Los Angeles Lakers: Chris Bosh
MIAMI -- Kobe Bryant understands what the Miami Heat are going through, trying to make it back to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year.
After all, it was only a couple of seasons ago that Bryant was trying to lead the Los Angeles Lakers along that same path before things fell apart in spectacular fashion with a four-game second-round sweep by the Dallas Mavericks.
"Having a competitive spirit night after night is very, very tough to do," Bryant said before the Lakers played the Heat on Thursday. "Going for three championships in a row, four Finals in a row, it's tough. It's tough to get guys going.
"It's like a malaise that kind of sets in."
That lethargy seemed to grab a hold of Miami, which was playing without Dwyane Wade, for most of the night against the Lakers. But LeBron James made just enough plays to save them.
It was almost like Bryant could see it coming.
"LeBron's been doing a great job of keeping the guys going with his own energy," Bryant said. "That's his responsibility to keep guys engaged. Then, when the time rolls around, hopefully the other guys will get charged up and ready to go."
James led the way with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists, but Chris Bosh was one of those charged-up guys right beside him, pouring in 31 points on 15-for-22 shooting and keeping L.A. at bay when the Lakers tried to make a game of it late.
How it happened: L.A. trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter before scoring the first five points of the final frame to cut Miami's lead to 85-80 with 9:46 remaining. Things went back and forth from there, with Nick Young making it a four-point game with a jumper with 4:06 remaining. But Miami came right back with a 3 from Ray Allen to push the lead back to seven. L.A. kept fighting though, and Jodie Meeks hit a pull-up 3 on a broken play a couple of minutes later to again draw L.A. within four at 103-99. After a timeout, James hit a pull-up 3 with 2:23 to go to push Miami's lead back to seven. The closest L.A. got was five the rest of the way.
What it means: With Miami having lost four of its previous seven and Wade out, it was conceivable that the Lakers come in and steal one. But L.A. just couldn't make enough plays on defense, allowing the Heat to shoot 57.7 percent from the field.
Hits: Pau Gasol continued his inspired play with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Meeks tied Gasol with a team-high 22 points including a 4-for-6 mark from the 3 line.
Young scored 19 off the bench.
Kendall Marshall had 11 assists.
Ryan Kelly took a charge on James in the open court.
Misses: The Heat outrebounded L.A. 48-35.
L.A. trailed by as many as 16 in the first half and never held a lead during the entire contest.
Stat of the game: Miami shot just 11-for-23 on free throws (47.8 percent), but L.A. couldn't capitalize.
Up next: Five down, two to go. The Lakers close out their Grammy road trip in Orlando on Friday and in New York to play the Knicks on Sunday.
LOS ANGELES -- For just the third time in Kobe Bryant's 18-year NBA career, the star guard did not suit up on Christmas Day.
"It’s strange to be coming in on Christmas and not playing," Bryant said before the Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Miami Heat on Wednesday. "It’s really strange. It’s a foreign feeling."
What was even stranger was seeing the Lakers match the Heat blow for blow, for the most part.
After all, the Lakers had dropped six of their previous nine games coming into Christmas, including their past two in blowout fashion. The Heat had won five in a row and seven out of eight.
(What was strangest might have been the short-sleeved jerseys and extravagant sneakers the players wore on the court, but that's another story for another day.)
Bryant had been targeting a date with the back-to-back defending champs for a while to see how the level of his game had progressed.
"This was a really big measuring stick in terms of their activity, their speed, their size," Bryant said. "I was really looking forward to this game, to being able to measure where I was physically. Especially the time frame in which I came back, I was really looking at this game being the game where I would be in rhythm and really be able to measure what I can do and can’t do."
Instead, the Lakers were left to judge themselves as a team -- against the squad that has lifted the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of the past two seasons.
As close as they looked to one another for much of the game, the Heat made plays down the stretch when it mattered and the Lakers didn't. And that was the difference.
