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by user Wtt02005
I remember the Laker glory days. In 2000, Phil Jackson joined the team as the head coach, and all of a sudden, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal lead their team to a 67-15 season. Despite the scare they received from the Trailblazers (they rallied from a fifteen point deficit in the fourth quarter), the Lakers won their first championship since the Magic Johnson era. Two more champions would arrive in Tinseltown in 2001 and 2002 with the team only facing competition from the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. They were the most feared team in all of basketball.
History would rear its ugly head during the Lakers run for a fourth championships. The Lakers had a roller coaster season capped by a twenty-point blowout by the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. Derek Fisher’s tears appeared to signal the end of the Lakers’ championship run. However, determined to keep the team together, management enlisted the aid of veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton in 2004, creating a fabulous four sometimes dubbed “The Four Beatles.” Though they captured the Pacific title despite an assortment of injuries to Bryant, O’Neal, and Malone, the team was demolished by the Pistons in what was the biggest upset in all of NBA history. The Pistons would not only beat the Lakers but also destroy the dynasty. O’Neal left for Miami during the offseason, and the Lakers rebuilt under Kobe Bryant and a new Lakers team composed of Mihm, Odom, Butler, and Atkins. Despite an average 13-9 start, the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time in eleven years.
In 2005, Jackson once again returned as the Lakers head coach. He, like the rest of the Lakers organization, expects the team to compete in three years. Currently, the Lakers are overachieving as the seventh seed, but is this really an accurate prediction? Will the Lakers ever return to their past glory?
BY year 2008, the following is expected to happen for the Lakers:
Andrew BYnum will be ready for prime time.
The Lakers first-round draft pick this past summer, Andrew BYnum is a work in progress. Many believe that he will be as good as Jermaine O’Neal and will develop in a similar fashion. O’Neal was a mere benchwarmer during the early part of his career until he was traded to the Indiana Pacers in 2000. The rest was history as O’Neal developed into the leader he is today. Many expect BYnum to be the result of the Lakers’ three year project with Phil Jackson.
This is all fine and dandy, but if the Lakers do not play Bynum, how do they expect him to improve? It was not until the Pacers declared O’Neal a starter that he was able to have his breakout 12.9 points season. The Lakers should definitely play BYnum as the starting center, especially since they believe he has that much upside. Unfortunately, for BYnum, the injury to Chris Mihm has not led to a significant increase in minutes. Kwame Brown has been the main recipient of Mihm’s minutes.
Though Brown is providing very good rebounding and interior defense, I think it is time for the Lakers to start BYnum. These last few games are BYnum’s only chance as he will be relegated to the bench once Mihm returns. In addition, he will not receive any playing time should the Lakers reach the playoffs. C’mon L.A., he faked out Shaq and dunked in his face, remember?
Lamar Odom will be comfortable with the new offense and be the next Scottie Pippen.
I expect the former but perhaps, not the latter. Pippen was one of the NBA’s Greatest Players. Odom may have exceptional skill but is not ready for that plateau. When Odom returned to LA in 2004, he looked like a fish out of water. Some people blamed Odom, but the majority realized that he was accustomed to the running up-tempo style of the Miami Heat. The Lakers, being a new team, were only able to develop a game style akin to a scalene triangle. Kobe was the longest side, Odom the second longest, and Butler the smallest side. Odom’s role as the second most important person on the team after Kobe was too much for him at the time.
Initially, Odom continued to have difficulty with the offense. This confusion was perhaps due to the offseason moves this past summer. Without Atkins and Butler, Odom’s role changed much more as he was expected to put up more numbers than last year. This was difficult for him, but currently, he is starting to find his groove. Odom continues to average a near double double with 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds but now is the Lakers best playmaker with 5.5 assists. Odom tends to flirt with the triple-double every game. He is perhaps responsible for Kobe’s scoring rampage; Kobe does not have to concern himself with getting his teammates involved when Odom can do it.
So will he become the next Scottie Pippen because of his playmaking skills? Honestly, I would like him to return to his forward position. He can drive to the basket so well that he should get to the rim every time down the court. Odom should define his role more as a Corey Maggettesque scorer. Maggette has one of the best driving skills and always is fouled on his way to his basket. This is the main reason why he is always in the top three in free throws attempted. Odom may not have the best free throw percentage (68.6) but lay-ups are the easiest points for him. He does not have a superb field goal or three point percentage.
I think Odom’s playmaking skills will benefit the team if they originate down on the low block instead of the top of the three-point line where he is more accustomed to start. Odom is a low-post threat because he is much quicker than many players at his position are, so I think he will be able to find the open man off his double teams. Pippen was a guard. Odom is a forward. Keep it that way.
Kobe will continue to be a leader but step down somewhat.
Once again, I will compare the Lakers to the Pacers. During the Pacers glorious run, which culminated in the NBA finals with the Lakers, Reggie Miller was the definitive leader of a team composed of players like Rik Smits, Jalen Rose, and Mark Jackson. After the defeat, the team underwent a rebuilding phase simultaneously with the arrival of Jermaine O’Neal. Despite a mediocre 12.9 points average that season, Jermaine would continue to chip away at Miller’s leadership. He would completely strip Reggie of that title in his following twenty-point season.
What did Reggie do? Like a consummate professional, Miller realized that Jermaine was the future and stepped down. He acknowledged this in 2002 when the Pacers played the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. When asked on how the Pacers plan to beat the Nets, Reggie merely said, “It all depends on how far Jermaine will take us.” Miller time was over.
BY year 2008, I hope that Kobe will see a similar situation with BYnum, especially if he is to develop like Jermaine O’Neal. This is not to say that his numbers should decrease significantly, but his role should become more defined than “do everything.” With the Pacers, Reggie still was the best shooter and the one who would take the last shot at the end of every game. Kobe can still do that. However, we will see how BYnum grows for the Lakers. They both will be young, so perhaps, they can coexist as the next 1-2 punch for the team except Kobe is the older one playing with someone drafted out of high school.
There are other things that must occur for the Lakers, but these are the main three objectives in this Laker project. BYnum’s growth is of utmost importance for the team because the NBA is in an era in which teams with dominant centers or post presences are successful. The Michael Jordan era is over. Hopefully, the Lakers understand this as 2008 should not be a Bulls revival or a Pacers revival but a Laker one.
Tue 03/21/06, 2:07 pm EST