Lakers Countdown: At #10…

J.M. Poulard —  July 26, 2012

A few days ago, we unveiled our new project at FB&G, where we ranked the 11 best title teams in franchise history since the team relocated to Los Angeles. After looking at the 11th best team, we resume the countdown by presenting to you the team that clocked in at the 10th spot…

The 2008-09 Lakers

During the spring of 2007, Kobe Bryant famously went on the air with Stephen A. Smith and proclaimed his distaste for the Lakers organization and made the statement that he wished to be traded. The team tried to accommodate his request but given his immense talent as well as his salary, any team trading for the services of Kobe Bean would have to essentially gut their roster to acquire him.

Thus, the superstar guard started the season with the Lakers and performed to his usual standards as the team played well under the tutelage of Phil Jackson.

And then the things became interesting.

The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in a move that completely shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference. No longer were the Lakers a team contending for the playoffs; instead they had now become a legit championship contender.

The purple and gold finished the season with a 57-25 record and Kobe Bryant earned the 2007-08 MVP award.

Many fans hoped that the league’s most ancient rivalry would be revived with the Lakers and Celtics facing off in the Finals and they got their wish.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2008 NBA Finals as favorites to win the crown despite ceding home court advantage to the Boston Celtics. Indeed, the Lakers’ execution of the triangle offense coupled with the crisp interior passing of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol as well as the mere presence of Kobe Bryant was enough for most to think Los Angeles would prevail.

Instead, the team was defeated in six games as fans wondered aloud whether a healthy Andrew Bynum — he sat out the postseason due to injury – would helped have change the outcome. Boston was physical and played tougher than their opponents and thus one of the biggest takeaways from the 2008 championship series was that Pau Gasol and both Lamar Odom had been punked.

Gasol got the lion’s share of the blame and still to this day gets labeled as soft because of those six games against the Celtics.

As bad as the defeat was, former Lakers superstar Shaquille O’Neal made things worse by freestyling a week later at a club about Kobe’s inability to get things done without him.

It was said, the Lakers could not recapture the title without Shaq…

Instead of retooling the roster, Los Angeles stood pat and welcomed back Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum who had both missed the 2008 playoffs due to injury. Ariza gave the team athleticism and solid perimeter defense while Bynum gave the Lakers rebounding, shot blocking and scoring at the rim.

With Phil Jackson still leading the way, the Lakers essentially owned the 2008-09 regular season, going 65-17. The team’s record was impressive, but so was their performance at both ends of the court. Indeed, the 2008-09 Lakers finished the regular season third in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency.

A return trip to the NBA Finals seemed almost like a formality.

As the 2009 playoffs started, the Lakers easily dispatched the Utah Jazz in five games and set up a second round matchup against a gritty Houston Rockets team that was playing without an injured Tracy McGrady; who was still a good player at the time.

The teams split the first two games in Los Angeles, and then the Lakers regained home court advantage with a Game 3 victory; and benefitted from a fortuitous turn of events: Yao Ming broke his left foot.

With the Houston Rockets competing without their star center and their third leading scorer (McGrady), many assumed the Lakers would have a cakewalk to the Western Conference Finals; but that was not to be. Instead, the Rockets managed to win two more games and forced a Game 7 back at the Staples Center where the purple and gold prevailed.

The Lakers then dispatched Carmelo Anthony’s Denver Nuggets in six games in the Western Conference Finals despite the Nuggets’ rugged and bruising defenders that essentially pounded on both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

One year after faltering in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers made it back to the championship round and found the Orlando Magic waiting for them.

Kobe Bryant was his spectacular self in the 2009 NBA Finals and played brilliantly. But one player truly in need of redemption was Pau Gasol, given the events that transpired in the previous spring.

Those that questioned the Spaniard’s toughness at the time were forced to eat up their words as the big man played like a stud against the Magic. Indeed, Gasol controlled the paint defensively, guarded Dwight Howard and scored on the block when called upon. By the time the series was over, Pau had averaged 18.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game and 1.8 blocks per game on 60 percent field goal shooting in the title round and even unleashed a lethal scowl on Mickael Pietrus for fouling him excessively hard from behind on a dunk.

