The Lakers are the best team in the NBA. This is not merely a homer opinion. They just went 6-0 on a six-game road trip in which they lost their star center, Andrew Bynum, in the second game. They finished the trip beating the two best teams in the East, Boston and Cleveland. In Cleveland they ended the Cavaliers' 23-game winning streak at home.
Four years ago the Lakers were Kobe Bryant and the other guys. Beating them was easy: stop Kobe and make "the other guys" beat you. This strategy no longer works. In the Cleveland game on Sunday Kobe had the flu, requiring an IV during halftime; Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and the rest stepped up their game. Their defense kept the great LeBron James on the perimeter most of the game.
A lot of times when teams attempt to "rebuild," they fail. "Rebuilding" is often just a euphemism for lousy. Look at the Clippers; they have been rebuilding for decades. Look at the Dodgers in the 1990's. The Mavericks were perennial basement dwellers until Mark Cuban bought them.
It has been amazing watching the Lakers rebuild after the departure of Shaquille O'Neal and do everything right. Or if they got something wrong at first, such as acquiring Smush Parker, they corrected their mistake fast enough. They drafted Andrew Bynum out of high school and got Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to mentor him. It has been a joy watching him develop, and maybe he will join the great Lakers tradition of centers that stretches back to George Mikan. They resigned point guard Derek Fisher, who brings leadership and experience to a young team. They traded Brian Cook and Mo Evans for Trevor Ariza, who has been brilliant; I've never seen a player steal the ball as well as Ariza. They traded Kwame Brown and others for Pau Gasol, a 7-foot power forward who scores and passes and fits perfectly in the triangle offense. (If you just look at the players involved, the trade does not make sense. The Lakers gave Memphis salary cap relief, which is what they wanted most.) You have to give General Manager Mitch Kupchak credit.
In the last week the Lakers traded away Vladimir Radmanovic to the Charlotte Bobcasts for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown. I don't know if those two players will help LA, but like most fans, I'm not mourning the loss of Vlade. The "Space Cadet," as Phil Jackson called him, was a serious problem. He broke his contract last year and went snowboarding and hurt his shoulder, which is a stupid mistake. Then he lied about it, which is inexcusable. The Lakers fined him $500,000, but they should have voided his contract and waved good-bye. Dr. Buss was being kind by just fining the Space Cadet.
Kevin Ding writes,
In his final Lakers practice on Friday, Radmanovic didn’t wear basketball shoes. He wore Vans – the low-top, slip-on kind of sneakers favored by skateboarders and, yes, snowboarders.
Or not seriously … because what undermined Radmanovic, 28, in every attempt to make his mark as a Laker was a lack of seriousness about his profession.
Worst of all, the Serb could not defend Paul Pierce in the finals last year. If nothing else, you can think of the trade as an "adjustment," as the Lakers look to the playoffs in '09.
Now the 41-9 Lakers have many scoring options, a hustling defense and one of the best benches in the league. And they have Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players of all time, a guy who can make something happen all by himself in crunch time.
Plus they have Phil Jackson's Jedi mind tricks, which seem to freak out the opponents. When Jackson said over the weekend that LeBron James "gets away with murder," he was playing tricks that he learned from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sure enough, the Lakers held James to 16 points; he did not get away with murder.