Archives For laker History

Lakers Countdown: At #5…

J.M. Poulard —  August 25, 2012

The 1990s gave us a new era of basketball as Michael Jordan’s Bulls dominated the decade and won three titles in a row on two separate occasions with Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets managing to win back-to-back titles in between the Bulls’ three-peats.

Then, the 2000s hit, and Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers also won three titles in a row and were then followed by Kobe Bryant’s Lakers who won titles in consecutive years to close out the decade.

It wasn’t always this way though. Repeating as champions had become seemingly impossible since the Boston Celtics had done it in 1969. But ultimately one team had to break through and do it.

Clocking in at the fifth spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers

Fresh off a title run at the end of the 1987 postseason, Lakers head coach Pat Riley decided to throw a monkey wrench into the celebration plans of his team by going on the record and guaranteeing that his team would repeat the following season.

Although winning the championship is usually enough to serve notice to other teams about which unit is the one to beat, it almost feels as though Riley wanted to make sure that everyone was well aware not only that his band of players had reached the mountaintop, but that they would do it again and that there was nothing the rest of the NBA could do about it.

How’s that for a bull’s eye?

And yet, with a roster loaded with talent and future Hall of Fame caliber players, it’s easy to see why the charismatic and fierce head coach could go on the record and make such a proclamation.

The Lakers had not only the best point guard in the league, but the player that many agreed was the best in the NBA. In addition, the purple and gold also had arguably the best player in the history of the sport in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing next to a do it all forward in James Worthy and terrific finisher and shooter in Byron Scott.

And just for good measure, the Lakers had possibly the best defensive player in the association in Michael Cooper (he won the DPOY the year prior) as well as a terrific pair of big men in Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green that were versatile enough to run the floor, play in the half court and apply pressure on defense with Riley’s zone trap.

All the talent in the world.

Really, the only thing that could potentially derail this unit would have to be injuries and they would have to come in bunches to truly become problematic for Riley. Luckily for the Lakers, they faced some concerns on that front, but nothing truly major. Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Michael Cooper combined to miss 38 games during the course of the season.

They had a few minor bumps in the road, but the Los Angeles Lakers finished with a 62-20 record, tops in the league during the 1987-88 season.

Indeed, they finished the regular season second in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency. Also, they sported a plus-5.8 average scoring margin during the regular season but this says very little about how they treated the 82-game grind despite the little bumps and bruises.

To know how good the Lakers were, one can point to their win streaks. Indeed, although they had some small five and six-game stretches where they always emerged victorious, they also knew when to turn it on and seize control of the regular season.

The 1987-88 Lakers started out the season with an eight-game win streak and then in early December went on a rampage until the middle of January, winning 15 games in a row. And just when things became dull for the team after a few losses, they turned things up once again in late January and won 10 consecutive contests and saw their streak end near the end of February.

The Lakers rounded up into form for the postseason with some good momentum and dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in three games in the first round.

The remainder of their playoff run would be the toughest one for any championship team in league history as the Los Angeles Lakers needed the full seven games in the Western Conference semifinals as well as the conference finals to advance to the title round.

With the NBA Finals set to take stage, the Lakers would have to dispatch a team that many saw as a bunch of basketball hooligans given their antics, physical play and intimidation tactics: the Detroit Pistons.

The team took their identity from their leader.

Isiah Thomas was a scrapper that never relented and that did anything and everything possible to gain an advantage over opponents and his teammates followed in bruising fashion. Their style of play earned them the moniker of Bad Boys.

The Pistons hit you on every drive to the basket, fought for every rebound and made sure to inflict as much punishment as possible when opponents went in for lay ups. With no flagrant fouls being called at the time, it gave Detroit a license to do everything short of murdering players in the paint.

Thus, the NBA Finals became the battle of Showtime versus the Bad Boys.

Detroit drew first blood by winning Game 1 at the Forum and then the Lakers bounced back by winning consecutive games by double digits. With the purple and gold now seemingly in control of the series, the Pistons went on to win Game 4 by 25 points and Game 5 by 10 points to take a huge 3-2 series lead back to Los Angeles with a chance to clinch the title on the road.

Detroit would come close to getting champagne poured on them as they led Game 6 by three points with just about a minute left in the game but failed to close out the contest and instead watched the Lakers execute down the stretch with championship poise and steal the contest from the Bad Boys and set up a winner take all Game 7.

