Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers History

Lakers management learns from the past

November, 10, 2012
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
LOS ANGELES -- Thirty-one years ago this month, the Los Angeles Lakers fired Paul Westhead after just 11 games and one infamous trade demand from Magic Johnson following a game in Utah.

Friday they fired Mike Brown just five games into his second season after one infamous "death stare" from Kobe Bryant during a game in Utah. Two exceptionally quick hooks that are so eerily similar it's hard to believe they are simply coincidental.

As it turns out, they aren't. According to multiple Lakers sources, Lakers owner Jerry Buss learned a lesson from his experience with Westhead that he, his son Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak remembered this week when they made the decision to to fire Brown.

"When you're ready to fire someone, don't wait," one source said.

The Lakers had actually decided to fire Westhead two games earlier, sources said, before they played the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 15, 1981, but they didn't do it right away. When the team beat both the Pacers and the Utah Jazz three nights later, things got awkward. The team's issues hadn't changed -- Johnson was unhappy with the way he was being used in Westhead's offense -- but now after losing four of their first six games, the Lakers had rattled off four straight wins. When Johnson asked to be traded following the Jazz game, it created the perception he forced Jerry Buss' hand when in actuality the decision to fire Westhead had been made several days earlier.

That experience was brought up several times in the Lakers' decision-making process this week. Kupchak was a player on that Lakers team and remembered it well. As ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported early Friday morning, Lakers management had initially decided to evaluate team and Brown during this six-game homestand. But the more they thought about it, sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com Friday night, the more they realized there was a lesson to be learned from their own history.

Kobe Bryant and point guards: The list

July, 5, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Asked how the Lakers will perform following their trade for Steve Nash Wednesday afternoon, the first thing out of virtually everyone's mouth, mine included, was something like this:

"Well, it will be interesting to see, because Kobe Bryant has never played with a point guard like Nash." We all said basically the same thing when the Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions at last year's trade deadline. And while I like Ramon Sessions, there are some rungs on the ladder between him and Nash.

Ethan Martin/Getty Images
"Ummmmm, I'll take the one on the right. Sincerely, Kobe Bryant"

Thing is, it's not a cliched talking point. Using Basketball-Reference as a guide, I compiled a list of every PG Bryant has shared time with on a roster, if only for a few games, from more "true" points to stretch-the-definition-played-it-in-a-pinch types*:

Actual-to-quasi point guards:

Derek Fisher
Rumeal Robinson
Nick Van Exel
Derek Harper
Tyronn Lue
Ron Harper
John Celestand
Brian Shaw
Mike Penberthy
Joe Crispin
Lindsey Hunter
Jannero Pargo
Gary Payton
Chucky Atkins
Tierre Brown
Aaron McKie
Sasha Vujacic
Smush Parker
Jordan Farmar
Shammond Williams
Javaris Crittenton
Coby Karl
Sun Yue
Steve Blake
Trey Johnson
Darius Morris
Andrew Goudelock
Ramon Sessions

Largely because he spent so much time in a system de-emphasizing traditional point guard play, mitigating the need for an elite one, in terms of "classic" point guards Bryant basically goes from Van Exel at the start of his career to a few weeks of Sessions at the end, with little in between. (I now expect an angry email from Farmar, for what it's worth.)

So it really will be new ground for Bryant. Nash as well. He's played with plenty of talented teammates, though never a backcourt partner of Kobe's caliber. But assuming everyone is on board and willing to give (including Mike Brown, who will have to loosen up the offense) -- and there's absolutely no reason to believe otherwise -- the Lakers should be able to work through any natural growing pains and produce some killer offensive basketball.

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Andrew Bernstein goes Broadway

April, 16, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Many Lakers fans are familiar with the new play "Magic/Bird," the stage rendering of the most legendary pairings ever produced in sports, that of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, which opened on Broadway April 11. Quite frankly, I have no idea if it's good or not, but at the very least I can vouch for their taste in marquee photo, since it was taken by iconic photographer Andrew Bernstein.

Stephen Freeman/Getty Images
Andrew Bernstein's photography has appeared in many places, but never Broadway... until now.

