Tuesday, 10 May 2011

For swept Lakers, where next?

With the Dallas Mavericks' 4-0 sweep of the LA Lakers, a dynasty came to a close. Phil Jackson, head coach and winner of a record 11 NBA Titles, stood down (apparently) permanently as coach.
Phil Jackson:
 More Championship Rings than fingers

So long Phil.

So now this blog asks, what do the Lakers do next? They have to find a new coach first who can decide on the next steps that will benefit this ball club going forward. Trouble is, the way this year's Playoffs ended for the Lakers makes going forward an incredibly complex task.

LA weren't just swept by Dallas, they were swept convincingly. Many analysts, experts and pundits, myself included, had the Lakers in as at least Conference finalists if not NBA finalists. Dallas exposed this Laker team as a team well beyond it's use by date. The explosion of three-point shooting was not all down to the Mavs' shooters having a good night, a good 75% of the 20 threes they scored we wide open. The Mavericks showed the rest of the watching millions how little the Lakers wanted this 2nd three-peat.

So the Lakers had no intensity, no desire to at least extend their season to a 5th Game back home. They didn't give themselves a chance. This Laker team could have won both Games 1 and 3, blowing leads in the 4th quarter of both. LA were in Game 4 in the first quarter again, but a run by the Mavs simply broke the will and heads went down. The Lakers had the look of a team that said "we're done, we know we're done, let's go home." Even Phil Jackson looked resigned to his fate after the Mavericks finished the half 63-42 ahead.

Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Ron Artest broke out for a steal and a fast-break, but got caught between finishing with a dunk or a layup. Maybe his legs were finished after a long season (starting all 82 games), or maybe he simply, like the rest of the Lakers, just couldn't get things right. That basket would have cut the Maverick's lead to 17 at a time when the Lakers had the momentum. That miss resulted in the Mavericks knocking in 2 free-throws and yet another 3 to make it a 23-pt lead that effectively ended this as a contest. The teams filtered their bench units back in as they filled out the box score.

LA obviously couldn't get their bench in quick enough. Lamar Odom and Dirk Nowitzki were having words during a Mavs free-throw attempt, and Odom let his frustration get control as he body checked Dirk well above the three-point arc. An ejection was the instant decision and Odom didn't even look at all bothered that his season was finished. The game threatened to turn into a farce as Andrew Bynum assaulted J.J Barea on a layup, delivering a hard elbow into the Mavs' Point Guard's ribcage. Barea luckily had a soft-ish landing, Bynum was ejected and left the court in similar fashion to Odom a minute beforehand. The Mavericks' bench deserve praise here as they did not come out of their area to get what would be almost justified revenge.

So with the season over for the now ex-champions, will they blow the team up and bring in a whole new squad of players? Who can they or will they trade? Looking at this Laker roster, there are very few players who can be traded for even an equal player, never mind an improvement.

Could the Lakers trade up to 4 of Kobe Bryant's (Center) team-mates?
  • Pau Gasol. Pau should not be traded. I know I know, he played terribly these Playoffs. But remember back in November he was in the MVP conversation? Yes, he really was. He lost form, but that will return. Whatever drama is going on privately, will sort itself out over the summer. Even if you wanted to trade Gasol who do you take as a Center/Forward right now? Dwight Howard comes up soon, but the Magic will be wanting major assets for his release and a Kobe-Howard tandem could be volatile to say the least.
  • Ron Artest. If LA put out a "for sale" sign on Artest, who is seriously going to step up and say that they want him as part of their team. In my eyes, he showed his true colours in the Pacers-Pistons brawl, and no team should want a player like him in the locker room.
  • Lamar Odom. Sixth Man of the Year, can the Lakers afford to lose not just a big scorer off the bench and defensive presence, but one of the 7-footers that helped make LA nigh on impossible to defend during the Championship years? Again, who can you get to replace him, and who would want to take on his large contract?
  • Andrew Bynum. This off-season could be make or break for Bynum and his career as a Laker. A valuable piece when fit, but possibly a huge trading chip given his relatively young age and undoubted ability. I do not condone his attack on Barea, and the league would do well to suspend him some of next season, but he is not in the same mold as Artest. Bynum has a big future. This summer is when the Lakers must decide if they will invest more in Bynum or blow it all up.

The big trade everyone is talking about is Dwight Howard taking off for California. How feasible is this trade and how likely would it be to work out successfully for LA in the long run? Firstly, the Lakers would have to give up a lot in any trade for Dwight. There are many many combinations that can be made to sound workable for either side.

The Howard Trade deserves it's own breakdown. Check back soon!

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