Thursday, December 22, 2011
Updated: December 23, 12:25 PM ET
Lakers' top moments of 2011
By Dave McMenamin
We asked our writers to rank their top stories of 2011, moments that defined the teams they cover and affected the fans who follow those teams. Here, Dave McMenamin makes his picks for the Los Angeles Lakers. Vote on your favorite moments in the poll at right or add your own in the comments.
5. Kobe Bryant moves up the all-time scoring list
It was an accomplishment that was hard to appreciate in the moment, considering the 2010-11 Lakers season was all about the quest for a three-peat championship, but Bryant continued to make history. He shot up the NBA's all-time scoring list, passing John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone -- to move from No. 12 to No. 6 overall. Bryant averaged 25.3 points per game -- his seventh straight season eclipsing the 25-points-per-game mark -- and played in all 82 games despite his bothersome right knee. Bryant's ascension was punctuated by the fact that Shaquille O'Neal retired at the end of last season in fifth place on the all-time scoring list. If Bryant stays healthy, he should pass Shaq sometime around the midway point of the 2011-12 season.
4. Lakers go 17-1 out of the All-Star break
People were starting to write off the Lakers by the All-Star break, as the team stumbled into intermission having lost three games in a row capped by a loss to Cleveland, a team the Lakers had beaten by 55 points earlier in the season. The Lakers did it with defense as assistant coach Chuck Person worked with Phil Jackson to revamp their system to center around Andrew Bynum staying in the lane and protecting the rim. L.A. reeled off winning streaks of eight and nine games, interrupted by a loss in Miami in the middle. Still, 10 of the 17 wins came against teams that would go on to make the playoffs -- including an overtime win in Portland, a win in Oklahoma City against the youthful Thunder, a win in San Antonio against the No. 1 Spurs and two wins against the Mavericks.
3. Lakers lose by 36 points in Game 4 of a sweep by the Dallas Mavericks
The three-peat dream died on a Sunday afternoon in May against the Mavs. Somehow throughout Dallas' resurgence and the Lakers' dominance during the past decade, the two teams had avoided one another in the playoffs. Lakers fans wish it would have stayed that way, as L.A. ran into a buzz saw and was thoroughly outplayed by the eventual-champion Mavericks. From blowing a 16-point, second-half lead in Game 1 to not executing down the stretch in Game 3 with a chance to claw back into the series right in front of them, the Lakers just did not have what it takes. Following the sweep, Lakers legend Magic Johnson said management should "blow up" the team.
2. Phil Jackson retires; Mike Brown is hired
The most successful coach in professional basketball history retired in May, as he said he would at the start of the season. Jackson's last-stand season left the Hall of Fame coach with a bad taste in his mouth; he couldn't add one more ring to his collection of 11 to achieve a nice, round number as he had hoped. The Lakers' coaching search was swift and surprising. Instead of going with the internal candidate, Brian Shaw, or the experienced candidate in Rick Adelman, the team went in a totally new direction from the 65-year-old Jackson and hired the 41-year-old Mike Brown. It was a dramatic regime shift, as the Lakers parted ways with many employees with ties to Jackson and laid off a handful of staffers during the lockout and never invited them back when the work stoppage was resolved.
In a move that Bryant described as an attempt by the Lakers to acquire "another player that can carry them on well after I retire," L.A. pieced together a three-team trade that would have sent Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to New Orleans for point guard Chris Paul, and then Gasol would have been flipped to Houston for other pieces. After the deal was agreed upon, commissioner David Stern swooped in to veto the trade, acting on behalf of the Hornets, who currently are owned by the league. The long-term damage cannot be measured yet, but the immediate fallout has been jarring for the Lakers, as Odom requested a trade after hearing his name dangled in the talks. The Lakers sent Odom to Dallas for a trade exception and a future first-round pick, a move that has yet to fully flower as L.A. has not made any subsequent deals. Meanwhile, Paul landed in L.A. after all, only as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. Time will tell just how much the professional basketball landscape of L.A. was changed by one nixed deal.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.