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.