Much praise has been heaped on the Lakers the last three games and it’s well deserved. Almost every player that’s been available to play against the Blazers, Spurs, and Jazz has raised his game and it’s led to quality wins over teams that are serious foes.
The credit starts with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Simply put, these two players have shown why they are two of the best players, not only on this team, but in the league. For Gasol, that praise is a given – he’s a super talented player that has every needed skill on offense and is an underrated defender. I mean, have you seen his block totals from the last two games? Not to mention all the shots he’s contested and altered. For Odom, this praise may seem far fetched until you really examine his marvelous skill set and see all the different ways he can affect a game. His ability to handle the ball and initiate the offense while also being a tremendous rebounder and defender are an amalgamation of basketball talent that any coach would love have on his roster. Said another way, when your power forward and center can dribble like guards, move around the court like wing players, and play in the paint like big men, you’ve really got something. But these players are not without their faults and at times those seem to be the traits that fans would rather focus on. Both players are not overly physical and can be pushed around by more physically imposing players. Both players have had their moments when they have not ‘shown up’ for games and left us wanting more from them. Both players fade in and out of the ‘attack mode’ that has made so many other of our basketball heroes the unforgettable legends that we’d like every current star to emulate. But, I think we need to ask ourselves, what really matters more – the good or the bad?
This same type of examination can be made for several of our other players too. I mean, I’ve been a person that has been hard on Jordan Farmar over the years. To me, he’s shown too much hard headedness and an unwillingness in fitting his game into our offense. For someone with so much physical talent, he’s played uninspired defense for long stretches that have hurt his team. But, he’s also an explosive player with an athleticism that brings an added dimension to this team. He’s an outstanding attack guard that can get into the lane and finish in the paint while also showing a capable enough jumpshot that either keeps defenses guarding him closely or makes them pay if they don’t. You add to that better defense of late and a knack for making some big shots and I’m becoming a believer on Farmar. Against the Jazz last night, the Lakers lead had gone from 19 to 12 as the Jazz were making their push in the 4th quarter. On the next possession, Farmar makes a three pointer from the extended wing that pushes the lead back to 15 – even the Jazz announcers were calling this a dagger – ultimately ending any chance at a Jazz comeback. Farmar is helping this team and as a fan I’m learning that appreciating him for what he is will make me enjoy this season even more. Similar recognition could be given to Sasha for persevering through some very rough patches over the past two seasons to now playing well in limited minutes in recent weeks. Really, every player fits into this mold – no one is perfect. But too often, as fans we choose to either highlight one extreme or the other. Does it really have to be that way?
If you take this same approach to the macro level we can examine this team as a whole and see the same mentality currently taking hold. Kobe and Bynum have (essentially, for Bynum at least) missed the last three games and in their absences the team has performed very well. Better than expected, even. But, does this mean that Kobe and Bynum aren’t important to the success of this team? Of course not. It may mean that roles need to be redefined and that playing styles need to be adjusted or re-examined in order to get this team to reach its full potential, but it doesn’t mean that either one of these players is any less valuable than what they’ve proven to be this season. A season where Kobe has hit miraculous game winners or Bynum has come up big and helped lead us to victory. But, too many have seen the recent success and still want to assign blame. “Why can’t the team play like this all the time? It must be (insert either Bynum or Kobe)’s fault.” Really? Why can’t the credit be given to those that play with no blame assigned for what is gone and in the past?
My point in all of this is to appreciate what you have as a fan of this team. With two fifths of our starting five missing this team has won some hard fought games with a level of teamwork and determination on both ends of the floor that should be applauded. But, with the complete starting five, this same team had earned a first place position in the Western Conference and was tight on the heels of the Cavs for the best record in the entire NBA. We Laker fans are spoiled at times – we have great players, an all time coach, and a franchise history that is one of the most celebrated in all of professional sports. But too often we take that for granted and want even more. We want perfection and rarely is that possible. Over the past two seasons we at Forum Blue and Gold have talked about enjoying the journey. I make that plea once again. I will never tell anyone how to be a fan. We all have our own view on things and respond differently to what we see when we watch the games. But, as we go into the all-star break and prepare ourselves to root for this team down the home stretch and into the playoffs, I do ask that we forget for a moment what the team could be doing better and embrace what this team is doing well. Because whether you look at the last three games or this season on the whole, they deserve that from us.