LA-OKC game 5: With pain comes change.
Posted by: SPQR on May 21, 2012 - 11:51 PM
Now that the Lakers quest for a 17th NBA title has been aborted by the Oklahoma Thunder the pain sets in. Pain for the fans, the players and the organization. Pain from season and team that did not really seem to jell or mesh into a cohesive unit with a true identity and efficient method of playing the game all year.|
In life, pain can bring change. Your report card is not good, your parents make you study harder. You are not executing at your job, the boss intervenes to find a solution. You have problems with your spouse or significant other; a split may be the required change. Pain can bring change.
And so it is in sport too. After a second year in row of failing against a better team, it is sure that change is in order. Losing once in the playoffs is happenstance; losing twice is a pattern with a message. And you don’t need a Rosetta stone to decipher the message we got twice now.
This loss signals the end of an era. The great championship runs and finals appearances of the Kobe-Gasol teams. While it pains to see it happen, one must also be realistic in appreciating the incredible accomplishments and glory that team brought us. Three straight finals appearances and consecutive championships. How many teams in any basketball organization have this on their resume? We witnessed a special greatness here. It was one hell of an era. One that every other team in the NBA would kill to have.
But that has ended. And with the pain of that loss, there must be change. How much and what kind will be up to the FO and the circumstances that will permit change.
There are some things that jump out at me from watching this team closely all year. Moves that must be made by the team and FO as a whole and by players as individuals if we are to reconfigure the team and make a real attempt at returning to the upper echelon.
What must be done to successfully execute a revanchist strategy?
In looking at our stars, change will have to happen. Kobe must make some changes. He must accept that at 33, next year 34, he cannot give into his ego and try to dominate a defense on his own in every big game of every big series. Like so many greats before him, he must understand and make some alterations to his mindset and game in order for any team he is on to play more efficient ball. And for him to play more effective ball. Tim Duncan is a pure object lesson in how to do this. Duncan, who was as skilled and proud and Kobe ever was back in his day. And he was the driving force equal to Kobe when Duncan was in his prime. And in that position, he led his team to four championships. But as age encroached, this all time great player made changes. He did not insist on forcing his deteriorating skills and slowing body on his team or the opponents in an effort to play as he did when young. He made the smart moves to maximize what he can still do as effectively as possible and to blend those still considerable talents into a team concept more than ever. And after years of reconfiguring the team with Duncan’s help, the Spurs this year look like they could be the best team in basketball. It is a testament to Duncan the man and the player, that he did not fight the changes, but embraces them. Just as Abdul Jabbar did decades ago on the Lakers with a payoff of two more rings.
Make no mistake. Duncan still leads that team. He is still its heart and soul, just a different way. And I have no doubt, at this late stage of his career, with the sacrifice he has willingly made, if he wins yet another ring, he will cherish it as much, perhaps more than any of his others.
It is to Duncan and others like Jabbar that Kobe must draw lessons from now, not Michael Jordan. Kobe must learn, now, fast, this next year, that he can still have a great effect on the game, on his team, on the opponents, even if he is not the guy who always puts up the most shots. Just his presence alone, like Duncan’s, puts so much pressure on the other team. Now, like Duncan, he needs to understand and learn how to use that fact in a different, more effective way.
Andrew Bynum must change too. He must continue to improve in all areas, most especially consistency. From the effort side, he can learn too, from Kobe and all the other greats. Drew has made terrific strides, but at 24 he still has many more to go for him to follow in the Lakers tradition of exceptional players. He is supposed to get the German procedure done on his knee this offseason. If that works, if he can even more resemble the explosive, faster more athletic Drew of the pre-injury times, that will be a huge boon for us. The rest of it will fall on Drew as to what he wants, how good does he wish to become?
The third star is Pau Gasol. I hate to give up on a guy that big and talented. But pain brings change, and this I think is the time to say goodbye to him, while we can still get good value for him. He is beginning to slip and his relationship with Kobe does not seem to be optimal anymore. And we no longer an elite team even with him. There is an axiom that says, It is better to get rid of a player one year too early than one year too late. And I am not even sure this would be a year early anymore. This team needs to get younger, faster and more athletic. Not stay older and slower. It is always a crap shoot when you divest yourself of a player of Pau’s measure, but what do we gain by keeping him? Another playoff loss next year? If we can make substantial change and keep Pau, I am for it. But reality suggests Pau will need to be moved for us to start getting some new blood here that we will need to build around in order to become better in the long run.