I had a chance to ask him about it, and like many of his pictures, there's an interesting backstory reflecting the serendipity of sports photography:
“I guess they were looking for the iconic photo that would sum up their rivalry. A picture where one wasn’t more dominant over the other, and they found one of my more well known pictures from (the) ’84 (Finals), with Magic and Larry kind of jostling for position. It was actually after a free throw situation, which was interesting because as a guard and a forward, they never matched up against each other. It wasn’t like Jordan or Magic, or even in today’s game LeBron and Kobe. Those guys never D’d up against each other. Once in a while you’d get a switch or something, but the only times you could really get them together were there captains meeting five minutes before the game, where they would shake hands or whatever, a pre-planned photo shoot -- which I did a few times – and jockeying for position after a free throw. That’s where my two most well know pictures (of them) came from, off free throw situations.”

Take a look at any famous picture of an NBA player shot over the last 30 or so years, and there's a strong chance Bernstein is the photographer. Lakers fans should be particularly familiar with him and his decades of work in L.A.. We collaborated with him on this profile of the '09 title team, (and in an admittedly more prestigious project) he collaborated with Phil Jackson in a fantastic book looking at the '10 champs. Still, while Bernstein has seen his work in a lot of places, Broadway is a new wrinkle.

"I've been published in probably every possible way from print media, TV, Internet, virtual reality," he said. "But to be on a Playbill? To me, I come from a very theatrical family in New York, it was a thrill.”

Kobe Bryant, historical rankings, and incredible success in L.A.

February, 8, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
When Kobe Bryant passed Shaquille O'Neal to become the NBA's fifth all-time leading scorer, it prompted a flurry of debates about his place in basketball history, but also his ranking among great Lakers, as in this video with ESPN's Tim Legler.

I don't love his list -- Wilt Chamberlain (Legler's #4) fits better among the five greatest players in NBA history than the five best greatest Lakers -- and Jerry West, excluded by Legler, should be in the top 5. Still, there are two big notables. First, Legler has Magic Johnson ahead of Kobe Bryant for the top spot, but admits there is subjectivity and historical bias in play. Namely, Magic is elevated not just by his accomplishments but also Legler's respect for the NBA though the 1980's.

Johnson tops my list, too, but I've long thought the G.L.O.A.T debate is generational. For fans, say, 35 and over, it's tough to put anyone ahead of Magic, just as it was likely tough for the previous era to put Magic ahead of West. In time, though, I suspect more often than not Kobe will land at the top, because more "voters" will come the pool of fans who grew up watching him, and only know Magic from highlight reels.

Second, lists like these reinforce the almost absurd levels of success and star power of the Lakers' franchise, historically speaking. Pundits and fans alike routinely assemble Top 5's like this one, and Hall of Famers James Worthy and Gail Goodrich don't get a sniff. For many -- maybe most -- there's no room to squeeze in Elgin Baylor. Elgin Baylor!

Pretty incredible.

Shaq calls Kobe the "greatest Laker of all time"

November, 30, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Last week, we had a fantastic conversation with legendary basketball writer Jackie MacMullan who co-authored with Shaquille O'Neal his new book "Shaq Uncut: My Story." She laid out all the ups and downs of the extremely productive, extremely dramatic pairing of Shaq and Kobe Bryant during the three-peat years.

It's worth a listen if you haven't yet had a chance. She's great.

As part of his promotional tour, Shaq appeared on local television station KTLA (Channel 5), talking about his childhood (in my opinion the most interesting parts of the book), his time with the Lakers, Kobe, and more. In the process, he dropped this line about Bryant. "Based on what he's done, he's probably the greatest Laker of all time,'" O'Neal said. "If he gets another championship, he'll tie with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]. That will put him up there."

Is he being totally forthright when he says Kobe is the "greatest," over Cap, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and so on? Maybe, maybe not. Could just be trying to sell books with a line he knows will make a great headline. But honestly, it doesn't really matter. First, it's hardly a ridiculous notion, and moreover MacMullan emphasized O'Neal's tremendous respect for Kobe the basketball player, despite all of their personality conflicts. Certainly on the floor the relationship (the widespread belief rings were left on the table notwithstanding) was undeniably successful.

Check out the video below and judge for yourself.

Love him or hate him, few athletes have loomed larger on the L.A. sports scene than Shaquille O'Neal. (See what I did there?) He was a centerpiece (again!) of the Threepeat Lakers, but with success came plenty of drama, most notably thanks to a partnership atop the roster with Kobe Bryant rarely lacking tension.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Some Lakers fans still love and appreciate Shaquille O'Neal. Others just appreciate. And some like him as much as Shaq liked free throws.