How it happened: Miami fell behind by 10 in the first quarter before rallying to go up by five at the half, with LeBron James (12 of his 19), Dwyane Wade (11 of his 23) and Chris Bosh (13 of his 23) all reaching double-digit scoring by halftime. That's when Nick Young got his Swaggy P mode on, scoring 12 points in the third quarter, including a late 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of James, to bring the Lakers to within two heading into the final frame. Miami surged back ahead in the fourth, with L.A. failing to execute late in that final period, whether it was Jordan Farmar missing a couple of late 3-pointers and turning the ball over to Jodie Meeks missing a three throws to L.A.'s defense not coming up with stops.
What it means: The Lakers have now lost three in a row and fell to 13-16, the first time they've been three games under .500 since they were 4-7 to start the season.
Hits: Young led L.A. with 20 points, his 15th straight game with double digits off the bench.
Pau Gasol finished with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Xavier Henry scored 14 points after going back to the bench with Farmar's return.
Misses: Farmar didn't prove to be a savior in his return from a hamstring tear, totaling just three points on 1-for-7 shooting to go with five rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.
L.A. had 17 turnovers, leading to 23 points for Miami.
Stat of the game: 57.7. That was L.A.'s free throw percentage, going 15-for-26.
Up next: The Miami game kicked off a stretch of five of six games for L.A. at home. The Lakers go to Utah for a game Friday against the 8-23 Jazz before four straight back at Staples Center.
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In 2013-14, they can only do more of the same. But 2014-15 is different.
Most Lakers fans are thinking in terms of bouncing back from this season and its disappointments next year. But they should be thinking about the promise of the year-after-next.
The word patience doesn’t usually go over well in LA. and the Lakers will never ask for it publicly, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it from their fans right now.
Consider what’s inside the free agent store in the summer of 2014. And begin with LeBron James. I don’t know if he would consider Los Angeles, but the Lakers certainly want to be ready in case he does. And all is not lost if the Lakers have that flexibility in 2014 and don’t land the King. Also likely to be available would be Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, and Luol Deng. Possibly available would be Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Tony Parker and Zach Randolph.
If the organization were to cave to public pressure and press to make big changes during the current offseason, they would risk compromising next summer. It’s not worth it. Mitch Kupchak is certainly capable. Even with the current financial restrictions the Lakers face, Kupchak has pulled off some impressive deals. He did it last year with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Outside of Howard & Nash, the acquisitions the Lakers have given their fans since their last title include names like Theo Ratliff, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono. That excites no one, but maybe this year it should. If the Lakers pull off a deal for Francisco Garcia or Marquise Daniels this summer, that could mean that Kuphcak is protecting 2014.
And that’s exciting.
If the Lakers try to make real moves this offseason . . . and I mean REAL moves, geared toward trying to get back in title contention right away, they risk missing out on the potential of 2014.
And with Kobe Bryant coming off a major injury, there’s little reason to sell out this summer. Their best move might be to bring the same gang back and trim a little salary.
Bryant said in his exit interview that he wants the same group back: “If we can gain something positive from this season it's bringing most of the guys back. (We were) 5 games out of the playoffs and all of the sudden have this incredible run. It does something to the character of the group. To allow that to dissipate, it's a headache.”
He seems to think the same group, if healthy, can win it all. But here's the thing: it doesn’t matter if he’s right.
What matters is what comes after.
Mark Willard is the host of "ESPNLA Now" on ESPNLA 710 in Los Angeles.
“I think right now it’s a feel-out process. I talked to those guys, it almost felt like we were being too unselfish to get each other into the flow of the game. The reason we’re here and the reason we’ve been successful is because we’ve put ourselves in a position to be aggressive at all times no matter who’s on the court.”
Those are the words of LeBron James. The date? Oct. 27, 2010 -- right after Miami’s big three made their highly-anticipated debut in Boston. The Heat looked like a disjointed mess in that game, losing by eight points to a veteran Celtics team and satisfying a world of basketball fans itching for some South Beach schadenfreude.
