5/21/07

Don't Look Back in Anger

As loyal readers of Plissken, you all know how frustrating the past couple months have been for me as a Lakers fan. As Kobe pointed out, three years have passed since the departure of the Big Aristotle, and the Lakers still appear to be at ground zero.

Providing a synopsis of the past season has proven to be considerably more challenging than it was for my esteemed colleague Ty. Part of the problem is that in comparison to past seasons a definitive narrative failed to emerge this year. Last year we had the return of Phil, Kobe's MVP push, and the climactic 7-game showdown against the Suns. Before that we had the Rudy T experiment and transition to life without Shaq. The 03-04 season will be remembered for quite some time for plotlines galore: the Dream-Team-a-decade-late, the internal squabbles for alpha dog, Detroit providing the final nail to the dynasty's coffin, etc.

Years later however, the 2006-2007 will probably end up being most memorable for the changes it will have foreshadowed. Kobe's explosion, averaging 40 for the month of March and hitting the 50-mark a ridiculous 10 times, will undoubtedly remain phenomenal accomplishments; but in the long-run, 81 will overshadow all the times Kobe put the team on his back this year. Being the first to average 35 since MJ last year will be what makes basketball historians wonder how he never won an MVP instead of either of his 60 point performances this year. Ultimately from this season, Phil's streak of seven losses might be more important than Kobe's streak of five games of 40 or more that snapped it.

Setting legacy aside for a moment, what actually happened this year for the Lakers? In brief, they got off to a hot start, at times looking like a second-tier contender, before collapsing down the stretch, largely due to injury. Quickly lost in the cries to blow up this core is the fact that at one point this team was sitting nicely with a .677 winning percentage, fifth best in the league. As of January the Lakers looked a step behind the Mavs and Suns, but right there with the two teams currently meeting in the Western Conference Finals. This is not to say that the Lakers were ever that good, just that they are by no means as bad as most seem to have written them off as. Before the string of frontline injuries revealed the weakness of the Smush-led point, the Lakers looked to be in a position to get a 4- or 5-seed, ready to make some noise in the post-season. Then the two longest losing streaks of Phil's career dropped them to a point where despite Kobe's heroics they would be forced to face either the Mavs, Suns or Spurs and an inevitable early exit.

Apart from the big-picture story of the team, there were a few individual developments of note:

  • The End of the Smush Parker Experience. Smush's two-year career in Purple and Gold might merit its own post sometime this summer when we're running low on topics. For now, suffice it to say I'm not sad to see him leave, but a very small part of me will miss him.
  • The Yeast. Of the 22 games Luke missed, we won 7. Kobe's explosion coincided with his return. These are not coincidences. This team weathered injuries to both Lamar and Kwame fairly well, but once Luke went down the team collapsed.
  • Kareem's Protégé. As many have noted, Bynum has developed nicely as one of the more promising young big men in the league. At the time many questioned the decision to draft a project with Kobe needing to win now. Now, the only mistake worth mentioning from that draft was picking Von Wafer a spot ahead of Monta. At any rate, Bynum's potential (and health) means he'll likely be at the center of any trade talk. The what if's might come back to haunt us, but bringing back something proven is probably a must at this point. The strength of this draft pick has put us into a spot where significant moves will be possible.
  • My Favorite Former-Bulldog. How can you not love Ronny? Even though it wasn't a transplant, I still think he should be the one saying "What would you do with a second chance at life?" ad nauseam. Zo's kidney shit pales in comparison. Plus if he danced in the ad I'd be much less likely to want to throw the remote through the screen.
  • Farmar Superstar. Another great pick for the Lakers, I said at the time he'd have Smush's job by January. It took a little longer than that, but I was happy to see him finally there. Furthermore, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised (or disappointed) if he managed to keep the starting spot despite whatever moves are made to bring in a veteran at the position. The leap after your rookie year is usually the most important, so I'm confidently anxious to see how he progresses.

I'll save my hopes for the summer for next time. We'll also probably have something to say about the lottery tomorrow (personally crossing my fingers for the Hawks, mostly out of spite for Phoenix). Till then.

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