In his new book "Shaq Uncut: My Story," written with esteemed basketball writer Jackie MacMullan, O'Neal details his life in L.A., from his relationships with Kobe and Phil Jackson to how Jerry West jumped on an opportunity to import him from Orlando, and his lingering bitterness towards Mitch Kupchak.

MacMullan joined us this week to discuss the book and O'Neal's career and, no surprise, we focused a great deal on O'Neal's tenure in purple and gold.

Click here to listen to the whole show, or jump to a specific topic by clicking the links below...

2:00- How Shaq's childhood impacted his personality.

A great deal of attention has been paid to those sections of the book about conflicts with high profile figures like Kobe or Pat Riley, but arguably the most interesting stories come at the beginning. Shaq's youth was a rugged one in which he was mocked because of his size, and teased because of a stutter. Then there was the harsh physical discipline meted out by Phillip Harrison, in every way but biologically his father. Shaq fiercely defends Harrison ("Sarge," as he's commonly known), and MacMullan notes O'Neal was a tough kid to control. "Shaq was a juvenile delinquent, let's be honest here. Stealing cars, he was throwing spitballs at teachers, he was bullying kids at school. He wasn't really what we would call a model citizen when he was a kid. So when he messed up, his father answered with his fists, and sometimes his belt," she says.

There was an upshot to all the misbehavior, notes MacMullen. The amount of time Shaq spent "in punishment" (sent to his room) helped form the imagination and creativity eventually becoming O'Neal's trademarks. She explains how Shaq's behavior as a pro reflects those formative years.

8:10- Shaq and Phil Jackson.

Shaq writes in glowing terms about Jackson, who came to the Lakers when O'Neal desperately needed help overcoming the perception he couldn't win in crunch time. "He thought, "You know what, this guy [Jackson is] a winner. He's a proven winner. I need a ring, and I think this is the guy who's going to get me one." He had to make a decision to jump in with both feet and totally buy what Phil was selling, and that's what he did," MacMullan says.

9:20- On Shaq's sensitivity.

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Magic being Magic, and news conference video

November, 7, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
There were many standout moments at Monday's Staples Center news conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson's retirement, not the least of which was the check for $1 million presented to his foundation. Johnson spoke of that day two decades ago, when he announced HIV would force him out of the game. He spoke of how he coped and the optimism he felt in the face of what many believed a death sentence. He talked about his health, advancements in treatment and the people to whom he feels indebted for helping him stay healthy. Magic thanked his wife and family, and noted the obligations he feels as the face of HIV not only in this country, but abroad.

But on a day filled with remembrances of a landmark moment in American culture and sports history, one small moment best defined the magnetism of Magic. After delivering his speech and fielding questions from the assembled media for more than 20 minutes, Magic invited the former Lakers in the crowd to join him on stage for a picture. Jerry West, Pat Riley, Michael Cooper, James Worthy, Mychal Thompson, Kurt Rambis and Mike Dunleavy. He noticed Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in the crowd, and called him up, too.

"I said all Lakers," Magic instructed.

Quietly, Lakers P.R. director John Black walked past the stage, and whispered something to Magic. "Of course, Bill Sharman," Magic declared, pointing to the legendary former coach and basketball pioneer seated maybe five rows deep. Come on up.

Sharman is 85 years old, and moving from crowd to stage isn't an instant process. It could have been awkward had another man controlled the microphone. Magic, always the floor general, instantly recognized the situation and started into a story about a free-throw shooting competition he once engaged in with Sharman. He hit 15 or 16 in a row, and was summarily dusted when Sharman stepped to the stripe.

It was a quick anecdote, maybe 90 seconds, and I suspect most people won't remember the details. But because Magic so successfully worked the room, they also won't remember the difficulties Sharman had negotiating the steps up to the stage, or the people moving there to help him. Suddenly, he was there in the front row, and the photo op continued.

That's Magic Johnson.

Magic Johnson reflects

November, 7, 2011
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
E:60 looks at the 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson's retirement.

