Despite Early Success, Los Angeles Lakers Need to Make a Move
It was the flip-flop of the year (other than Billy Donovan, of course). In late May, a disgruntled Kobe Bryant – frustrated with being exited in the first round of the playoffs every year since Shaquille O’Neal left – publicly said he’d like to be traded.
All summer long, 24-second video tapes of him dissing Andrew Bynum, constant speculation of how much better the Los Angeles Lakers would’ve been with Jason Kidd or Jermaine O’Neal and quotes from head coach Phil Jackson dissing Kobe’s effort cluttered the L.A. locker room, and no one in the NBA thought Kobe would be wearing purple and gold past the month of November.
But things have changed.
We’ve now moved into early January and Bryant is averaging 27 points and five assists per game on a Lakers team sporting a 19-11 record and 2 ½ games out of first place in a tough Western Conference.
Kobe’s happy. His teammates are happy. Phil is happy. The team has developed good chemistry. Bynum is finally starting to come around. Everything is great now, right?
Don’t be fooled.
No matter how well they’re playing right now, this is the same team that simply wasn’t good enough to get deep into the playoffs.
Truth is, the Lakers are still nowhere near the elite teams in the West, and they need to make a move this season if they want to even sniff the second round. Right now, Lakers fans are delusional if they think this team – no matter how good of a regular season they have – can beat the Spurs, Mavericks, Suns, Jazz or even Nuggets in a best-of-seven series.
Legitimate No. 2 scorer needed
Kobe’s shoulders must be sore already, because he still has to carry this team offensively for them to win. Right now, the Lakers are giving up almost 102 points per game – 22nd in the NBA. That means the Lakers need to break 100 every single night to beat teams.
That’s fine if you’re a high-powered offensive team like the Phoenix Suns or Dallas Mavericks, but the Lakers aren’t built that way. They know they’re going to get great numbers from Kobe, but even with how well Bynum has been playing and Lamar Odom stepping up, you never know what you’re going to get from those two.
What the Lakers need is one reliable second option that they know can keep defenses honest on Kobe.
Get Jermaine now
How about making a second run at Jermaine O’Neal?
Would I give up Andrew Bynum for Jermaine? Yes. I know Bynum is finally looking like he’ll develop into the stud he’s supposed to be, but even if he becomes a great player, will he be better than Jermaine is right now – at 29? Probably not. Besides, Kobe has played a lot of basketball since he came to the league at 18, and who knows how much longer he can be the best player in the NBA?
This is the time, Jerry Buss. You have solid young players, the best two-guard in the NBA and one of the greatest coaches of all time. It’s time to put all your chips to the middle of the table and make a run at a championship.
There’s no way the Pacers would pass on giving up Jermaine if you put together a package that included either Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton or Ronny Turiaf along with Bynum. The Pacers would have a nice group of young players to build for the future – which is what they wanted to do since the beginning of the season – and you’d have someone that can give you 17 and 8 all year. Not only that, you have a premier shot blocker who probably would improve the Lakers’ defense.
Kidd is not the guy
Jason Kidd was never the answer on this team because he’s not a premier scorer. Yes he’s one of the best distributors in the NBA, but he needs the ball in his hands constantly to be at the top of his game. On this Lakers team, it’s Kobe that has the ball in his hands.
Kobe gets a bad rap for being a selfish player because of the media’s portrayal of the Shaq situation and other things he’s said, but truthfully, he’s one of the smartest players in the league and a very unselfish player on the court. As a great player, he just senses when he needs to carry the load when his team simply isn’t good enough.
Right now, Kobe has done a great job passing out of double teams, getting his teammates involved early and giving them confidence – the same thing Kidd would do.
Right now, O’Neal – at $19.71 million this year – is the seventh-highest paid player in the league, and the Lakers– at $68.4 million– have the 12th-highest team salary in the NBA. The Lakers are over the NBA’s luxury tax threshold at the moment, but they would only have to pay the league $1,298,352 at the end of the year if their salaries stayed the same. They can afford Jermaine.
If they include Bynum ($2.17 million) along with a fat contract like Kwame Brown’s ($9.08 million) and other pieces, they can come close to matching O’Neal’s salary and wouldn’t be too far over the cap.
This team is still not good enough
Do you really think the Lakers can keep this up in the playoffs?
Once teams have several days to figure out how to limit Kobe’s role in the offense, do you trust Bynum and Odom to step up throughout a seven-game series? I don’t. At least not yet.
It doesn’t have to be Jermaine O’Neal who the Lakers go after. He’s just the most likely superstar to change teams. Besides, if the Lakers do get Jermaine, they can start: Fisher-Bryant-Odom-O’Neal-Brown/Chris Mihm. Three scores at the 2,3 and 4 spots would complement Phil’s triangle offense pretty nicely and give this team the firepower it needs to compete with the high-octane teams of the West. Don’t you think?
Look for Alden’s take on the hottest topic in the NBA every week. Also, check out his blog posts on the Miami Heat at least two times a week at www.mvn.com/nba-heat.