These words from LeBron came back to me when I read Steve Nash’s quotes on Thursday, talking about how he’s not “worried” about himself offensively and wants to make his teammates happy first. But in the embryonic stages of Miami’s Superfriends experiment, James warned that that was precisely Miami’s problem.
James’ message: being deferential is not what got them to be perennial All-Stars and MVP candidates. But now that the Lakers are 0-2 and facing an avalanche of scrutiny, Nash seems to be falling into that trap of well-intended unselfishness.
"I'm very reluctant to worry about myself,” Nash said on Thursday. “I want to learn, I want to build this team up and then if I need to be more proactive and a bigger part of things, that'll come. But right now, I want to try to get the offense going, get the guys going, get everyone's confidence up and we'll find a happy medium sometime down the road.”
When Steve Nash decides to be Steve Nash again, the Lakers will likely be better off for it. It’s not helping that Kobe Bryant is chastising fans who want Nash to get back to his identity, dismissing the call to “let Steve dribble the ball around and create opportunities for everybody.” As if generating open looks for teammates was somehow putting the Lakers at a disadvantage.
It’s an odd thing to say considering that spontaneous creativity and artful improvisation is precisely what makes Nash so unique. Why trade for Nash if you want him to play like Mike Bibby? That’s why you have Steve Blake and Chris Duhon on the roster. And when you have a guy who boasts a 50/40/90 shooting profile over the past decade, you want him to be a little selfish too. Let him get his, because you want one of the best shooters in NBA history to, you know, shoot.
It’s true that the Lakers have bigger problems to solve on the defensive end, but marginalizing Nash’s talents could have longer-lasting effects. Let Nash thrive in the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard and allow him to carve up defenses like he’s done his entire career. But if we learned anything from the Heat’s stumbling to a 9-8 record in the big three’s maiden voyage, Nash shouldn’t be preoccupied about being too assertive -- Princeton offense or not.
This will take time. It wasn’t until early Dec. 2010 – about a dozen games into the season -- when the Heat’s offense started clicking and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh realized they needed to play like their star selves rather than try to be someone they’re not.
Just be yourself. That was James’ takeaway when he was asked how he and Wade turned the corner two months after that embarrassing start to the season.
“(Wade) stopped trying to figure out if it’s his time or my time,” James said. “He had a lot on his mind at times. He’s just trying to figure this out instead of just going out and playing. And that’s the same for me, too. We’re both in those instances where we were both trying to figure things out at the same time and we’re kind of hurting the team.”
After these comments, the Heat proceeded to win 17 of their next 18 games. Take heed, Lakers.
The show can be heard by clicking on the module and a list of talking points is below:
- (1:30): Basketball players are often reticent to shower the opposition with more than generic or obligatory praise. Thus, eyebrows raised when Chris Bosh of the reigning champion Miami Heat recently declared the Lakers the best team "on paper." Interestingly enough, Academy Award front-runner Kevin Durant, whose OKC Thunder squad took out the Lakers en route to reaching the Finals, seconded that statement.
Is this a case of gamesmanship or self-motivation from Bosh and Durant or just a begrudgingly honest assessment? In a world made of paper, are the Lakers really the best team?
- (10:50): Seven years ago, I conducted a wide-ranging interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but forgot to seek a critical bit of clarification about his role in 'Airplane.' This brain cramp has eaten away at my soul ever since. Kinda like the way not having a statue in front of Staples Center seemed to have eaten away at Cap's soul. That honor is finally (and deservedly) a scheduled event, but it's fair to wonder if Kareem's previous complaints will put a damper on the impending ceremony.
- (20:16): The Lakers loaded their roster this offseason, but with those stars comes the fear of clashing egos. Factor in the Lakers' well-documented history with this problem, and it stands to reason the media is licking its chops in anticipation of an implosion.