PodKast: Grantland's Jonathan Abrams on Jerry West

October, 5, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

There are few personalities in sports more enigmatic than Jerry West. He's a man of incredible achievement who views his life largely through a lens of loss and failure. For legions of basketball fans (and, frankly, many basketball players and executives I suspect), it's an outlook difficult to comprehend. It also makes him a fascinating subject for feature writing, and with that in mind if you haven't yet had a chance to do so, be sure to carve out some time for this feature on West, written by Grantland's Jonathan Abrams.

It's a great piece, detailing among other things West's struggles with self-esteem, his relationship -- or more specifically, the lack of one -- with the Lakers, and how he views his new job in Golden State, likely West's last high profile position in the NBA. Abrams, who spent time with West in his native West Virginia, paints a picture throughout of how West's personality developed and how it influenced his professional life, both as a player and executive:
"... At its core, basketball always supplied West with a nondebatable ledger, only it never solved his anguish or his anxiety or his frustration and pain. The game served as an outlet and record-keeper for him. That's it. There are no ties, no middle ground, no confusion about the outcome. One side always wins -- that's good. One side always loses -- that's bad. Cut-and-dry. That's what drove West to become the player and executive he once was, that's what haunted him then and haunts him now, and that's what pulled him back to the NBA one last time."

So read the story, then click on the link above for the interview (or listen first, then read, or do both at once -- I'm not here to tell you how to live your life) for more detail.

PodKast: Michael Cooper on Magic, Bird, socks, USC hoops, and more

August, 31, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Tuesday afternoon, I was fortunate to spend some time talking with Lakers great Michael Cooper, an integral part of five championships with the Showtime Lakers, and now coach of the women's basketball team at USC. Long and lean-- very, very lean-- Cooper was nonetheless a fierce competitor, earning All-Defensive Team honors eight times, and the DOPY Award in 1987. Larry Bird called him the toughest defender he ever faced. Praise doesn't come much higher.

Brian welcomes Lakers legend Michael Cooper, now head coach of the USC women's hoops squad. Coop talks about defending Larry Bird, the best of his five title teams, Magic's influence beyond the NBA, and why he wore his socks so high.

Podcast Listen
Over the course of about 30 minutes, we had a chance to touch on a wide range of subjects, from where he developed his intensity to the magic of Magic, both on and off the court. Among the highlights:

*Why he developed such a strong defensive mindset in L.A.: "You had to find a niche [with the Lakers]. When I met coach [Jack] McKinney, he said, "Coop, we need a player who is going to play some defense. We need a lock down defender at the 1,2, and 3 positions. That was kind of my calling card. I reverted back to all my fundamentals, and my aggressiveness as far as defense goes ... This was my niche to make it on the Lakers team. Everyone likes to score, but I felt that it was how I was going to be able to not only make that team, but stick around. And lo and behold, that worked out well for me."

Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images
Larry Bird called Michael Cooper the toughest defender he ever faced.

*On defending Larry Bird: "I used to study games of his. It would be a month before we would play the Celtics, but I was getting ready for him. Watching him play. What did he do on out of bounds passes? What did he do going around picks? ... Larry was naturally born left-handed, and taught himself how to shoot right handed. He was very ambidextrous so you couldn't force him one way or the other, because he was just as good going to his left as he was to his right. The only tendencies I had [available from film] to pick up with him was how he came off of picks. How he set you up to come off a pick."

*Best of the five title teams on which he played: I thought our '84 team was very good, even though we came up short [against Boston in the Finals]. We had all the necessary parts to win a championship. Of the championships that we won, I'd have to say our '85 championship was about as good as we were going to get. Everybody was hitting on all cylinders. James Worthy was was just coming into being the type of player he'd eventually become, a Hall of Famer. That team had it all. We had a bench, we could play defense, we could run, we could rebound with you. We could get big, and even became "Riley's Runts," because we could get small. That '85 team was probably our best team, per player, and the camaraderie and the chemistry was very good.

*Coop explained the challenge of not just beating Boston, but overcoming the mystique they had in big moments.

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"The L.A. In My Game," with Trevor Ariza

August, 10, 2011
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share how growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

Trevor Ariza is so deeply steeped in the basketball culture of Los Angeles, it's easy to forget he was actually born in Miami. He starred at Westchester High School, then played a season at UCLA before leaving college for the NBA draft. Selected with the 43rd pick in the 2004 draft by the Knicks, Ariza's greatest professional moment came as a member of the Lakers, as he was an integral part of their 2009 title run, averaging 11.3 points over 23 games while shooting over 47 percent from beyond the arc.

