2011-12 Lakers overachieved
In the next 48 hours, there will be many columns written about the future of the Lakers.
Stories about how they need to blow up the team, how they are too old; columns about Mike Brown's job status, Kobe Bryant's shot selection, and whether Pau Gasol and/or Andrew Bynum -- who went a combined 2-for-11 and scored seven points in the second half of the elimination game Monday against the Thunder -- are any longer the answer. Some will call for Jim Buss' head, while others will call for Phil Jackson's return.
Every column will be based on fact. Yet not one will come to this logical conclusion.
Truth: The Lakers overachieved this season. They did better than any of us should have expected, better than they did last year. Think about it: In the 2011 conference semifinals against Dallas, they were swept. This year, they went out in five games. See, better.
Once everything is taken into consideration, no one -- including other writers who will write "What Now?" columns about them -- can sit up here and write that the Lakers' season should have turned out any differently.
They lost the greatest coach of all time in Phil Jackson. They lost longtime assistant coach and heir apparent Brian Shaw. They lost the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in Lamar Odom. They lost (albeit at the trading deadline) the point guard who led them to five championships when they traded Derek Fisher. They lost his primary backup when they lost Shannon Brown to the Phoenix Suns. They lost Ron Artest.
Still, they didn't fold or implode. Technically and objectively, this season for the Lakers should be considered a triumph.
But we all know it won't be. It's the Lakers. The NBA's royalty, the organization that every season, regardless of the roster, is supposed to contend for a title. Even when everything -- and every team -- around them suggests that they won't.
So what now? What is this franchise supposed to do now that Year 1 of the post-Zen movement is officially over? Accept that OKC is just better and will continue to be better for the next decade? Acknowledge that San Antonio has the same age issue but has done a better job of building a team that can mask the problem? Or admit that the torch L.A. once owned was not passed to another generation of players, it was snatched?
No. If the Lakers want back in to the future, they must have their own version of an intervention this summer and admit the following:
1. Ramon Sessions was supposed to be the difference and wasn't. Russell Westbrook had video-game stat lines against the Lakers. So did Ty Lawson in the series before. Sessions was supposed to replace what the Lakers felt was their weakest link and Achilles' heel against Western Conference teams that had younger, faster, stronger but not necessarily smarter point guards. The Lakers would have been better off with Fisher.
2. Mike Brown was supposed to make a difference but didn't. All flaws aside, Brown didn't stand a chance once he didn't have a legitimate preseason to (a) get his philosophy in place, (b) get his coaching system in place, and (c) get Kobe on his side. The Lakers might be better off with someone else.
3. Bynum and Gasol were supposed to become the difference but passively wouldn't. (Read again: Yes that says "wouldn't," not "couldn't.")
4. Not getting Chris Paul killed everything.
Some will call it payback. They will say that the Lakers brought this on themselves by the way the organization handled everything from expecting Jackson to take a pay cut after he won the franchise its 16th championship to apparently not having the dignity to tell Fisher before or during the process that he was being traded. They will also say this is what the Lakers get for passing over and treating Shaw the way they did and not honestly considering him for the head-coaching job.
Some will simply say this is what happens when a great sports business begins to hold on to what it once was instead of realizing what it has become. Any number of those postmortem columns will anticipate a further slide next season. But the 2012-13 Lakers need not be yet another group of overachievers.
Re-sign Lamar Odom. Give up on Bynum. See if the new GM in Orlando wants anyone but Bryant and Jordan Hill in return for Dwight Howard. Convince commissioner David Stern that he owes them for vetoing the CP3 deal. Find a way to get Brandon Jennings back home and in a Lakers uniform. Release and replace Mike Brown. Tell Metta World Peace they want Ron Artest back.
If Buss and company can truthfully look at this season, the Lakers can be better than a team that goes one win deep into the second round.