As part of its "Summer Forecast" series, 100 ESPN.com "experts" (quotation marks added since Brian and I are part of that panel) voted on which team would be most likely to experience turmoil this season. Not surprisingly, the Knicks led the pack with 41 votes. But in what might be considered a minor shock, the Lakers only received two votes. Whether that's because smooth sailing is expected or the talent on hand is simply immune to tension, the results caught BK by surprise.
(And speaking of surprises... Ramon Sessions: Team killer? It feels like one voter considered this a very real danger.
Heck, I'm sure there are people die-hard enough to want analysis on how their Big 4 and improved bench change things against Sacramento.
Then there are matchups of interest to everyone who loves, or likes, or even thinks he might one day show some interest in basketball. Ten months or so out, it's easily the sexiest of potential 2013 Finals -- Los Angeles vs. Miami. L.A.'s foursome of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash vs. the current champion and its Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, with the newly added Ray Allen now tossing in 3-pointers from around the arc.
This year, Kobe Bryant will be reaching for more than the ball. With a juiced-up roster, a Finals matchup against LeBron James and the Heat is possible.
Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: What was the reaction in Miami to the Howard trade?
Tom Haberstroh: I was talking to someone with the Heat staff this summer and they didn't think the Lakers saw eye-to-eye with the Heat, even with Nash. But that came with one qualification: "Unless they get Dwight.”
Miami fans reacted like so: "Uh oh," but are still basking in the glory of the championship, so they aren't all that panicked. If the Heat DIDN'T win the title and the Lakers loaded up like this? I think they'd be calling for Erik Spoelstra's head first and then they'd be calling David Stern's cell phone "for basketball reasons."
BK: Given that Andrew Bynum was pretty good already, why would they be that much more concerned about Dwight? (I mean, beyond the obvious reason -- that he's a better player and is among the league's truly dominant forces, particularly defensively.)
What specifically about the matchup doesn't the staff like?
Haberstroh: Simple -- Steve Nash's pick-and-roll partner.
With a talent like Howard, you can't think of him as "just" an upgrade for Bynum. Baseball kind of works like that, but basketball doesn't. Because of the synergy between him and Nash, the Lakers' offense just got so much more dynamic. That is, if Kobe Bryant complies.
BK: I think he will -- I've said/written a few times that if this roster doesn't meet expectations, Kobe's ego won't be a primary factor -- but obviously the personalities we're talking about here are very strong, so there are no guarantees, even if everyone wants to row in the same direction.
Tom, when LBJ and Wade hooked up there was obviously an adjustment, but from your perspective how much of it was based on finding a rhythm, and how much was based in that idea of compliance? That both had to be willing to let it work?
For any Lakers fan, any NBA finals without the purple and gold is by definition a disappointing series. The Lakers are a franchise that openly cries "championship or bust," and that standard has been enthusiastically adopted by the faithful. Thus, being on the outside looking into a trophy chase always leaves a bitter taste.
However, this particular Finals may really stick in the Laker Nation's craw. The Miami Heat aren't just a super-team distastefully forged, and the Oklahoma City aren't just scary good, scary young and Western conference residents. They both feature foils to the supremacy of Kobe Bryant. LeBron James has long been viewed by Lakers fans as prematurely crowned "King" at Kobe's expense and Dwyane Wade has received favorable Mamba comparisons as well. (That Flash broke Bryant's nose/concussed him during a freakin' All-Star Game doesn't help, either.) In the meantime, Kevin Durant has already lapped Bryant as a scoring machine, but a title could make it impossible to argue, career achievement aside, he hasn't passed Bryant altogether. Thus, either teams basking in championship glory packs a potential double-whammy for Lakers fans.
AP Photo, Getty Images
Unless we're talking Smush, once Lakers, always Lakers, right?
Still, from a pure basketball perspective, this should be a massively entertaining series, and I'd hate to see Lakers fans sulk themselves out of any sense of enjoyment. The solution is to tab one team as the lesser of two evils, then root hard against the other. With that in mind, I'm here to help break some ties.