While he's no longer playing locally, fair to say Ariza takes enormous pride in his L.A. roots.

Land O’Lakers: Where did you play growing up?

Trevor Ariza: I used to play at Westchester Park a lot. I met a few of my friends there. Then I got on a traveling team and started to meet other people. I met a lot of my friends I’m still friends with today.

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Trevor Ariza won a pair of state titles with Westchester High School.

Land O’Lakers: Who specifically?

Ariza:Westchester Park, it started out being [L.A. Sparks guard] Noelle Quinn. She was just sick back in the day, when we were younger. She was the best player I ever met. This is when I was 9, 10 years old. Omar Wilkes was there. He used to play with us. Then I started to meet other people like Marcus Williams, Bobby Brown, Hassan Adams. People I went to high school with, though the AAU circuit and stuff.

Land O’Lakers: Describe the scene at Westchester. Was there a lot of trash talk?

Ariza: Not really. I used to play pickup with the older guys. They used to let me on the court and teach me things. I got my aggression playing at Darby Park, playing football. I just used to like contact all the time. My favorite player of all time is Deion Sanders, so football is my first love. When I was little, I focused more on football, definitely. That’s where I met Dorrell [Wright], and little DeSean Jackson [Eagles wide receiver], and a few other people that played there, too. [Cowboys defensive back] Orlando Scandrick, and all those guys.

Land O’Lakers: DeSean was a talker back then?

Ariza: Man, he’s been the same way since … probably when he came out of the womb. He was born talking. And any sport, he just talks. That’s his thing.

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All sorts of Shaq stuff

June, 3, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Understanding Shaquille O'Neal's legacy in L.A. is still something hotly debated- we discuss it in this week's Triangle, and Arash Markazi touches on it here- on the day he met with the press to formally announce his retirement it's worth looking back at the career of one of the great icons the Lakers franchise has ever seen.

With that in mind, take a look at some fun links from the mothership and beyond:

Former Laker Shaquille O'Neal joins the Max and Marcellus Show to talk about his retirement, his time in L.A., and more.

Podcast Listen
-First, today's 5-on-5 roundtable is all about O'Neal.

-Next, writers who covered Shaq reflect on some of their favorite stories. It's a great read because despite all the legitimate criticism he takes for never maximizing his talent completely, for periodic bouts of real petulance, and more, at his core O'Neal treated the NBA like a game, and made it tremendously entertaining for those who follow it.

-A cool look at what might have been from the always insightful Tom Ziller of SB Nation.

-SI's Jack McCallum, while lamenting the cliche, writes there really won't be another one like him.

Finally, click on the interview on the right, as Shaq joined the Max and Marcellus Show on 710 ESPN this afternoon, Mark Willard filling in for Max Kellerman. Apparently, Shaq is interested in helping the NFL return to Los Angeles...

Phil Jackson on Tex Winter and the Hall of Fame

April, 4, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Before Sunday afternoon's loss to Denver at Staples, Phil Jackson spoke at length on the news Tex Winter, pioneer of the triangle offense and longtime assistant coach and mentor, will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.While Jackson was clearly pleased by the news, there was also a great deal of anger and frustration in the length of time it took for the honor to come.

Winter, born in February of 1922, suffered a stroke in 2009 and reports indicate declining health will prevent him from attending his induction ceremony.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
For Phil Jackson, news Tex Winter will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was welcome, but bittersweet.

Below is the full exchange between reporters and Jackson. It's an interesting and revealing read, with insight not only to what made Winter such an important figure in the history of the sport, but his role in molding arguably the most successful coach in modern sports.

Q: What have you learned from him more than anything else?

Jackson: How to develop an offense from skill drills is probably best thing that Tex taught. That basketball starts with being able to learn how to pick up the basketball and pivot. From there, you move into passing, and then the other things that become more complicated. But you have to start from very basic beginning with basketball.

Q: You've often described him as a contrarian -- someone who would get in your face and tell you you're wrong. Does anyone else have that relationship with you? Has anyone else told you you're wrong as many times as he has?

Jackson: My mother.

Q: He's number two, though?