The finale would be a seesaw battle that would eventually lead the Lakers to the brink of a blowout but Detroit would claw back in the fourth quarter and make things interesting but ultimately falter down the stretch.

James Worthy would earn the Finals MVP with a monstrous triple-double performance in Game 7 in which he scored 36 points, snatched 16 rebounds and dished out 10 assists.

The Los Angeles Lakers became the first team in nearly 20 years to repeat as champions and they did it with a flair for the dramatic.

Their regular season performance combined with their postseason run makes them one of the greatest Lakers teams of all time and thus worthy of the fifth spot in our countdown.

Why “only” fifth though?

The ’88 Lakers finished with an unimpressive 15-9 playoff record — no team has ever won the title with as many postseason losses — and were defeated by double figures a whopping six times during their playoff run. In addition, two of those six double-digit losses were by 25 points or more; which partly explains their seemingly low playoff average scoring margin of plus-2.5.

Nonetheless, Magic Johnson and his teammates will be remembered in the history books as the first team to repeat in 19 years as well as the franchise that paved the way for it to become a reality for the rest of the NBA.

Lakers Countdown: At #6…

J.M. Poulard —  August 23, 2012

As we continue to rank the Los Angeles Lakers title teams, we take a look today at not only a great unit that won a championship, but one that shall forever be immortalized throughout Lakers and NBA history as the team gave the path to one of the National Basketball Association’s most iconic figures: Magic Johnson.

Without further ado, clocking in the sixth spot in our countdown…

The 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers

As the story goes, Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in the 1979 NCAA title game and it propelled him to an incredible NBA career in which he was great from day one.

The story is often recited as such but that isn’t an entirely accurate depiction of reality.

Indeed, Johnson joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie in the 1979-80 season but he wasn’t seen as a savior or even as the team’s de facto point guard. Indeed, many wondered if he could actually play the position given his 6’9’’ frame and the requirements that went along with the position. In addition, the Lakers already had a great player in Norm Nixon playing the position for the team and he was more experienced at doing so in the professional ranks than the former Spartan.

Opposing coaches and general managers thought that Magic Johnson would be better suited to play forward and they weren’t entirely wrong given the star in the making’s gifts as a basketball player.

But the team instead chose to have him play in the backcourt with Norm Nixon with both players sharing point guard duties, although their relationship would often be tested during the course of the season as both players felt as though they could play the position best and thus did not require to share responsibilities. Mind you, by season’s end, they would realize that complemented each other perfectly.

Far be it for a team to face just one difficult situation in an 82-game campaign, the Lakers lost head coach Jack McKinney to a bicycle accident 14 games into the season. Assistant coach Paul Westhead was thus promoted to interim head coach and the task of directing the team fell square on his shoulders.

Westhead had two great ball handlers in Nixon and Johnson and thus favored the transition game much like McKinney but also deployed lineups in which Magic Johnson played at forward (small or power) given his rebounding prowess — he was the team’s second leading rebounder that season with 7.7 rebounds per game — and that allowed the Lakers to play Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper in the backcourt.

With Westhead pulling the strings, the Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with a 60-22 record. They sported the best offensive efficiency in the league during the 1979-80 season as well as the ninth best defensive efficiency.

Although the team was statistically dominant given their record and efficiency numbers, one could have expected them to flex their muscles a little more during the regular season.

At no point did the 1979-80 Lakers have a double-digit win streak during the course of the season, instead settling for multiple five and six-game winning streaks with their longest one of the season extending itself to seven games. Mind you, it’s worth pointing out that the two best teams in the Western Conference other than the Lakers were the Phoenix Suns and Seattle Supersonics, which happened to be divisional foes that the purple and gold played a combined 12 times in the regular season.

The Lakers finished with a plus-5.9 average scoring margin during the regular season and faced off against the two best teams in the conference in the playoffs.

In the first round, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns in the first three games of the series by a combined 15 points. Perhaps sensing they had the series won, the top seed in the west was blown out in Game 4 by 26 points; and then came back to win Game 5 at home.

The following series would have the Lakers face off against the Seattle Supersonics, who would steal home court advantage with a narrow 108-107 victory in Game 1, thanks in large part to Fred Brown and Gus Williams combining for 62 points. Just when it looked as though the Lakers might be in trouble, they reeled off four games in a row to propel themselves to the NBA Finals with the Philadelphia 76ers (59-23) their opponent to be.