As for the ancillary players, I would single out Barnes as a guy to go. His outside shooting is abysmal. Too many missed open shots that he received courtesy of Pau and Drew. Those misses just kill us. His defense is not exceptional. He would be a good role player on many teams, but on a team that tries to go low post, that draws so much defensive attention inside, he lack of shooting acumen is a severe liability.
Ramon Sessions is a tough call. He really stunk up much of the Thunder series. He is young, but at 26 not so young as to have all the holes in his game he still does. He should be better than he is. He is a fast break guard who plays on a team that does not fast break. He is not an exceptional passer or scorer. He rarely influences a game the way you want a point guard to do. His defense is non-existent. On the other side of the coin, he seems to be the best point guard we have in a bare cupboard. So the question is, do we sign him for a long term deal for good money? Will it work out or become another financial and on the court albatross like Luke Walton?
As for the young players, I think the biggest change would be for the very impressive Goudelock to get big minutes, providing he continues to improve and show what he did this year. His disappearance from Coach Brown’s rotation will forever remain a mystery to me.
I like Hill. He brings energy, rebounding, defense and some close scoring effectiveness. He is a player I would have no qualms about signing.
I am not going to go over every player. We all know them, the good, the bad and the ugly. We all have our thoughts on which should stay and which we would like to leave. But it is imperative the bench, and the bench scoring be improved dramatically. In tonight’s loss, they were outscored 35-5.That is a travesty and recipe for failure. One we have seen all year. Against a team like the Thunder, it is suicide.
As a unit, a synergetic organism, in a macro view, this team must become much more effective in many areas. Outside shooting, cutting to the basket, moving without the ball, spacing, and passing. When you look at a team like the Spurs or some others, then compare it to ours, the difference hits you in the face. This team seem unable to just run basic pick and rolls to get Pau the ball in the open or close to the basket. How often do teams front Drew yet we can’t even reverse the ball to take advantage of this? If certain players can’t make those changes, if the coach or system proves dilatory, then they must all be weeded out and disposed of as time allows better replacements to be acquired.
Finally, watching Kobe Bryant tonight, he turned back the hands of time, as older athletes will do from time to time. For the first time, he shot with efficiency. He showed the game of the 26 year old Bryant. 42 points on jumpers, drives and dunks. But even this dial back on time didn’t prove enough. First Bryant was engaged in a shootout with Durant. Then it was Kobe vs Durant and Westbrook. Then Kobe vs Durant, Westbrook and Harden. The three stars were like a hammer, scythe and chainsaw, pounding, cutting and sawing the Lakers down with a welter of jump shots and fast breaks. In the days of yore, our opponents would wilt under such a great Bryant assault, but today, against a younger, faster, more athletic team, with its own stars providing an antidote the poison Kobe laid on the Thunder, it didn’t happen. Didn’t come close to happening. And so do results. And this occurrence tonight shows just how much help the Lakers need, how much younger faster and more potent they need to become. How much this pain needs to bring about needed change.
Unlike the last few years, when the players took care of business, now much of burden falls on the FO. It is a time for change and they must be the instigators of it. Finances will play a part in what they can do, but so will smarts, so will good basketball thinking and evaluation. Mitch and company will really have to earn those big paychecks now.
And as for the outlook? Well, sometimes rebuilding goes surprising well and painless, bringing in nice results, sometimes it drags on for years, and lol, in the worst case scenarios, decades.
But for us Lakers fans, have some hope. We have always risen again. It is the Lakers trademark. And once again, like the Duncan is something where Kobe can glean an individual message, perhaps the Spurs, contenders again with the aging big man can give us hope as a team. I wrote them off a couple years ago. Duncan too old, Ginobelli too injury prone. But with a constant effort to retool, to rejigger the individual and team concept in a new direction, to bring in different, better ancillary players to buttress a new system they moved to, with a steady plan and execution of it, they may now have the best team in basketball.
And if the Lakers players like Drew an Kobe can do what is necessary, if the FO can get a vision and put a plan In place, and yes, with some luck, just as SA has had, who knows what we may see in year , or two?
With pain, you sometimes get change. Sometimes change is a good antidote to pain. A bad report card can be followed by better study habits and better grades. A talk with the boss can improve work understanding and performance. A bad relationship can lead to freedom and a better life.
And so can it be with a team that suffers the pain of playoff loses. It can be the impetus of change that brings something new and improved in a later, different iteration.
With pain comes change. And change will now come. But that does not dim the memories of what this iteration of the Lakers team accomplished, what it brought all of us, nor should change make us afraid of what will come down that distant horizon. Lakers history tells us, eventually, if we are a little patient, it will be something good.