Commentary

Lakers' crossroads has potholes

Two devastating losses has the team and fans evaluating everything

Updated: March 11, 2012, 4:20 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minneapolis Armory sits on a plot of land in downtown Minneapolis that probably should have been redeveloped years ago. Once the home of the Minneapolis Lakers, the graceful old building is now miscast as a parking lot. Yet it endures because the people here aren't quite ready to let it go, this history of theirs.

A few blocks away, the present-day incarnation of the Lakers continues to wrestle with a similar issue. In town to face the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center on Friday night, the Los Angeles Lakers have arrived at something of an organizational crossroads.

This transition from legendary coach Phil Jackson to Mike Brown isn't exactly going smoothly at the moment. Not that it was ever going to. But after Wednesday night's inexplicable 106-101 loss to the lowly Washington Wizards, the obvious friction in the Lakers' locker room boiled over in a way that will force everyone involved to confront and work on the situation or run from it completely and try to avoid getting caught up in the fallout.

Wizards Win
AP Photo/Jacquelyn MartinThe Lakers set out on this road trip with high hopes. So far they've lost to the lowly Pistons and Wizards and face the Timberwolves tonight.
It would be far too dramatic to say that the Lakers are staging a mutiny against Brown. No, this is more of a crisis of confidence.

Confidence that the situation can be rectified in a time frame when the Lakers still can contend for a championship. Confidence that Brown has the ingenuity to fix things under any time frame. And wondering whether general manager Mitch Kupchak and ownership will simply blow it all up at the trade deadline on March 15 before answers can be had.

All of which leaves the Lakers as an organization stuck somewhere between now and then. In an uncomfortable present with an unsettled future, and pining for a past that looks rosier by the day.

There is no obvious play for either side here. Brown risks looking weak by catering to the concerns and criticisms set forth by his players. But he also risks losing those players for good if he does not repair what is clearly going wrong.

The players risk wasting this season if they cannot find a way to work with Brown.

All of these issues have been simmering for a while now. Wednesday night was simply the latest moment when it boiled over.

There was a time, not so long ago, when both sides believed it could be handled quietly. After a rough beginning, in recent weeks Brown had shown a willingness to adapt and adjust to his players' feedback and maybe even trust in them.

"We're experienced players out there," Pau Gasol explained Tuesday morning before the Lakers' loss in Detroit, which started this latest crisis. "We've played this game for a while, we've been successful. And we know what works, too. Obviously coaching and guiding us that process is important, but to loosen those reins a little bit helps our team."

When I asked whether Brown had come to that conclusion on his own or been coaxed there through conversations with team leaders, Gasol said: "I think a little of both. We talked about it during practices and games and stuff like that. It's working out so far."

But in the end, the issue was larger than that. It might not even be about how tightly or loosely Brown is gripping the reins.

Phil Jackson hadn't just coached the Lakers; he'd molded them. As basketball players and as men, into a family as much as a team.

Jackson had built something beautiful in his second stint with the Lakers.

But like the graceful old armory building in Minneapolis, the team that used to play there doesn't exist anymore.

It's time to figure out what to do with the place.

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