Pros to the Heat Winning
• Ronny Turiaf and Pat Riley, ex-Lakers still held in good esteem amongst the fan base, will get their first and seventh rings respectively.
• Over the last few years, some have questioned James' drive, and whether he's more consumed by his game or brand. Granted, his improved outside shooting and post game have quieted that criticism to some degree. But for those unconvinced, perhaps the championship demons exorcised will result in complacency, along with opportunity knocking for a revamped Laker squad to capitalize.
• Whenever the Heat falter, the rumor mill kicks into overdrive with scenarios bringing Dwight Howard to South Beach. Obviously, all gossip must be treated with a grain of salt, but it stands to reason a title decreases the odds of Miami dealing for Superman, which keeps hope alive for an L.A. landing.
• Realistically speaking, the odds favor this bunch winning one title. I mean, let's just be honest. So if they are destined to break through, it might as well happen during an "asterisk" season, right? With any luck, that will be the only "Heatle" title, and their time together will carry as little gravitas as possible.
• For that matter, they Heat would also win without having to go through either Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard in the East. Let the discrediting process begin!
• Despite logging just 83 minutes in the regular season and (likely) none in the postseason, Eddy Curry will get a ring, making Kwame Brown the lone member of the Brown-Curry-Tyson Chandler "straight from high school into the 2001 NBA lottery" trio without a championship. And Laker fans never tire of jokes at Kwame's expense.
• The Heat knocked Boston out of the playoffs the last two seasons, which didn't just allow Lakers fans to rejoice, but also prevented the Pierce-KG-Allen Celts from tying or even besting the title count of the Kobe-Gasol Lakers. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the old saying goes.
• South Beach + June weather + championship parade = wall-to-wall eye candy. And this celebration will be televised. I'm just sayin'.
With Lakers-Clippers on the docket this evening, various ESPN scribes (including the K Bros) gathered thoughts from Bryant's and Paul's Olympic teammates and coaches about the experience of working with them. Click here to make a patriotic trip down Memory Lane, and below are excerpts with Kobe's and Paul's recollections about one another:
Kobe on Paul: He's tough. He's tough as nails, man; he doesn't back down from anything or anybody. I'd never been as close to him, but when I was [on the Olympic team] I'd try to challenge him, see what he's made of and he's a tough little sucker.
Paul on Kobe: Me and Kob really figured out how much we had in common on that trip. That Olympic experience is when we got a lot closer. Me and my wife send him Christmas cards and his family sends us Christmas cards, and now we talk on a regular basis. We both want to win so badly. It's one of those things where as great a relationship as we have, as long as we're playing on the same court against each other, we're always going to get into it, you know what I mean? That's the respect factor, because you know that he wants it just as bad as I do.
The Lakers beat Miami, but the asterisk can't be ignored.
Sunday's contest against the Miami Heat theoretically placed such an opportunity in their laps. LeBron James & Co. were predicted by many (including yours truly) to win the whole shebang. They've also spanked the Lakers in the three previous "Big Three"-era games. Another loss, and envisioning the 2012 Larry O'Brien trophy in El Segundo would have required the combined imaginations of Lewis Carroll, Salvador Dali and Tim Burton. Damning evidence can only be viewed so long before being treated as fact.
This importance openly acknowledged, the court on Sunday was taken with a focus, energy and defensive intensity unmatched all season. The Lakers drew first blood, then withstood Miami's second-half charge. But the ensuing 93-83 win came with a caveat. The Heat played without Chris Bosh, which can't be ignored. He's probably the most ridiculed seven-time-running All-Star in NBA history, but Bosh is a highly skilled big man who drastically enhances the effectiveness of Miami's attack.