It would prove to be an exciting championship round as both teams split the first four games, setting up an all too important Game 5 at the Forum.

Game 5 would go back and forth as Philadelphia and Los Angeles would trade back the lead, but the Lakers would gain some sort of control on the contest in the third quarter but would lose Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to a left ankle injury. The team would stay afloat just long enough to buy the six-time league MVP time to come back early in the fourth quarter to close out the game with 14 points in the period to complete his 40-point masterpiece and give his unit a 3-2 series advantage.

The victory came at a huge price, as Abdul-Jabbar would not be able to travel to Philadelphia for Game 6. Instead it was suggested he remain at home and get rest and treatment with the hope that he would be able to suit up for Game 7.

As good as that plan sounded — having Kareem play in Game 7 was seen as the best case scenario since few expected the Lakers to actually win Game 6 — Magic Johnson had better ideas. The promising guard had already proved to many that he could play at a high level in the NBA with his playmaking and scoring, as evidenced by his 18 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and 7.3 assists per game on 53 percent field goal shooting that season; but few truly knew just how special he really was.

On May 14th, 1980, Magic Johnson started at center for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the title round and submitted arguably the greatest performance in NBA Finals history. Johnson became a legend on that night by doing everything humanly possible on a basketball court. In fact, the only things Magic failed to accomplish was dance with the cheerleaders, provide color commentary and direct the halftime show. Other than that, Magic rebounded, scored, set up teammates, directed traffic, got out in transition and gave the team the boost it needed with its leading scorer injured.

Magic Johnson submitted 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals and helped the Lakers clinch the world title on this fateful night in Philadelphia. Jamaal Wilkes also poured in 37 points but the night belonged to the rookie, basically setting up the remainder of the decade for him.

His performance would earn him the NBA Finals MVP, although the award rightfully belonged to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The 1980 Lakers would close out the postseason with a 12-4 playoff record and a plus-4.3 average scoring margin in the playoffs. The sixth spot is perfect ranking for this team given its historical significance for both the league and the franchise but one could argue that the team was great but not legendary in terms of its accomplishments and what it did on the court.

Indeed, the story in itself is fantastic, but the team falls short of the top five.

Now the really good stuff is on its way…

The Laker Way

Emile Avanessian —  August 21, 2012

I stand corrected. It appears the “new Laker fandom” will bear a striking resemblance to that which preceded it.

Ever since Andrew Bynum schooled J.J. Barea on the nuances of Newtonian physics in the spring of 2011, it was apparent that the Lakers — as then constituted — required a facelift. As that spring gave way to summer, and summer to lockout, lockout to, well, more lockout, and ultimately to the most frantic NBA silly season ever, the Lakers looked to have gone full Jerry Jones, swapping championship lynchpins Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom for the best possible solution to their long running point guard dilemma, Chris Paul. Upon learning from David Stern that their health insurance policy did not cover cosmetic overhauls of this magnitude — let’s see if this analogy has legs, huh? — the Lakers were forced to pull a page from the playbook of many a courtside patron and “just get a little work done.”

No sooner had he “returned” from New Orleans than a dejected Odom was rerouted to the defending champion Mavericks, in exchange for a draft pick that reimbursed the Lakers for the legislated theft of Chris Paul — a pick that might just have materialized in time to select Little CP — and an $8.9 million handful of magic beans. Hold this thought.

Almost (if not) universally panned at the time, the saga seemed an ugly manifestation of the new Jimmy Buss era. Ascribed to a desire to jettison an emotional landmine, presumably of equal importance was the resulting cut in payroll. Between the new CBA and Short Buss/Gob/[insert pet name of your choosing], the Lakers were (yeah, I’m irrational and entitled. whatever) falling back to the NBA pack.

In the months that followed, they went back under the knife, turning Luke Walton and a first round pick into the point guard upgrade Laker Nation pined for, and then sending talismanic on-court liability Derek Fisher to Houston, in exchange for Jordan Hill. Ramon Sessions immediately cleared the shin-high hurdle of expectation (inspiring more than a few $e$$ion$ tweets along the way), averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 assists per game and posting a True Shooting Percentage of 57% (thanks to 48.6% from beyond the arc), while Hill showed flashes of becoming a badly needed frontcourt spark plug.

