One year ago, the Los Angeles Lakers had four future Hall of Fame players, two future Hall of Fame coaches and were the odds-on favorites to win their fourth NBA Championship in five years.
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
Going into last year’s playoffs, the Lakers were playing well. Karl Malone was healthy and playing again, and they were poised to regain the title. The first round was difficult against the Houston Rockets, but the Lakers prevailed 4-1.
The second round featured a battle between the two teams that had won the five previous championships, the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs. Again, the Lakers prevailed, thanks in large part to Derek Fisher’s magical game-five basket.
In the conference finals, the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves to advance to the finals against the Detroit Pistons. L.A. was expected to walk all over the Pistons, but Detroit somehow turned the tables, denying the Lakers a championship.
Fingers were pointed and someone had to take the blame for the fall. All year long, head coach Phil Jackson was rumored to be leaving after the end of the season.
After the Lakers lost, Jackson was the first to go. A mass exodus of top players ensued and if things continue the way they’re going, even more will probably be gone at the conclusion of this season.
Superstar center Shaquille O’Neal decided that without Jackson, he wanted out. The Lakers accommodated their big center by shipping him to Miami, and then sending Gary Payton to Boston. Once Karl Malone decided to retire, the Hall of Fame exodus was complete, with one exception.
Kobe Bryant was the lone star remaining. It didn’t matter that he was under scrutiny the entire season for the alleged rape of a woman in Colorado, the Lakers still decided to build their franchise around him.
Joining Bryant was former L.A. Clipper Lamar Odom, forward Caron Butler, and many other players that could not be confused for Hall of Famers.
The star coach that was brought in to replace Jackson was Rudy Tomjanovich, the former two-time championship-winning coach of the Houston Rockets.
He lasted until January before deciding coaching was too tough and making him sick. So, where exactly does that leave the Lakers? Currently they are struggling to stay around .500 and trying desperately to make the playoffs.
But how hard should they really be trying? It’s fairly obvious to everyone that the Lakers of three years ago are gone. This new team is in desperate need of a new identity. Bryant, while still one of the best players in the game, and Odom, a great player himself, have not been on the same page this year.
Bryant is the Laker of now and the Laker of the future. Odom needs to learn how to play with Bryant and return to his old self or risk being traded.
If the Lakers are going to miss the playoffs, they might as well miss them by 20 games, not by one. They should finish the season with a horrible record and land a high pick in the draft. Then they should ship the pick and some of their older players to fix some weaknesses. I would usually never recommend tanking a season, but are they going to win anything this year anyway?
If Odom continues to not mesh with Kobe, then he’ll be traded. The Lakers need help at three positions. The point guard now is Chucky Atkins, a career backup. At power forward they have Odom, who is a true small forward, playing out of position.
At small forward, the Lakers need a shooter. Butler plays well in one of every four games and he’s not a terrific shooter. As General Manager of the Lakers, Mitch Kupchack needs to make three moves. Or the Lakers can hire me, for much less money and I’ll make the moves.
Assuming the Lakers get a top draft pick, they have Odom, Atkins, Vlade Divac, Slava Medvedenko, Devean George, Brian Grant and their draft pick that can be moved.
First, the Lakers need to hire a coach not named Jackson. While still a great coach, he and Kobe didn’t mix last time, so what makes anyone think they can work it out this time? They need to hire a coach without the huge ego; a guy players will respect. Former Lakers Byron Scott and Michael Cooper fit those criteria perfectly.
Second, the Lakers need to trade for a rugged, tough power forward that can guard all the other big forwards in the west. That man is Tyson Chandler, the former Compton Dominguez High School standout who is ready for a change of scenery and a starting spot.
Chandler has been a consistent rebounder and shot blocker, and doesn’t need to score, which would fit perfectly with Bryant. The Chicago Bulls, in search of some veteran leadership could take Divac, Atkins, George and a future pick for Chandler, who has yet to crack the Bulls lineup.
That solves one problem and the next problems would be much easier. The Lakers need a shooter and a point guard and the Sacramento Kings have both. Point guard Bobby Jackson (currently injured, but still not starting even when healthy) and the leagues best outside shooter, Peja Stojakovic are unhappy and willing to be traded out of Sacramento.
For the two of them the Lakers can give up Odom, Grant and their draft pick and bingo, the roster is complete. The new team has its star in Bryant, a good shooter in Stojakovic, a true point guard with Jackson and a solid power forward with Chandler.
With a little tinkering, the team should be set for years to come and my GM duties are complete. Why a reporter from the Sundial can figure it out, but a professional team like the Lakers can’t, is anyone’s guess.