Jackson: I'll tell you a story. Red Holzman, when we had a reunion -- I think it was 10 years after the championship [he had as a player with the Knicks in 1973] -- Red brought his wife over and said, "You know, she's the real coach. She tells me how to live my life."

That's kind of the way mothers are. They're the ones that tell you what's right and wrong.

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Memory Lane: Draft day for Andrew Bynum

March, 30, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Our man Bryan Boatman sent us the video below. Given how Andrew Bynum has blown up over the last few weeks, it's interesting to take a look at how it all began, with footage of Bynum's draft day. Needless to say, the Lakers of June, 2005 were in a vastly different place than today's edition.

A few thoughts, notable moments, and so on:
  • Famous last words- The final words out of Jim Gray's mouth before the pick: "At number 10, they hope to get somebody [in the mold of] Joe Johnson or Paul Pierce [selected with the 10th pick of the '01 and '98 drafts, respectively] who can contribute right away." Or, they'll draft a 17-year old who won't help them for a few seasons. Just goes to show, then as now, the Lakers were very good at holding things close to the vest.
  • Like a lot of people, I was very surprised they didn't draft Danny Granger.
  • Nice work from Bynum on the suit. Pocket square? Serious sartorial sophistication from a very young man.
  • If anyone's interested in scripting a goofy remake of "Twins," casting Bynum with David Stern is a good place to start. Their handshake looks like a forced perspective camera trick Peter Jackson might have used in Lord of the Rings.
  • Watching the names on Jay Bilas' list of top available players scroll by reinforces what a crap shoot the draft really is, even for guys who make a living at it. Just ask the Warriors, who took Ike Diogu just before L.A. plucked Bynum, or the Clippers, who were about seven minutes away from selecting Yaroslav Korolev.
  • Questions about Phil Jackson's acceptance of the pick reminds how his willingness and ability to work with a rebuilding team was a major point of speculation. Plenty of people wondered if Jackson was too much coach for that team.

As long as we're getting nostalgic, take a look a the day Kobe Bryant was drafted, back in '96. Not that he wore it long, but man alive does he look weird in a Hornets hat. Quote of the clip, from Rick Pitino, serving as an analyst for the broadcast: "Jerry West told me that greatness lies ahead for this young man. Thought he was going to be absolutely fantastic."

Might as well trade for him, then, right?

When the Lakers re-signed Lamar Odom, did it change the NBA?

March, 22, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Monday afternoon, Phil Jackson commented on Lamar Odom's value to the Lakers.

"We made a decision as an organization two years ago to sign Lamar, which put us into a difficult cap situation," he said. "Yet we were convinced that without him, we wouldn’t win a championship again. That was a good decision by the organization."

Jesse D. Garrabrandt/NBAE/Getty Images
Lamar Odom has won a pair of titles with the Lakers, but had he not stuck around after the '09 season, the entire NBA landscape might look different today.

But what if they'd gone the other way?

What if Dr. Buss, presented contract figures by Mitch Kupchak, looked to his bank account then L.A.'s projected payroll and screamed, "No mas," or Odom decided to change addresses? While Odom last season wasn't the adjusted plus-minus monster of the '08-'09 title run, he was nonetheless invaluable. Particularly when considering how difficult it would have been to replace him (and by "difficult," I mean "impossible"), as Jackson infers, I'm comfortable saying the Lakers wouldn't have won without him (and, unfortunately for Lakers fans, that the Celtics would).

Without a shot at a threepeat, Jackson might have retired, obviously changing the context of this year's title charge.

But that's just the Lakers. The web widens considerably, right?

Had Odom left L.A., he'd likely have signed with Pat Riley and the Heat, potentially altering the entire future of the league. In this alternate universe in which Miami has L.O. on the payroll, it's less likely the Heat would have been able to clear enough cap space to sign their Big Three last summer. So where does LeBron go? Do 23 jerseys never burn in the streets of Cleveland? Does Dan Gilbert never write his comic sans opus (depriving the world of fantastic columns like this)? Maybe LBJ takes his talents to the Big Apple, instead? Does Amare Stoudemire go there, too?

Where does that leave Carmelo Anthony? Who's to say the Bulls, currently tied with Boston for the top seed in the East, get the pieces they do if James and Chris Bosh- who could have joined James in Cleveland- don't both end up in black and red.

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Kobe Bryant
24.6 4.9 1.4 35.4
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 4.9
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2