In the aforementioned pair of trades, the Lakers claimed no better than one draw and one defeat. There is a case to be made that the two trades did nothing more than cost the Lakers an ever-so-scarce first rounder (seriously, are we sure Mitch Kupchak didn’t once cut a shady deal with Joe Smith?) to rent a lead guard whose performance waned with time — though not so much that he opted against opting out of his contract — and a lotto-bust-turned-glue-guy that might have priced himself out of their budget with seven 6 and 6’s.

Fair enough.

That said, however, there is also a case to be made that the value of addressing your most glaring weakness — with a possible long-term solution (didn’t happen, but still) — while simultaneously inspiring goodwill among fans likely trumps the yield of a mid-20s draft pick. Hell, keeping Jordan Hill probably accomplishes that on its own.

Sure, the acquisition of this generation’s original #PointGod is a rising tide that lifts many a personnel decision, but that itself is merely a product of a longtime philosophy — one built on an ideal combination of patience and decisiveness, with zero parts fear. For more than three decades Mitch Kupchak (and Jerry West before him) and Jimmy (and for the three decades prior, Jerry) Buss have continually taken to the tightrope — if not in pursuit of improving the roster, then forcibly, at the hands of a disgruntled star (be it Magic in 1982, Shaq in 2003-04, Kobe in 2007 or Odom last winter) — and continually resisted the temptation of simple self-preservation (y’know, the type that seeks the comfort of “winning every trade” en route to building Replacement Player Voltron) in the interest of delivering true difference makers.

It is understanding, in the summer of 2004, that the differences between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant could no longer be worked around, and trading Shaq — perhaps a year or two early — in favor of the next decade of a purported franchise killer. It is, 11 months later with the Lakers clearly in decline and the remainder of Kobe’s prime hanging in the balance, selecting high schooler Andrew Bynum (while I begged for Danny Granger). Though Bynum was a project, his is twice- (perhaps three times) in-a-decade potential. It’s unlikely that in June 2005 the Lakers’ brass knew much more than we did regarding the path Bynum’s career would take, but they understood that should he realize even (arbitrarily) 60% of his potential, his value, on the floor and as an asset, would likely exceed that of an athletic wing, even one as talented as Granger. And given Bynum’s roles in both hanging another pair of banners in the rafters and the acquisition of the greatest center since Shaquille O’Neal, clearly they were correct.

In the weeks that followed, the second-best member of the 2004-05 Lakers and a future All-Star, Caron Butler – who is also a Kobe favorite and (in possibly related news) the rare member of the first post-Shaq Laker squad not openly starstruck in Bean’s presence – was shipped to the nation’s capital, in exchange for MJ-protégé-turned-ham-handed-cake-vandal Kwame Brown. In all likelihood the downgrade was not lost on Kupchak – though it must be said that Kwame Brown, a 22 year-old big man four years removed from being a #1 overall pick, presented an interesting value proposition — though neither was the realization that building the Western Conference’s version of the Gilbert Arenas-led Wizards offered little long term value.

Meanwhile, with Bynum developing at a pace one would expect from an 18 year-old big man, Kobe, fearing the remainder of his prime would be frittered away in NBA purgatory, (inadvertently) publicly lobbied for the front office to cut ties with Bynum, in favor of Jason Kidd. Upon the front office’s refusal to oblige his request, Kobe shifted his focus and, in the summer of 2007, demanded that he himself be traded, preferably to the Chicago Bulls, preferably in exchange for a less-than-optimal package. In this, the most terrifying time to be a Laker fan since November 1991, Kupchak stayed his course, recognizing that he was under no obligation to act in haste, and refused to become footnoted as the man that traded two of the top dozen players in the game’s history.

Banking on Kobe’s dedication to his craft (and his legacy) winning out, the Lakers tipped off the 2007-08 with their frustrated superstar in tow. And then a funny thing happened…

While Kobe brooded and plotted his exit from L.A. (though he still balled), a rare underdog Laker squad, behind double-double averages from Odom and Bynum (who was lost for the season after just 35 games) and 20.8 points and 5.6 assists in 48 combined minutes per game from Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar, unexpectedly returned to the top of the Western Conference. Winners of 19 of their first 29 and 27 of their first 40, the Lakers were rewarding Kupchak’s steadfastness in not parting company with a transcendent talent. The extent to which they were true contenders was debatable, but the greenness of the grass elsewhere could no longer be a given for Kobe.

