Saturday, September 8, 2007
NBA Preview: Fuck L.A. Edition
When we originally were tossing around the idea of an NBA season preview, a consensus was reached that it only really made sense to go team-by-team for particularly noteworthy Celtics opponents. That is to say, Atlantic Division co-tenants and Eastern Conference contenders, then primarily leave the rest of the League--those teams we only play twice a year--for broader, more sweeping analysis, maybe in a divisional format or something. But try as I might, I can't resist throwing up a post on the team that has quietly had one of the most dysfunctional off-seasons in recent memory: the always-despised Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, one could make the case that the Lakers are a noteworthy Celtics opponent, due to the historic rivalry and the Celtics' newfound position as Finals contenders. To be honest, though, for the first time in--what, 15, 20 years?--the Celtics have a far, far better shot at reaching the Finals than the Lakers. My God, it still feels good typing that.
The good news out of LA? Phil Jackson was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and during his speech referred to himself as "the luckiest coach of all time," which surely made Red Auerbach grumble somewhere in agreement. Besides that? There is simply no good news for the Lakers, who've suffered through an offseason so disastrous that it's amazing it hasn't commanded more media attention. Even the venerable Jackson himself has jumped into the fray, ripping ownership for failing to improve the club.
As is so often the case, it all starts with Kobe. Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. Don't we think it's time to consider the possibility, particularly in light of LeBron's heroics in the postseason last year, that Kobe Bryant might be just a bit overrated? Or, perhaps more accurately, simply "mis"-rated, if that makes sense? Make no mistake, Kobe is an astonishing talent and capable on any given night of being the best player in the League, but after years of erratic behavior it's hard not to wonder if his personal flaws are getting in the way of his professional career. This offseason is the latest and most spectacular example of the bundle of contradictions that comprise Kobe: complaining about the makeup of the team while simultaneously sabotaging it (the infamous Bynum video tirade); wanting to be "the man" while demanding a trade to a team with well-established veteran stars; the list goes on and on.
The Kobe problem is compounded and exacerbated by the glaring incompetence of Laker ownership and management, a problem since Jerry West left but one which has increased exponentially in recent years. I'm not going to be one of those idiots who argues that they should have kept Shaq and let Kobe walk a few years ago--let's face it, Shaq comes with his own bundle of issues. Rather, with good management in place this never would have been an either/or situation in the first place: Jerry West would never have let that happen, nor would the Spurs, the Pistons, the Suns, or almost any other first-rate NBA franchise.
Clearly, though, the Lakers are blind when it comes to Bryant, and it is this blindness that seems to have completely obscured the possibility that they might, in fact, be better off without him. Let's think about this: in past years Bryant has alienated Shaq (one of the League's more popular players), flipped out on Karl Malone, thoroughly demoralized Lamar Odom and savagely crushed the confidence of up-and-coming Andrew Bynum. Honestly the Odom situation is arguably the most gratuitous: Lamar Odom is potentially one of the most unique and dynamic players in the NBA, the perfect Pippen to Bryant's self-appointed Jordan, but Kobe's selfishness and dubious leadership have perpetually left Odom grasping at straws as to his role on the team. With all of this said, it's time to start acknowledging the possibility that there might be a rising number of very-good-to-great NBA players--exactly the type of players Kobe professes to want to pay with--who have no interest in playing with him. This more than anything ought to suggest to the Lakers that it might be time to move as far away as possible from #24.
But no; mark my words, Kobe will be a Laker when this season opens, as will Javaris Crittenton, the team's latest not-ready-for-prime-time draft pick. Jermaine O'Neal rumors continue to swirl, and honestly, if the Pacers can get Odom and Bynum out of the Lakers for O'Neal and change they should do it in a second. Jermaine O'Neal will hobble through 60-70 games in the Western Conference and lead the Lakers to a low seed in the playoffs; things change, but nothing really changes. Phil Jackson will leave, tired of the dysfunction, and Kobe will reprise his role as the NBA's Hamlet.
Fuck, I hate the Lakers. I'm excited.