Between Gasol’s play, Kobe’s scoring, Bynum’s defense, Odom’s passing and the timely shooting of Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza; the Orlando Magic never really stood a chance, falling in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

This Lakers team proved to be a great champion during their postseason run, sporting a 16-7 record and a plus-7.2 average scoring margin.

In addition, this team will be remembered as perhaps the most important one to Kobe Bryant’s legacy given his ability to finally get over the hump and lead the franchise back to the mountaintop without the help of a certain Hall of Fame center that left Hollywood five years prior.

Mind you, as great as this team was, it gets lost a little in the rich history of the franchise because of their opponents. Through no fault of their own, the Lakers dispatched a host of teams that no one will truly remember and struggled to take out a Houston Rockets team that was missing its two best players for most of the series.

Oddly enough, when looking at health, talent and production from key positions, this might just be the best Lakers team of the Gasol era, but ultimately this team feels like it should have been a little more dominant than it actually was.

J.M. Poulard

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46 responses to Lakers Countdown: At #10…

  1. This was actually the only Laker championship team, other than the 1986-87 team (my vote for #1), that I was sure would win it all, barring significant injuries. They just so clearly seemed the best team in the league that year.

    The Lakers really played beautiful basketball in the Finals that year. They never ran the triangle offense better. Also, Kobe’s was incredible in those 5 games (32.4 points, 7.4 assists, one of the all time circus shots in the clincher over Howard), but somehow that performance never gets mentioned in the discussion of historic Finals performances.

  2. I think this team was better than given credit for. Their 65-17 record is tied for second best in team history. Only the 1971-72 team had a better regular season record. That team was also deep. They had a whole second team that came in and completely changed the tempo.

    Lastly, I agree with Jodial about this team running the Triangle. Off all Phil’s teams this team may have run it the best due to Gasol’s supreme passing skills.

  3. I really liked this team a great deal. I thought their drive to win exceeded what history will remember them for.

    I can also say, that as someone who tried to rank these teams, it was hard to score. The final 5 or 6 teams all were very close to me and choosing between them was a challenge. I changed my rankings several times on those final few teams. I mean, was this team better than the one in 2010? Better than the 1988 back to back team? What about the ’80 team in Magic’s rookie year or the ’85 team that beat the C’s? Now, go into Phil’s 1st team or the 2001 team that steamrolled in the playoffs and, again, I had problems.

  4. Gasol was labeled soft well before those six games against Boston even though Ive seen him more as finesse (not soft) until these last two post seasons. Pau didn’t deserve any criticism for the 08 Finals as Perkins was the first Center he faced off against and was out muscled. If anyone deserved blame it was Odom’s foot and Bynum’s knee forcing Gasol to start at Center.

  5. T Rogers..

    I’m pretty sure the 2000 Lakers went 67-15.

  6. Perhaps, I will present the opposing view on the ’09 and ’10 Champs. They came out as Champs among the bad teams with one or two superstars. Can they win the Championship in 80’s against the Celtics, Pistons and Sixers? I’m skeptical about that. There is no Showtime moves in the latest Championship runs but more on a survival mode against a weak Celtic team which half broken after several injuries, while Magic was unstable with Dwight and his teammates. I think the latest Lakers came out victorious out of mediocre teams. Will these Lakers win against the team of Isiah Thomas & the Pistons or Larry Bird Celtics or even Ralph Samson’s Rockets.

    For that matter, even the Lakers teams in ’09 and ’10 themselves, have no chance of beating any of Lakers 80’s Showtime era wherein a HOF’er Bob McAdoo is just one of their bench.

  7. I’m not sure this team would beat any of the Shaq-Kobe teams. Yeah, sure they ran the triangle really well, but who on this team would guard Shaq? Pau would have fouled out, taking the triangle with him!

  8. Jodial put it nicely and I agree completely.

    I just had this gut feeling this team will win it all from around the Christmas game vs. the Green Meanies. Two wins against them, two wins against Cleveland, complete domination of the Nuggets at their own home floor in Game 6 and the rest was history.