Having not only traded a future All-Star to acquire Kwame Brown, but also having given him a three-year/$24-million contract to stick around, the Lakers looked to be a bit of a bind with their bust-y big man. That winter, as he did again this summer, Mitch turned the tables on that pair of increasingly fruitless personnel decisions. As tends to be the case with the habitually successful, good fortune smiled upon the Lakers — in the form of a stalled counterparty desperate to cut costs and salvage value for a big money star. On February 1, 2008, in one of the great redemptive trades in recent history, Kupchak parlayed Kwame (along with Marc Gasol, who unexpectedly blossomed into a top-shelf center) into one of the world’s most unique, talented and uniquely talented big men, Pau Gasol.

The rest you are probably familiar with. Having significantly upgraded the frontcourt without creating new holes elsewhere (sound familiar?), the Lakers won 27 of their final 36 in the regular season, locked up the West’s top seed and coasted through the playoffs, dropping just three games en route to the Finals.

A lackluster Finals performance and a pair of postseason disappointments gave rise (and longevity) to more undeserved criticism than any team-first top-15 talent that’s helped anchor a pair of title teams should ever have to endure. In addition, they sparked endless speculation regarding Gasol’s future with the franchise. In the face of mounting pressure and dwindling rationality, thanks in large part to Pau’s incredible maturity and professionalism, rather than selling low on an all-world talent, Kupchak held tight. (Note: yes, in December 2011 he did in fact trade Pau, but in doing so he was procuring the services of Chris freaking Paul)


Crucified at the time (yeah, I did it too) for gifting Odom, a valued contributor to the defending champions, and again at the trade deadline for seemingly foregoing the opportunity to salvage value in exchange, Kupchak again conducted a clinic in opportunism. With the Lakers sliding further down the Western Conference totem pole, in classic Laker front office fashion, he masterfully capitalized on one of the assets at his disposal. Using the flexibility afforded by the $8.9 million trade exception, Kupchak facilitated the Phoenix Suns’ transition into transition, landed one of the great point guards of this generation and one of the best shooters of all time — Steve Nash.


On a different front, trade winds continued to swirl around Andrew Bynum. Ever since the Jason Kidd chatter of years past, he had been rumored… let’s just say that any rumor not involving Gasol (and even one that did) was constructed around ‘Drew.

As he had with Kobe and Gasol, Kupchak (probably with some input from Jimmy) took a measured approach, valuing Bynum (rightfully) as elite asset and refusing to swap a super-skilled 7-foot, 285-pound, 24 year-old (how is he still so young??) for whatever shiny object du jour happened to be dangled before him. Additionally, when it seemed the Dwight Howard saga (putting it mildly) might conclude with the Lakers stranded in the cold, Kupchak held his ground, refusing to package Bynum and Gasol in exchange for Howard, as Orlando was demanding. And in the end, with a Joe Johnson trade here and Brook Lopez max-out there, the urgency Orlando had attempted to instill in the Lakers not only subsided, but reversed field.

In thinking about the recent chain of events in Lakerland, I am reminded of a decade and a half ago. A once-in-a-lifetime big man and (though we didn’t know it at the time) wing within the Lakers’ grasp, then-GM (and Kupchak’s mentor and hoops Jedi) Jerry West, having resisted the urge to trade away Vlade Divac — around whom (if memory serves) rumors had swirled (as much as they could back then) — the season prior, parted ways with his starting center only when payoff was the payroll flexibility required to secure a transcendent big man like Shaquille O’Neal… and an 18 year-old Kobe Bryant.

Hate the Lakers for past success. Hate them for their inexhaustible resources. Hate them for residing in a top-tier market with perfect weather. Understand, however, that more than any of these, what’s set them apart is the ability to maintain composure when the stakes are highest. West understood in ’96 what Mitch Kupchak has since mastered. The skill lies not in knowing precisely who will come available and when, but in the knowledge that someone will hit the market, and that the flexibility to deal and willingness to pounce without fear are the ultimate difference makers.

Lakers Countdown: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  August 12, 2012

When the Decision happened, LeBron James became the symbol of the spoiled athlete that failed to understand just what was happening around him in “real life”. The end result was that he instantly became a villain and represented everything that was wrong about professional sports in the minds of many. Consequently he was booed in every road arena even though he never truly understood why.

How history treats him remains to be seen, but James certainly was not the first athlete to make a questionable decision in terms of how he conducted himself as a professional.

For instance, Kobe Bryant requested to be traded in 2007 but that has since been swept under the rug after winning back-to-back titles afterwards.

Winning tends to make people forget things.

But sometimes, odd actions can make people forget winners.

