Monday, July 8, 2013

The Storm Is Coming...

It was all good just a week ago... Dwight Howard with Jim Buss when he joined the team last summer

How long has it been? Really think about it. How long has it been since the Los Angeles Lakers have truly looked lost? As in, there is no real, clear vision of what the future holds for the team. Now, I'm always a "glass half-full" guy when it comes to my Lakers because I was so in denial last season that I wrote this. And this. Being only 26 years old, I’ve only really known the Lakers one way: winners. I "kinda" remember the early 90’s Lakers teams middling their way through seasons right before and after Magic Johnson retired. (LA even managed to get to the NBA Finals in 1991 acting as a "sacrificial lamb" for Michael Jordan as he started his road to becoming the greatest player of all time. It's the reason why my first memories of Mike aren’t too fond.)

At least back then the team had nice young and exciting pieces like Nick Van Exel, Cedric Ceballos and Eddie Jones. (Right now, the team is a basic who's who of old overpaid All-Stars and second rounders that should be on the bench... in the D-League!) Even with the young talent those teams had, it was the trust in the front office that truly comforted Lakers fans. We had the best front office. We had the Lakers front office and the trust in them to make all the right basketball decisions. Dr. Jerry Buss and Jerry West had proven over the years that they could make all the right moves to make the team championship contenders again and again. It wasn’t long after those middle of the road seasons that LA acquired Shaquille O’Neal in free agency and made a draft day trade for a high schooler named Kobe Bryant. They were smart enough not to waste their (Kobe and Shaq’s that is) talents with the wrong coach, so they quickly hired Phil Jackson and the rest is history. Hell, they were even smart enough to hire Phil again after his second retirement, but if you’re wondering what happened the third time around I can tell you that it’s all about the new ownership.

Glory days of Shaq and Kobe.
Once Dr. Buss stepped away from the day-to-day operation of the Lakers, things seem to have gotten worse and worse each season. Lately, the basketball decisions in LA are about as smart as they would be if you were having Stevie Wonder fix a Japanese car from the future. It’s just a job you need sight for and Jim Buss doesn’t have the sight to run a basketball team. If he did, the following three things would have never happened.
I still don't know why Phil isn't back yet.
One, he would have rehired the greatest coach in the history of the sport when he was asking to come back. That’s like being a movie producer and having Martin Scorsese interested in taking over your picture, but you decide to hire M. Night Shyamalan instead. The two best players on the team (One that had one you five titles (Kobe) and one (Dwight) that was an impending free agent no less.) wanted you to hire Phil Jackson. The fans wanted you to hire Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson wanted you to hire Phil Jackson! It seemed like the Lakers were headed for a breakaway slam-dunk to "win the game" when they quickly fired Mike Brown but they instead pulled up for a half-court Hail Mary three pointer… at the opposite basket… when they hired Mike D’Antoni over Jackson. Buss let his ego get in the way of making the correct basketball decision.  (But hey, if the one dude I was “suppose” to hire was treated like a son by my father and I'm talking treated like a “the son I wish I had” son and if same said dude was boning my sister, I’d be little anxious about hiring dude too. Talk about awkward Thanksgivings.)

Two, “Lil” Buss should have traded Dwight Howard on the trade deadline. This is the new NBA, so if a superstar player doesn’t want to sign an extension and wants to hit the market then trade them ASAP. (Cut to: Cleveland fans kicking the screen.) The money you can get paid is set in stone. The days of "playing the field" so you can "drive up" the price are over. (At least for the “max level” guys. The lower and middle of the road guys can still get teams to bid and overpay them. Cut to: Gerald Wallace laughing and counting money.) The team that you’re heading into free agency with always has an edge nowadays because they can pay you more than any team you’d look to go to. So, with that in mind, why EVER let Dwight hit free agency?

Three, he should have never let this happen:

Yeah, I saw that yesterday morning on my way to breakfast. (Needless to say it ruined my whole morning.) LA didn’t put up “Stay KB8” banners when Kobe Bryant was a free agent. And if they did, he had at least won titles in LA for God’s sake. They didn’t do it with Shaq and he was coming off one of his best seasons and NOT back surgery. Dwight Howard had one “okay” season and he gets a billboard all over the building and all throughout the city?! Dwight Howard?! The Lakers don’t beg players to come here. Players want to be Lakers. Players want to play in LA. But with the flux in front office leadership, players aren’t so hot on LA anymore. And that’s the problem.

Unlike most Lakers fans, I’m not mad at Dwight Howard. Shocking, I know. You see, I think he actually made the right basketball decision and I’m a total supporter of players making the best decision for themselves. I’m mad at the Lakers for not doing with Dwight what Orlando had the good sense to do; trade him. Grant it, you were never going to get equal value back, because much like the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, Howard is the “king” of the big men in the new small ball NBA. I’m also not one of those fans that’s going to say, “dude can’t ball". Howard did comeback way sooner from surgery than he was suppose to and even with a bad back and nagging shoulder issue he still managed to lead the league in rebounds. I lived in Orlando for 3 years and I know firsthand what he can do when he's focused, happy and healthy. (Before you get upset and say "I would've rather had Andrew Bynum", google what Philly got out of him this season…. I’ll wait… oh yeah that’s right, HE NEVER PLAYED!)

Look, even with Howard LA barely made the playoffs and much of the heavy lifting was done by Kobe before he was ran into the ground by D’Antoni, injured. Without Kobe, and with Dwight still being misused under D’Antoni, who’s to say LA wouldn’t have been even worse off. To play devil's advocate farther, you could make a real argument that, A) Howard peaked 3 or 4 seasons ago, B) he would never be able to handle the pressure of playing for a team with yearly title or bust expectations and C) he could possibly never recover that athleticism that made him such a dominant force. (Although that is the only reason I wanted him back. To see how he performs with a full off season’s rest and recovery from his surgery.)  So if you’re a fan of the team, relax but get ready. Must you forget the Lakers won titles BEFORE Howard, they won a title OVER Howard and they WILL win again. LA has a long list of problems and trust me, I get pretty far down that list before I get to “Dwight Howard”. The question isn't if LA will win again it's “when” but that could be a long time from now. With that said, Laker Nation I leave you with these immortal words from Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.

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