No peaceful transition for Lakers
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It's hard to remember now, after everything that has happened in the past 72 hours, that not long ago there was talk in these parts of a peaceful transition from the Phil Jackson era. Or hope of that, anyway.
Before heading home for a long summer, all the players said that hunger and focus were what this team needed after being swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks in May.
Time and rest would heal their injuries and rekindle their chemistry. Nothing major needed to change. Only passionate fans, sports talk radio hosts and Magic Johnson would suggest otherwise.
For a long while, it seemed that Los Angeles Lakers management was comfortable regrouping and trying again with a group similar to the one that had won championships in 2009 and 2010.
Now, nothing is comfortable anymore.
Whether it's reckless or genius, the Lakers are making major changes.
There will be no second chances for this group. Forget about a peaceful transition from Jackson to new coach Mike Brown. The Lakers are swinging wildly and furiously right now. Anyone who doesn't like it can ask for a trade, too.
The moves the Lakers weren't allowed to make were just as staggering as the move they agreed to late Saturday night, trading versatile forward Lamar Odom to the Mavericks for a future first-round draft pick and an $8.9 million trade exception.
That's right, a future first-round pick and a trade exception.
"Draft picks and a trade exception? Wow. That's crazy," Lakers center Andrew Bynum said Sunday morning. "It definitely breaks our team up. It's going to be a different rotation. It's kinda crazy, I think actually."
There has been an assumption that the Odom trade was a precursor to a larger move. Say, for Orlando center Dwight Howard. But it's dangerous to assume too much these days.
"I would assume that the trade is not being made just for exercise purposes," Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher said. "But maybe I'm wrong in assuming.
"Maybe it's just something the team feels is better in the short or long term. Those are decisions that we have absolutely nothing to do with, but it doesn't mean we have to agree with them."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was in no mood to provide any clarity on his thinking to anyone other than Kobe Bryant, with whom he met for about 15 minutes after Bryant criticized the Odom trade to reporters.
I caught Kupchak's eye briefly as he stood stiffly in his second-floor office, looking out at the court from behind a Plexiglas window. His arms were crossed, and his jaw was set firmly. There was no humor in the room.
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When I motioned to him that he should come down and say hello, he did not smile. "No way," he mouthed from behind the window.
Although Kupchak's silence might be frustrating for players and fans wondering what has happened to a team that has been so successful the past four seasons, and why it is happening this way, he really didn't need to say anything.
His actions over the course of the past week have said everything. Whether he is acting alone or at the command of Lakers owner Jerry Buss or his son Jim Buss, the team's vice president of player personnel, is unclear. But the Lakers are clearly doing a full reboot on this team. No one outside of Bryant is beyond reproach.
"The identity of our team will have to change in terms of how we go about doing things," Bryant said glumly. "You have to search for it and find what that is."
What's not clear yet is whether the Lakers' management knows what the future will look like -- whether there is a brilliant master plan to all of this, or just wishful thinking.
The failed trade for New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul suggested that there was a playbook hidden somewhere safe. So did the Odom trade. But suggestion is a fairly large leap from reality. Players and fans can only have faith that the same men who have constructed championship-caliber teams here in the past can do so again now.
Championship organizations do things like this. They change fast and furiously before anyone is comfortable with it. They almost always catch you off guard.
It's sometimes hard to watch. It is always hard to live through, especially for the players and coaches involved.
"That comes with the territory when you're a Laker," said Fisher, who has been around here long enough to know. "If you don't win, there's going to be a look into making changes.
"You respect that about teams. Teams have a job to always be as competitive as possible and try to win. It's just the way the teams handle the situation, it sometimes makes it a little bit more difficult to stomach."Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.
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