The best illustration of this clock in at #7 in our Los Angeles Lakers countdown of greatest title teams…

The 1981-82 Lakers

After winning the NBA championship in Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1980, many thought the Lakers had a chance to get back to the mountaintop in the ensuing season.

Mind you, Johnson was injured early in the season and thus only appeared in 37 games. Despite the prolonged absence of one of their best playmakers and rebounders, the purple and gold managed to win 54 games on the strength of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes’ scoring. Also, Norm Nixon’s ability to run the offense helped a talented Lakers squad play at a high level.

The team seemed as though they might make some noise in the postseason but then they fell apart in the first round of the playoffs just as the team was getting used to playing with Magic Johnson.

With the team having faced an early season exit, they made some minor tweaks and acquired Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis to help shore up the rebounding in the offseason; and later acquired former three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo early in the ensuing 1981-82 regular season.

The franchise made news by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year $25 million contract that led many to wonder if owner Jerry Buss liked Magic Johnson just a little too much.

The Lakers started out the season by once again being a very talented squad but some around the team felt as though head coach Paul Westhead was holding the team back with his half court offense. They had stopped being Showtime and instead became a team that brought the ball up the court and executed instead of consistently outrunning their opponents.

Magic went on to voice his complaints and requested to be traded, feeling as though his talents weren’t being maximized under Westhead. And just like that, Westhead was fired despite a 7-4 record at the time.

Had Kanye West been the artist back then that he is today, everyone would have said that the lyrics from his hit song Power were tailor made for Magic:

“No one man should have all that power.”

The former Michigan State Spartan was booed in every opposing arena and was viewed as an athlete with a sense of entitlement and a man possessing far too much power with his franchise. In an odd way, this situation somewhat overshadowed just how deep and talented the team was as well as what it accomplished.

The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers had four Hall of Fame players (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, McAdoo and Wilkes) as well as a stud point guard in Norm Nixon — yes, he was listed as the team’s point guard and Magic was listed as a guard/forward — that helped make plays.

The team may have had one of the best guard pairings ever when we look at their production during the 1981-82 regular season:

  • Norm Nixon: 17.6 points per game, 8 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game on 49.3 percent field goal shooting.
  • Magic Johnson: 18.6 points per game, 9.5 assists per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game on 53.7 percent field goal shooting.

As good as the guards were, things became infinitely more difficult for opponents when the frontcourt became involved when arguably the best center in NBA history had two exquisite guards feeding him the ball when the team played in the half court.

And just in case that wasn’t problematic enough, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was surrounded by great scorers in Bob McAdoo (coming off the bench) and Jamaal Wilkes.

With Pat Riley at the helm, the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record, tops in the Western Conference. They sported the second best offensive efficiency in the league and the 10th best defensive efficiency.

The Western Conference playoffs were a mere footnote for the Lakers who obliterated the Phoenix Suns (46-36) in the first round by an average scoring margin of 12.7 points in a four-game sweep.

The following series against the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) proved to be quite similar to the outcome against the Suns, as the Lakers swept them and won every game against the Spurs by an average of 8.7 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA Finals — at the time, a team only needed to win two rounds to advance to the finals — as underdogs to the Philadelphia 76ers (58-24) given that they did not have home court advantage.

And yet, as if to come full circle, Magic Johnson led the purple and gold to another title against the same 76ers team that had lost against them two years prior in the title round.

Los Angeles won in six games and kept Julius Erving’s title drought alive for one last season.

The ’82 Lakers boasted an impressive 12-2 playoff record and sported an average scoring margin of plus-6.1 during the postseason. In addition, when we consider the roster top to bottom, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest teams to ever hit the hardwood.

Why seventh then?

For a team as loaded as the ’82 Lakers, one can only wonder why they only won 57 games especially in a rather weak Western Conference. In addition, they dismantled their conference opponents during the playoffs but both teams fail to even win 50 games during the regular season, thus making the accomplishment a little less impressive.

In addition, this squad may have only had two losses during their postseason run, but they were by 16 and 33 points; meaning they were blown out of the building. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but as we climb along the ladder of best Los Angeles Lakers teams in franchise history, these small details will add up and end up making the difference.

