the coach is should be able to coach the Lakers to their advantage, and (I’m sorry Kobe) make Andrew Bynum the focal point of a basic offense, which will be a benefit to both Bryant and Gasol in the long-run. He should emphasize more of a team defense concept and implement defensive schemes that will help the Lakers defend the pick-and-roll better. Of course, one key free-agent that the Lakers might want to consider pursuing that will address the issues of athleticism and adding a bench player is Jamal Crawford of the Atlanta Hawks. There is no need to blow the team up, just change the mindset.