    This play still gives me the chills, I almost threw my beer at the TV in delight.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oubaX8J1Czc

  9. ” the best Lakers team of the Gasol era”

    ~~Definitely, this Laker team is much better than the ’11-’12 team. Lakers lost Fisher, Walton, Murphy, Barnes and Sessions. They added: Nash, Jamison and retained Hill plus the two rookies. Experience-wise, this is the best team.

    Will they be better than their opponents? We will only know the answer after the first 20 games. One biggest issue of this team is that most of their superstars are another year older. Well, every year added after age 32 is equivalent to 7 years like the dog’s life, the cartilage encapsulating the bones are less, ankle spurs growth and arthritis seeps in. lol!

  10. Pau’s acquisition did indeed shift the balance of power in the West, but to say the 2007-08 Lakers were merely “a team contending for the playoffs” prior to that trade really undercuts how well that team had come together in the first half of that season.

    There’s too often a revisionist history that claims Pau coming to L.A. made the Lakers relevant again.

    No disrespect to Pau, but the Lakers had won 15 of their last 18 games going into the night Bynum went down against Memphis. Bynum had just been named Western Conference Player of the Week, and the Lakers moved into a tie for first-place in the Pacific Division the night after Bynum went down. This was two weeks before the trade, and nearly halfway through the season.

    We’ll never know how things would have turned out for L.A. had that injury not occurred, but we shouldn’t discredit the great work that year’s team had put in before Pau arrived and helped move the franchise to the next level.

  11. Cayucos,

    You are right. As much as I was hoping for 70 wins that season I don’t know how I forgot that.

    Good catch.

  12. Edwin,

    Can’t you say that about just about any team after 1991? The Bulls beat a Utah team that doesn’t compare to the 80’s C’s or Sixers. The Seattle and Portland teams they beat were arguably worse than Utah. In 2007 the Spurs beat a Cleveland team that only got there due to a weak Eastern Conference. We can keep going.

    The 08-09 Lakers beat four teams with 50 wins or more. It’s not like they were playing creampuffs.

  13. Loved this team. From the chemistry to the depth to the *1,2,3 ring* chant after every huddle.

    That Houston series was tough and a player sorely missed 08 finals was absolutely money. Ariza’s 3s and those 2 steals vs Denver were possibly the highlights of that year. Can’t forget about Fisher’s 2 threes. Our role players were so reliable that run.

    The redemption of Pau and losing to Boston the year before made that team special.

  14. Someone on this site would say the best Laker team is any team with Andrew Bynum in it. Care to guess who I am talking about?

    Buhahahahaha!

  15. Chris J,
    Spot on. The Lakers were actually the first seed in the western conference the day the team traded for Pau Gasol. Revisionist history indeed.

  16. Bynum went down vs Memphis Jan. 31 again. Lamar came in and had some monster games including the one vs Cleveland to end their crazy home win streak. Lakers went 23-7 in that stretch without Drew.

    I had so much fun rooting for those role players. Hoping it goes back to that this season some potential with Hill, Jamison, Blake who won’t feel so much pressure to produce points.

  17. The 2009 title was very significant in that it established another era in Laker championship history (the eras: Mikan, Wilt/West, Magic/Kareem, Shaq/Kobe, Kobe). KB will have 2 numbers on the wall and he has 2 eras. The 2009 season ended the “Kobe can’t win without Shaq” discussion.

  18. 12,

    T. Rogers, sometimes there is a something good in being born earlier. If you are less than 30 today, then you missed a lot of excitement as fans of Lakers. Include here the ESPN hooplah which powers this generation through constant haranguing of rumors and misinformation whether online or sports talk in order to generate tweets, ticks and visits. I think there is no comparison with giddiness of Laker fans during Magic Showtime listening to Chick Hearn first hand reporting of the Lakers, plus our excitement in the morning to walk for a mile just to buy a fresh newspaper of LA Times in order to read what Jim Murray, Bill Dwyre, Scott Ostler are saying. Analyze the game from the score tally on newspaper. How about in this era who are the journalists today at LAT on print and online – Bill Plaschke, T.J. Simers or blogger Mark Medina? – a big lol again!

