NBA: Lakers making less of more
By Mark Heisler
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Nice knowing you, Lakers.
Oh, they’re not actually dead?
They put on a good act last week, following a string of grisly wins, taking their record to a this-must-be-a-misprint 46-15, with losses in Miami and Cleveland.
Oh, that was Charlotte?
The Bobcats just looked like the Cavaliers, missing only LeBron James’ Riverdance as they walked all over the Lakers.
Of course, with their new-found humility and smoke rising from Mount St. Kobe Bryant, the Lakers should no longer have a problem with Lack of Urgency.
Nor are things as crazed as suggested by last week’s scoop on Hoopshype.com that LeBron wants to come to the Lakers, whether Kobe stays or not.
No, really. Check it out in the Psychedelic Rumor Roundup at the bottom.
Fortunately or not for the Lakers, their problems are still of this Earth, like the new one:
Lack of Game.
Phil Jackson has won 10 titles, making more out of less with a star or two; a supporting cast so humble that some of the players’ careers were thought to have ended (Ron Harper, Brian Shaw, A.C. Green, Horace Grant); and Tex Winter’s floor-spacing, tempo-setting triangle offense.
This team with Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, et al., keeps making less all the time of more.
The Gasol-Bynum tandem that looked like it would take them to a level no one could reach is, to date, a dud.
Both play better with Odom. Jackson usually finishes games with Pau-Lamar, sometimes with Andrew- Lamar, never with Pau-Andrew.
If length and skill that let you play above opponents’ heads — however infrequently — don’t get you 110 points, you can always tighten up your defense.
Of course, they’d have to start playing some first.
Aside from that ... and reports that Jackson will be asked to take a pay cut ... and speculation that he has to win a title to stay at any price ... it’s just Dog Days as Usual in Lakerdom.
Jackson always brings teams along slowly. It just worked better in Chicago, where he had to hold Michael Jordan and the arch-competitive Bulls back, and his 2000-2001-2002 Laker title teams when Phil just chilled out Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and flattened everyone in their path.
Last season’s champions came along so slowly, they didn’t awaken until the second-round Houston series.
And that team, with Bynum out at this stage, was far ahead of this one.
The Lakers were outclassed so badly by Denver before coming from 13 points behind to win last week, it shook even the What, Me Worry? Kid’s optimism.
“That was no fun for me in the first half,” Jackson said. “It was really no fun to watch that team and that game.”
For you and me, that would translate as:
I could see the whole program going up in flames.
Happily for the Lakers, in the reality that has always been uppermost in Jackson’s mind, nothing in the NBA goes up in flames in March.
With enough desire — no matter how unevenly it’s spread throughout the roster — the world remains theirs for the taking.
Bryant, whose leadership style is so ferocious that he’s leery of visiting it upon teammates too early, signaled in Charlotte that the time has arrived.
So, here’s a checklist:
—Does Kobe guard his own man, even if he takes him through a screen or two, or slough off and try to guard everyone else?
In other words, is he playing the D that galvanized the U.S. Olympic team? The team he’s on needs galvanizing more than that one did.
—Does Pau guard anyone?
—Can Andrew get five rebounds without scoring 10 points first? To date, he’s getting 9.5 rebounds a game when he hits his 15-point average, 6.9 when he doesn’t.
With Jackson’s contract running out, this really could be a watershed season like 2003-04, when an unhappy ending doomed Phil and Shaq, or 2007-08, when a startling turnaround brought Pau in and Kobe back.
Of course, since the Lakers are the NBA’s blank slate for conspiracy theories and Machiavellian insights, it’s exciting, or loony, in the meantime.
Last week, Hoopshype columnist Roland Lazenby, noting Jackson’s situation and Bryant’s unresolved extension talks, rocked the basketball word with: “The greatest NBA free agent of all time, LeBron James, is quietly making overtures to the Los Angeles Lakers. He wants to play for them. And James is not all that concerned whether Kobe Bryant is part of the equation. Bryant, of course, has yet to sign a contract extension ... and could wind up a free agent himself, albeit one with high mileage.”
Well, basketball would have been rocked if it wasn’t crazy on its face, and any of its specifics could be corroborated in any way by anyone.
James’ only expressed preference is to stay in Cleveland so he’s not star-struck. In LeBron’s universe, the star eclipsing all others is LeBron.
Of course, if he did want to come, there would only be one thing in his way: Reality.
Even without Bryant’s $24 million salary, the Lakers would have to dump $33 million committed to Gasol ($17.8 million), Bynum ($13.8 million), Odom ($8.2 million), Ron Artest ($6.3 million), Sasha Vujacic (good luck at $5.5 million), Luke Walton (ditto at $5.3 million) and/or Jordan Farmar ($2.8 million at the team’s option), while renouncing free agents Derek Fisher, Josh Powell, DJ Mbenga and, if he opts out, Shannon Brown.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, lunacy is the least of what they must deal with.
As Pogo said, possibly after sitting through one of their seasons, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”