Thus, the W felt a bit like champagne sitting too long in an uncorked bottle. It still provides a buzz, but nonetheless tastes a little flat. That's not to say it wasn't a quality win. Beating LeBron and D-Wade always matters. But the fine print matters, and in many ways, mirrors how the Lakers' recent success still leaves lingering doubts. Take, for example, their eight wins over the past 10 games ...
1. 94-92 win at Toronto: No Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors are terrible, the Lakers barely won. A long trip only excuses so much.
2. 87-78 win against Atlanta: A solid win.
3. 111-99 win against Phoenix: The Suns aren't very good.
4. 102-90 loss at Phoenix: See above.
5. 103-92 win against Portland: A win that perhaps looked more impressive before reports of a Rip City meltdown.
6. 96-91 win at Dallas: A commendable road victory, but it's worth noting the Mavs went winless in Lamar Odom's absence (irony alert!).
7. 100-85 loss at Oklahoma City: In a vacuum, these things happen. For the purposes of gauging the Lakers' ability to hang with elite teams, it doesn't bolster confidence.
8. 104-85 win against Minnesota: The Wolves were down Kevin Love, arguably enjoying the best season of any power forward in the league.
9. 115-107 win against Sacramento: The Kings are bad.
10. 93-83 win against Miami: Again, no Bosh.
Even taking into account NBA wins are rarely easy, the "yeah, but" factor becomes more glaring with those details piled on top of each other. Peel one layer of the proverbial onion, and you realize just how many skins remain. Peeling that onion raises the bigger question of buying into the Lakers as a contender.
- (3:01): After paying tribute to our wives' mutual love of "The Golden Girls" (those sassy blue hairs lived in Miami, after all), we talk about break down the implications with Sunday's game against the Heat. For starters, Broken-Nose-And-Concussion-Gate. Wade has insisted his foul on Kobe Bryant during the All-Star Game wasn't delivered with an intent to injure. Kobe himself has insisted it wasn't delivered with an intent to injure. But Laker fans certainly don't believe Flash and more importantly, Matt Barnes views the incident as another example of why he and Metta World Peace may have to adopt the role of enforcer and enforcer sidekick. (MWP would be the head honcho, which I only imagine is a source of comfort for everyone involved.)
Will the incident in Orlando lead to excessive chippiness in L.A. come Sunday? And if so, does that play into the Lakers' favor?
- (10:45): How are the Lakers gonna put up points against the Heat? Last season, the Lakers couldn't score against them while Miami was still in the "getting to know each other" stages. This season, the Lakers are the ones lacking continuity, and the Heat have only gotten better defensively.
- (12:00): How would a win on Sunday affect our perception of the Lakers? At the very least, I could maintain a more open mind towards the potential for this team moving forward. Wholeheartedly buying in, no questions asked, as the result of one victory feels like a premature reaction, but there's no question this would represent a very strong win. A loss, however, would mark the fourth in as many tries in Miami's James-Wade-Bosh era, and naturally prompts skepticism about how much they're really improving against legitimate competition.
- (17:30): More important than how Brian or I will react to the results against the Heat, how will the front office?
- (19:40): How much will money be a factor for the Lakers moving forward? And even if they are willing to pony up whatever it takes to secure a young superstar, the opportunities may be few and far between? We go through the list of the league elites under 30, and the overwhelming majority are locked up.
The first meeting between these teams last season was met with enough hype to make P.T. Barnum blush. (It was also met with enough purple and gold lethargy to make a Lakers fan lose his Christmas brunch.) One year -- and two similarly disappointing series against the Dallas Mavericks -- later, and the setting has changed. The Lakers are trying to prove that a championship pedigree still exists, while the Heat are trying to prove their pedigree is matched by a championship heart. A win in AmericanAirlines Arena would help re-establish the Lakers' credibility, and a win with Dwyane Wade possible in street clothes would be a meaningful one for the Heat.
It's a shame this game doesn't feature much in the way of star power.
Brian Kamenetzky: Is Wade going to play Thursday?
