Let me just say, as the guy behind the Laker blog Forum Blue and Gold, I think Knicks fans everywhere are going to enjoy watching the Lakers tonight. Well, at least enjoy watching your team beat the Lakers. Fans from all over the country are enjoying giving the Lakers a swift kick as they fall from the NBA Finals to wondering who to send to Secaucus in May.
And I don?t blame them, or you. It?s human nature turn on teams that have been on top for a while, especially ones that come off as arrogant. Unless, of course, that?s your team. Which has made this season hard for us in Los Angeles. We?ve been the playoffs 11 straight years and have only missed the post season three times since the franchise moved out a state where the name Lakers makes sense. We?re as confused as the plot of Mulholland Drive. There?s been much wailing and gnashing of teeth (with talk radio and the newspapers leading the way), and with that has come few answers but plenty of speculation and misplaced blame, both in LA and nationwide.
I want to try to straighten some of that out before you watch the game tonight. Allow me to dispel four myths about the Lakers fall from grace.
Myth #1) This is all Kobe?s fault. Despite the current mantra among NBA talking heads and newspaper columnists, Kobe was not the sole architect of what has happened to the Lakers. Shaq is not wearing a white hat in the breakup of the Lakers and Kobe?s isn?t black. If this season?s Shaq ? the one that is 40 pounds thinner, playing through pain, and being generous with the ball and the praise ? put on a uniform in Los Angeles the last couple of years they?d have at least one more title and his relationship with Kobe would have been better. Skip Bayless and his ESPN cohorts don?t bring that up. Same with the fact Shaq turned down a three years for $75 million extension from the Lakers (let?s see what he gets after this season). Everyone?s hat ? Shaq?s, Kobe?s, Jerry Buss? ? is gray.
And by the way, when you hear people say Kobe asked for this, ask yourself if he asked for an unbalanced roster, a roster full of guys who can?t or won?t play defense, and a coach to up and quit halfway through the season.
Myth #2) Los Angeles doesn?t know how to throw a good lottery party. Sure we do. Donald Sterling throws one every year that is supposed to be quite the shindig with great food (try the shrimp puffs) and a hosted bar ? and he can afford it with all the profit he rakes in from his team. Hopefully Buss hires the same caterers.
Myth #3) The problem is the offense. Chucky Atkins complained to the local media last couple of days about two things: Who is running the team (see Myth #1) and the offense. That second complaint makes him the latest in a long and storied line of point guards to complain about the triangle (if you didn?t know this already, when Rudy T. left his ?penetrate and kick out for the three-ball? offense went with him, the triangle came back with interim coach Frank Hamblin). The thing is, just a click away on the Knickerblogger?s stat page, it shows that the Lakers are eighth in the league in offensive efficiency at 104.6 (points per 100 possessions). Even during the decent into basketball hell the last 11 games, their offensive efficiency is 104.7.
But, click over to the defensive side of the stat ledger and you see the Lakers defensive efficiency is 28th in the league at 106.4. In the last 10 games it is 112.3. That has been the Lakers biggest problem all season ? and Mr. Atkins is right in the middle of that. According to 82games.com, his opponents? PER is 18.5 this season. You?ll see that for yourself Tuesday when you watch Marbury blow past Atkins all night long. Most defensive trips Hamblen could sub Atkins out for an orange traffic cone and get the same result.
Myth #4) This team is nowhere near good and will be down for years to come. What?s been hardest about watching the Lakers this season is you see flashes of potential. When Kobe and Lamar worked the two-man game together, they were dangerous. Chris Mihm may still be inconsistent, but he can be a solid center for years to come. Jumaine Jones has been a solid guy off the bench and Chucky Atkins can be (he?s just not a starter). We still have the best two guard and one of the five best players in the league right now.
This Laker team has four glaring problems: 1) No coach and, with that, no steady offensive or team philosophy; 2) Poor perimeter defense, particularly at the point, and ugly defensive rotations; 3) No real inside presence to help Mihm, who isn?t good enough to do it all on his own; 4) Brian Grant?s bloated contract. The first one of those will be fixed this off-season ? Jerry Buss is going to get a good coach that Kobe will have to respect. The second also will fall to the coach but he will need some new players as well. Same as the third one, which can be fixed by some smart moves for affordable players this off-season ? we?ll see if Mitch Kupchak learned anything at the right hand of Jerry West all those years. The fourth one comes off the books after the 2007 season (I?m not sure Kupchak can unload that kind of contract before then, unless he gives Isaiah Thomas a call).
So enjoy the game and feel free to take pleasure in the Lakers? fall from grace. We won?t hold it against you. Just don’t expect to be kicking us around for years to come.