  19. Loving this series of articles! T. Rogers: totally agree…this team was so deep…no one could really hang with the 2nd unit.

    For the record, here’s how I rank the (LA) Laker championship teams that I saw for myself (which excludes the 72, 80, and 82 teams): http://sancarlospete.com/2010/06/23/the-greatest-laker-teams-i-personally-saw-2010-edition/

  20. any_one_mouse July 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    21, @Mojo,

    Yeah – what’s up with that? At least give us the Celtics!! Or the Nyets

  21. Does anyone know if Lakers new channel will be on Directv?

  22. @ Aaron — Actually, the Lakers weren’t in first place in the West on the day of the Pau trade. They dropped five of eight games after Bynum went down on Jan. 13.

    On Feb. 1, 2008, they were the fifth seed in the West at 28-16, trailing New Orleans, Phoenix, Dallas and the Spurs. (see standings here: http://tinyurl.com/c2sbjkl)

    Getting Pau set the team back on the right course, along with the great play they were getting from Kobe, Sasha, Farmar, Ariza and others that year. That was a fun team to watch. Unexpected success is always more enjoyable.

  23. Edwin,

    I hear you. I’m not a pup. I’m 36. I remember Showtime very well. I remember when regular fans could afford to go to Laker games at the Forum and actually get decent seats. I still own a gold Lakers Starter jacket. And there was nothing on Earth like hearing Chick call a game.

    I can’t go as far back as Jerry West, but I can take the trip down memory lane back to 80’s.

  24. 2008-2009 team is Kobe’s team without Shaq…he did won being the alpha male of the team

  25. I think this team was definitely better than the 2010 team talent-wise–but the 2010 team had a better narrative, since they beat Boston in Game 7 and got the repeat. If you are simply looking at performance, the 2009 team would be pretty high up there IMO.

    But…this is a fun topic, so I don’t want to argue about it too much.

  26. The 08/09 Lakers were so amazing because there was actual lakers fans on the roster.

    Farmar and Ariza bleed P&G.

  27. Loved the way the ’08/’09 Lakers handled the Magic in The Finals

    The Magic seemed, by their body language, to be shocked by the intensity the Lakers brought. It was the Lakers year, no doubt about it.

    And, it was a nice prelude to their defeat of the Creeps the following year.

  28. That ’08-’09 team was definitely one of my favorites. They had the “eye of the Tiger” look about them the entire year.

    A little OT, but the NBA schedule came out tonight. Can we get a post breaking down the Laker’s schedule? Please?

  29. Do we have an insider info here, who can say something on what’s going on with Jodie Meeks and Brandon Rush? Maybe, these guys are waiting a word from Mitch. I think they’d work for Vet Min. as along they get some opportunities as an incentive based on performance. It would really be a travesty to wait for Rob Hennigan while omit these SG’s out from Laker’s radar.

    SG’s taken or not yet taken

    http://hoopshype.com/free_agency/shooting_guards.htm

  30. “Alex Kennedy: The Los Angeles Lakers continue to express interest in Jodie Meeks, according to source. No deal is imminent, but the two sides are talking. Twitter”

    Way to go, Mitch!

  31. While I still hold out hope on Brandon Rush because of his D and 45% 3 point shooting, I think the Warriors will match the mini MLE. Jodie Meeks is the next best guy still available. It would be a great pick up. However it might signal that the Lakers are out of the Howard sweepstakes until January.

  32. Three headed monster Pau-Bynum-Lamar per game 08-09

    44.5 pts 25.8 reb 7.5 ast 4.1 blk 53% fg

    Was surprised to see none avg. 10+ rebounds that year.

    Lamar 3 pt shot became more reliable that year.

    Even though that was at least Kobe’s 5th best year he won MVP. Talk about robbery.

  33. Re Kobe: I think 01, 06 definitely Kobe could’ve won MVP. But by the time 06 came around the media soured on him and the stats machine king LeBron was putting up 2k numbers. I will always feel Nash robbed Kobe of 06 MVP which is why i think that was part of the reason he had so much hatred towards phx for all those years. But most people don’t realize Kobe’s transformation started in 08 when he asked for the trade. He seemed rededicated to his teammates and it helped everyone came back much better including Bynum and Lamar.