Tom Haberstroh: I'd bet my authentic Drazen Petrovic jersey that Wade is not going to play. All the players at Wednesday's practice spoke as if he was already ruled out. Erik Spoelstra called him "day-to-day," which has been his status for a couple weeks now.
BK: So what does that mean? They're like Tim Tebow without him. All they do is win. Or at least like pre-losing Tebow.
TH: This is a great point. Maybe we have to look into this a little more, because LeBron made some Tebow comments before the game that Wade got hurt in ... Conspiracy! Wade being out means that LeBron James and Chris Bosh get to go back to their Cleveland and Toronto days, respectively. You saw the free-wheeling attitude Tuesday against the Spurs.
But I should add -- 4-0 does NOT mean that they're better without Wade. Bosh and LeBron are better without Wade, but the Heat are not better. Need to put this meme to bed.
Andy Kamenetzky: Kinda like the meme people throw out whenever the Lakers happen to win a game without Kobe. Having said that, how much confusion still lingers between LeBron and Wade in terms of co-existence?
TH: They're worlds better than they were Jan. 19, 2011, but they still have a way to go. I'm still clamoring for more Wade/LeBron pick-and-rolls, but something tells me Spoelstra is keeping that trick up his sleeve for the playoffs. But I think it's no secret that they need to create more actions where each of the Big Three are moving together, not just LeBron and Wade.
Of course, it makes it tough when Wade is in street clothes with a canary-yellow diamond in his ear weighing him down.
Between Drew's steady improvement, Mike Brown's stated plans to replicate the Duncan/Robinson Spurs and Kobe Bryant's regular reminders of the order in which teammates "eat," consternation over how the post-triangle offense is a given. And not without valid reasons. The division of touches between seven footers and one of the all-time great scorers has been a dicey topic for years. The Mamba is admittedly dead set on "shutting up those MF's saying I'm done," and he led the league in usage rate last season as it is. In the meantime, Bynum isn't afraid to speak up when he thinks the game isn't played inside-out enough. A full blown "Kobe-Shaq II" is probably a long shot, but tension between the shooting guard and the center isn't out of the question.
Is there room on the Lakers for Andrew Bynum to stake his claim?
This is plainly obvious in the way Drew relished his role -- and recognition -- as last year's unofficial defensive captain over a 17-1 stretch when the Lakers looked unbeatable. In the way he's become a more vocal presence with the media, typically offering the least sugarcoated opinions. In the way he's now less willing to be seen as the kid among veterans.
Bottom line, Bynum wants more on his plate, along with a bigger stake in the Lakers' success moving forward.
In theory, this is exactly what you'd want from a highly skilled youngster theoretically tabbed as the next franchise player. In reality, it's not so simple.
But eventually, I also had a flashback to standing in the TD Garden visitor's locker room, watching various members of the 2008 Lakers talk about getting their asses handed to them in humiliating fashion.
And the title they won the following season.
And how similar the Lakers' and Heat's situations are.
Before the back-to-back titles, Kobe and the Lakers absorbed the blows and ridicule.
Obviously, these aren't identical back stories. The Lakers, despite being considered (if memory serves) the consensus favorite in the Finals, nonetheless were riding an unexpected wave of greatness. The season began with Kobe Bryant wanting out and the franchise's future cloudier than a typical Seattle morning.
Yes, Andrew Bynum's shocking improvement, then the trade for Pau Gasol, transformed the 2007 seven-seeds into legitimate title contenders, but that's also no substitute for an entire season spent preparing for a Finals appearance. Not to mention, adversity conquered along the way. As Derek Fisher put it, the Lakers kind of "waltzed (their) way" to the NBA Finals before getting blindsided by the buzz saw that was Boston. Bynum available and Trevor Ariza fully functional perhaps would have offset that callowness. But at the end of the day, it was painfully obvious Boston had been the team spending every minute from training camp to their Game 6 blow out mentally readying for the moment they raised the O'Brien.