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Monday, May 9, 2011
Lakers must make serious changes

By Stephen A. Smith

DALLAS -- The first 3-pointer arrived with 2:11 left in the first quarter. The next one arrived just 30 seconds later. And long before Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic had officially finished off the Lakers practically by themselves, annihilating them in a fashion that had Hall of Famer Magic Johnson struggling to contain his emotions on national television, the now-supplanted two-time defending champions added the ultimate insult to their own self-inflicted wounds by disgracing themselves, their owner and a championship coach who deserved so much better.

A new champion will be crowned next month, and for the moment, it is fitting. Call it justice. Because on this day, the Lakers are not just former champions, oozing pride and tradition as they fall. They regressed to an abomination, shaming any and all associated with them.

As egregious as it was for Lakers lovers everywhere to watch Terry drain nine 3s, for Stojakovic to drill another six, for the Mavs to hit 20 of 32 from beyond the arc to literally toss L.A. into the offseason with a 122-86 destruction in Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinals, all of that was just a small part of what made this the worst loss in Lakers franchise history.

Lamar Odom's cheap shot -- a body block and elbow to the head of Dirk Nowitzki -- qualified as a big part. And that was nothing compared to the 7-foot, 300-pound Andrew Bynum elbowing Mavs guard J.J. Barea -- all 5-foot-8, 170 pounds of him -- while he was in midair, soaring in for a layup.

Both were appropriately and immediately ejected. Fines and suspensions for next season are forthcoming.

Andrew Bynum's hit on J.J. Barrea was the low-point of a terrible Lakers performance.
"I was not happy about that," Lakers coach Phil Jackson would say later.

"There's no place for that in our game," Kobe Bryant added.

"That's not what we're about," Derek Fisher added. "It's never been who we are."

Unfortunately, beneath all the appropriate retorts to explain such stupidity, cowardice and unprofessionalism, there was still Bynum.

"No. I'm not disappointed in myself at all," he deadpanned. "It is what it is. We got embarrassed, so that's what happened."

Do we really need to hear anything else?

As if the Lakers needed additional reasons for wholesale changes, there's no excuse for hesitation now.

Bynum or "Mr. Softee" Pau Gasol must go. Odom should probably go with one of them. If general manager Mitch Kupchak is skilled enough to get someone to take Ron Artest and the $22 million he's scheduled to earn over the next three seasons, more power to him. And if he provides a miracle by getting someone to take the $57 million Gasol is owed over the next three years off the Lakers' books, give Kupchak a new contract.

The need for change has been obvious for months, as age, attrition, along with too much apathy, made this season far too difficult. Part of the reason Bynum needs to go is that he's owed $31 million over the next two years, so he's actually a hotter tradable commodity than Gasol right now. Plus, he has great upside, talent-wise.

The thing is, the Lakers can't win playing a slow, methodical game anymore. Nor can they rely on Bryant to be their greatest playmaker over 48 minutes.

Athleticism is needed. Shooters are needed. Youth is desperately needed. And if it comes from their bench, all the better.

Nobody was debating any of those realities before these playoffs and they won't now that these playoffs are over. The debate no one ever imagined having, however, was one involving the Lakers' character.

It was bad enough the Lakers took just a few minutes before quitting on the floor. Even that has happened in the past. But to quit in such a fashion where you try to hurt someone -- where it's clear that you preferred the cowardice route of being sent back to your locker room so you wouldn't have to stick around and participate in a beating you provoked -- is weak, and in no way indicative of this franchise's history. Even worse, it was incredibly selfish.

In an illustrious 20-year run that garnered 11 NBA championships for Jackson, he's never been associated with bush-league play. Yesterday -- supposedly his last day as a coach -- he was swept for the first and only time in his career in the midst of such nonsense.

This is what his Lakers provided as a final shining moment.

Phil Jackson
A 36-point loss is not the way Phil Jackson wanted to go out.

"I was a little embarrassed," said Odom, who, in fairness, did appear significantly more contrite than Bynum after the game. "They were already up 30 and … I didn't mean anything by it."

"I didn't like the way our players finished the game," said Jackson, reiterating his comments on Bynum and Odom. "It was unnecessary, but I know they were frustrated."

Jackson is being far too kind.

No qualifiers are allowed here. If Jackson wants to spend his last day doing so, he's earned the right, but the Lakers have to wield a heavy hand moving forward.

Clearly, everyone isn't built to handle the allure of L.A. for too long. Too many distractions and temptations lead to an unfocused team. They get old, undisciplined and slow -- all the things Dr. Jerry Buss said years ago he'd do everything to avoid.

Evidently, there's more to be done. Reasons abound for an immediate Lakers makeover, physically as well as psychologically.

He doesn't need to see that the Mavs shot 60 percent from the field or 62 percent from 3-point range, or that Dallas' bench scored as many points as the Lakers did yesterday.

Dr. Buss just needs to watch the tape of a proud Laker in Magic Johnson seething, disgraced beyond comprehension. Then he needs to do something the rest of us should do: just imagine what Phil Jackson was feeling.

Follow Stephen A. Smith on Twitter: @stephenasmith.