Even with tonite's uninspiring loss, the Lakers still won 8 straight and didn't play well tonite, yet they were still in the game. This season still has a long way to go. The benefit for LA is that in the playoffs it is who wins the series, so having games like tonite can be erased with some key victories that clinch a series. But, and this is important, do the Lakers have energy needed to go thru the entire playoff run. Kobe, Lamar, Shannon, Blake, and Barnes should be okay. But Artest seems preoccupied and at times, downright distracted. Pau seems tired despite some great games of late. Can Bynum stay healthy? That is a question we have to raise every 2-3 weeks or at least until he proves he can stay healthy and contribute over a longer period of time. Finally, what about D-Fish. Still can be Mr. Clutch, but concerns about his age are creeping up fast. The Lakers should be fine during this year's playoff run. Ultimately, a trip to the finals and another victory parade outside Staples is a distinct possibility. But what about the future? Dr. Buss never sits on his hands. When things start to look even a little bit stale, he has his executives make bold moves that usually pay off. So looking into the short term crystal ball, seeing the Lakers and San Antonio in the Western Finals with Lakers winning is no stretch. In the East, the Celtics will humble the Bulls. In the finals, Lakers in 6.
So, what happens after the playoffs. To get some perspective, you have to look at Lakers' history, especially their championship caliber teams. Other than George Mikan, all the Lakers big men of note (Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, and Pau) were obtained via trade or free agency. The wing players who made a difference on these teams often were drafted or picked up on draft day (Jerry, Elgin, Magic, and Kobe). So, why not follow that recipe. Every Laker championship team has had a dominating and talented big man with a wing player who sets himself apart. Of the players listed, I know some of you might say that Pau is not dominating, but he does in his own way. He has more low post moves than just about any big man in history. But, I digress. How could the Lakers effectively move forward in the next year or two without forsaking their winning tradition?
First and foremost, understand that they will not and should not get rid of Kobe. The statue in front of Staples makes him a Laker for life. As soon as this season is done, Dr. Buss should begin talking to Kobe about his role with Lakers when he retires. Part ownership after he retires is definitely something to think about. The same deal Magic received. If Kobe knows that at the end of his playing days he will be part owner, think of the return of investment for LA. Kobe will always work hard, but now he knows he even has responsibility to the fans after he retires and his input now and in the future will be invaluable. Keep Kobe in the family and use him to lure players, work with them, and be a face for the franchise. Just as Magic smiled and charmed his way to LA's heart, let's put Kobe's grit and determination on display.
So, if you keep Kobe, do the Lakers still follow the same recipe by acquiring or signing a game changing big man and drafting or trading for a young wing or guard? First of all, can you say, Superman or Dwight Howard? The Lakers got Wilt, Kareem, and Shap, all pretty much at the top or near the top of their games. Why not Dwight Howard. He brings intangibles that are necessary. First and foremost, he dominates. Grant it, he may not be Hakeem or Pau around the basket, but who cares, Shap never won style point competitions. So, how do we get him. Well, this will hurt, but to make room for the salary he would want, the Lakers need to move one of their current bigs. Pau is getting older, but he has shown that he can play power forward and center. So, that leaves Mr. Bynum. I know many people discouraged any thoughts of trading him for Melo and they were right. Melo is a talent but not the type of guard/wing player the Lakers needed. They will need a leader to step in when Kobe leaves. So, when you trade Bynum now, you need to focus on trading him for the dynamic wing player. To recap, the next step after keeping Kobe is do whatever you can to obtain or sign Superman, but keep Pau so you have a top notch talent during any transition.
Who is the wing player? First and foremost, you will need Kobe's blessing and everyone will need to compromise some. The new guard/wing will need to understand that as long as Kobe can move effectively and is healthy, he is the leader of this team. But Kobe will need to understand that ultimately, when he steps down, someone will need to take over and it is much easier to have a candidate ready than have a rudderless ship. There are alot of young players who are talented, but none that really are avaible. The key would be to package Andrew with some of the role players (take Ron Ron please) and send them to a somewhat decent team. How about Philadelphia? In some sort of combination of Andrew Bynum and others (doesn't matter who except Kobe and Pau) for Evan Turner and possibly Andre Igodala. For the sake of this discussion, this is an example. But, getting a talent like Evan Turner would be huge given his up side. Working with Kobe and the veterans in LA would boost his confidence and speed his development. Plus his personality is such that he would defer to Kobe when necessary, but still speak up when it is caller for. Igodala is really only a suggestion-though a great one. Put him on the floor with Pau, Dwignt, Kobe and Evan Turner and you would have a an awfully tall and talented team.
For the record, I am not on any type of narcotic or alcohol at the current time. Grant it, all of these things are conjecture and just prediction. Don't sell Dr. Buss or Mitch Kupchak short. They know what it takes to win and know how to get it done. The recipe needs to stay the same. Get a dominant big man and use Andrew and most any other players (except Pau or Kobe) to trade for a talented guard and some role players. Try not to resign or invite Joe Smith Theo Ratleff, or Ron Artest when their contracts are up. Free up some space that way. Just remember Lakers, the guard/wing needs to have extraodianary upside. Kobe, Jerry, and Magic had super talent. Maybe they decide to draft some of the young players coming out, but that can be risky, especially since there are really no dominating players coming out of this year's draft or next.
I urge, no I beg Mr. Buss begin to lay the seeds to get Dwight Howard here and crank up the scouting department because we need to find a slashing wing who has those intangibles that Kobe, Jerry, and Magic had. Now by trading Andrew and other players, remember we are not breaking up the Beatles. Remember a few years ago when the Lakers were getting hammered by Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and the Pistons. The veteran 5-Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Shaq, Kobe, and Robert Horry asked Phil if they could start the deciding game. They didn't, but they wanted to make one last stand. Now is not that time for these Lakers. Things move fast, so setting the ground work for Dwight Howard and making some tough decisions regarding players in the off season is imperative. The Lakers are more than just Kobe or their championships. They define LA and the LA sports scene. LA is a star driven city, so with the Lakers biggest star getting older, the Lakers need to begin to fill the void that can be left when a star retires. It will hurt, but it will keep the Lakers going and to remain competitive.
Next up, life after Phil-can LA survive?