    Getting back to the 09 team there roles were defined and nobody tried to step outside their roles. Except Farmar when he would have those 1 man blunder fast breaks.

  34. It’s amazing how much Phil got out of mediocre role players. Think about every single contributor on that team, and where they are now. Trevor and Jordan got paid well after their stints with Phil & Kobe to be buried deep on bad teams. Sasha didn’t even get a job in the league after his contract expired. DJ Mbenga? Shannon Brown? Chris Mihm/Josh Powell/DJ Mbenga?

    I want Phil back.

  35. @37,

    I guess Kobe can make anyone special with all the attention he gets.

  36. Schedule post will be up Monday. Look forward to it ;-).

  37. kobe is the best,,,imo

  38. 33,34

    Sup! Magic Phil & Aloha Michael, thanks for the feedback. Based on the Lakers report below, they will just maintain the minimum number of players in their roster. Currently, they have 11 including Ebanks who’s still unsign. If the draft picks are included, that makes the minimum 13 players. They have a luxury taxes amounting to $23M so Mitch prefers not to use this 3M+ mid level exception unless there is exceptional players out there. You can also interpret this as Mitch way of posturing to two SG’s, would you consider Rush and Meeks as exceptional players? Perhaps, their agents may have be haggling for more than the Min. Vet by going to Lakers mid level exception? This could also be a message to Rob Hennigan, that Lakers are now finalizing their roster but open for talks. hmmn, is that not a flip-flopping posture?

    http://www.hoopsworld.com/lakers-not-using-3-million-dollar-exception

    PS. Btw, is trade wizard LTLF on FBG board?

  39. Correction: There are now 12 players signed including Jamison and Hill according to Hoopsworld. However on another site the list includes Ebanks and G-lock:

    http://hoopshype.com/salaries/la_lakers.htm

    Ebanks and G-lock were included here but not yet signed, they could be 13 players that report was referring to or probably not, and still reserving a slot to one of the two SG’s?.

    What happens to the two draft picks? well, they get to play during the pre-season and maybe assigned to D’League. Jdo was acquired at half million during the draft, I think they will continue developing him.

  40. Chris J,
    Maybe it was the day after the Bynum injury the Lakers took over first place in the West forthe first time. I rememeber it being right around there.

  41. I remember being at game 1 of the Houston series when you fish lay out scola and the whole artest and kobe situation. Game was intense

  42. 1/2/ Decaf,

    I agree with you 100%. You’d think Mitch and Buss were the Maloof brothers based on some of the comments from our fellow Laker fans.

  43. 45, @1/2decaf1/2regular:

    I agree with your assertion that the FO is not cheap. OTOH, it *was* Mitch who gave Luke Walton that horrid contract in the first place :)

  44. Luke’s contract was not so bad when he signed it. The back and ankle injuries that sidelined him for lengthy periods of time and took away what little athleticism he had are what turned it into an albatross. And the length of it didn’t help either–I remember thinking when he signed it, “Well, he’s overpaid now, but in 4 years he’ll be a bargain.” Then the injuries.

    If, for the past 3-4 years, had been playing 25 minutes off the bench as a 3/stretch 4, averaging 9.5 points/4.2 reb/3.6 assists and shooting 47% from the floor and 39% from 3, he’d be a steal.

    Those, for those of you that think I’m just making up stats, are his 06-07 numbers when he started and averaged 33 minutes, rounded down to 25 mpg. Luke could play.

  45. 1/2 D & R

    I’m not lambasting the FO or Mitch, in fact I praised them to the hilt. so many times after acquiring Nash, Jamison and re-signed Hill. We’re just analyzing and waiting for the SG’s which were reported before.

    Come on, you’re misinterpreting any mentioned of Mitch as a criticism, if you ask a question, is that a criticism or a suggestion on how to get these valuable SG’s?

  46. any_one_mouse July 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Off-topic here, by how about dramatic reading of blog posts/comments ??!!!!

    http://tinyurl.com/bmxqgnf

    I would love to have Will Ferrell or Sofia Vergara read out one of Aaron’s posts – no offense intended at all!