The Waiting Game

Kurt —  February 17, 2006

One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.
—Chinese proverb

Losses like the one to Atlanta remind Laker fans it’s a long way from here (a .500 basketball team) to there (back in the NBA finals while Kobe is still in his prime). It’s not going to happen this year, and the path back is not clear. There is no yellow brick road to follow, no great and powerful wizard with the answers, no quick-fix trade where we could click our collective heals three times and be where we want to be.

The team’s recent inconsistent and maddening play, along with the impending trade deadline, means there’s a natural desire to say the Lakers need to do something — anything — to improve this team Or at least light a fire under them.

But if the Lakers are going to get back to their own personal Kansas of the NBA Finals, we are all going to have to be patient. Both fans and management.

My goal when evaluating a trade or free agent pickup is to try to think of the long-term picture. ”Does this get us closer to competing for a championship?” For the Lakers right now, that needs to be qualified with a time window — the Lakers likely have about five or six more years before Kobe’s skills start to fade (or at least the number of minutes he can play at that level night in and night out start to fade). They can win after that, but Kobe may not be able to carry as much of the load (ala Kareem with Magic).

But while the window isn’t big, we still need to be patient. Look at the Laker needs right now. Personally, I think the biggest needs have not changed much from last season: 1) a more dominant scoring and defensive presence at the four or five; 2) better, more consistent play at the point. (There are other needs, but those two stand out to me.)

In regard to a big man, who can the Lakers affordably get that will be better in three years than Andrew Bynum? Sure, we’re not sure how good Bynum really will be, particularly in terms of scoring, but the early indications are he should be at least solid. There is a shortage of big men in the league right now — the cost for them is at a premium, both in terms of salary and what you have to give up in a trade. The Lakers could have two solid ones already in house. In three years, Mihm will still be in just his eighth year in the league — Bynum and Mihm of them would make a tall and potentially intimidating front line.

But we’re going to have to be patient for that to come around. The same is true out top — Smush was a good find, but he is best suited to be a back up. However, solid point guards can be found, veterans at reasonable prices or kids in the draft. You just have to be patient and make sure the one you end up with fits the system. And plays defense.

The Lakers don’t have the trade pieces to make an immediate big move (assuming Phil has not given up on Odom to play the initiator — I haven’t, I think he’ll get it by next season), they don’t have the cap space to get a big price free agent. But they will have some flexibility in a few years.

Being patient sucks. I know. But rash trades and not being patient or following a consistent rebuilding plan is how you end up like the Knicks. It’s going to take some shrewd moves to get the Lakers back, and I’m not sure any of us are completely convinced the current Laker front office is clever or creative enough to do it.

But there are no quick fixes, no ruby red slippers filled with the one player who will change everything for this team. As frustrating as it can be, the best move right now may be no move.