In case you missed it, the FB&G team voted to rank the 11 Lakers title teams since moving to Los Angeles from worst to first. So far, the countdown has seen us take a look at the 2002 Lakers (11th), the 2009 Lakers (10th) and the 2010 Lakers (ninth). Clocking in at the eighth spot…

The 1999-00 Lakers

Shaquille O’Neal left the Orlando Magic in the summer of 1996 to join a Los Angeles Lakers team that he felt appreciated him more considering his dominance on the basketball court as well as his charismatic personality off it. Granted, it helped that the Lakers were able to offer the Diesel more money than any other team in the league but the big man had his heart set on joining the team after talking it out with then general manager Jerry West.

In that same offseason, the franchise acquired Kobe Bryant via the draft and hoped to pair him up with O’Neal to form a great dynamic duo.

The first few seasons for both players were met with mixed results. Shaq performed up to expectations while Bryant struggled at times to understand his role and fit in within the team structure. But one thing eluded both: team success.

Despite a roster with overwhelming talent, the Lakers always seemed to underachieve in the postseason. And ultimately, the failures were always blamed on two people: the head coach — take your pick between Del Harris and Kurt Rambis — and Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal as well as some of his teammates found it extremely difficult to coexist with a young Bryant that seemed to think he knew it all, but with the owner and general manager forcing the head coach to play the young star in the making without him actually earning his playing time, it irked the team’s veterans. The kid was talented, but he was also a lone wolf.

Consequently, some of the Lakers resented Bryant because they felt that he was out for himself as opposed to the team. The only way this could be fixed would be if someone were able to help steer Kobe towards the team and also steer the team towards the future superstar.

And thus, the Lakers hired Phil Jackson with the hope that he would solve it all and get the team to play up to its championship potential.

And boy did he.

The new head coach put in the Triangle Offense and encouraged players to feed their dominant big man but also to find their own rhythm and assert themselves offensively when the situation presented itself for them to do so.

Bryant, to some degree, followed the instructions of his head coach despite the fact that his teammates often failed to recognize this. Nonetheless, the team’s play finally matched its hype and potential.

Jackson was able to get Shaquille O’Neal to play the best basketball of his career and submit his greatest statistical season ever. The Diesel appeared in 79 games and posted figures of 29.7 points per game, 13.6 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game and 3 blocks per game on 57.4 percent field goal shooting.

As a result of the big man’s dominance, combined with the coming together of the rest of the roster, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the regular season. They finished the season with an impressive 67-15 record, sported the fifth best offensive efficiency figure in the league as well as the best defensive efficiency mark in the league and ended the regular season with a plus-8.5 average scoring margin.

Impressive statistics all around and yet, it gets better.

During the 1999-00 season, the Los Angeles Clippers won 15 games, the Chicago Bulls won 17 games and the Golden State Warriors were victorious in 19 contests. During that very same regular season, the Lakers managed three separate double-digit win streaks with two of them rivaling the record of the teams mentioned before.

Indeed, the purple and gold managed a 16-game winning streak from mid-December to mid-January, then went on an impressive run, winning 19 straight games from early February to mid-March. Once their winning streak ended in March with a loss on the road to Washington, Phil Jackson’s team picked things right back up and won another 11 straight.

In terms of regular season output, one could make the argument that the 2000 Lakers could have favorably compared to the 1997 Bulls team (69-13) as well as the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers (68-13).

Mind you, this version of the Lakers only finished eighth in our voting of Lakers title teams since the relocation to Los Angeles.

This was by far Phil Jackson’s best Lakers regular season team, but of all his title teams, it may just be its worst playoff performing unit — Chicago Bulls included– to have won a championship.

The 2000 Lakers struggled in the first round against a young Sacramento Kings team and needed the full five games — the first round at the time was a best of five games series — to advance to the second round where they played a little better and dispatched the Phoenix Suns in five games, which set up one of the greatest Western Conference Finals in NBA history.

The Lakers seemed poised to easily dispatch an extremely talented Portland Trail Blazers team after taking a 3-1 series but then watched a squad led by Scottie Pippen’s championship experience come back and force a Game 7 at Staples Center and take a 13-point lead going into the fourth quarter of the game.

With contributions from their role players, the Lakers bounced back to take the lead and even gave fans the signature moment of the Shaq and Kobe era when Bryant crossed over Pippen late in the game and floated a wonderful alley-oop pass to Shaquille O’Neal that brought the house down and propelled the team to the NBA Finals.

A great comeback performance by the eventual champs, but they managed to actually get outscored in the seven-game series by the Blazers.

The Lakers would advance to the title round and dispatch the Indiana Pacers in six games, with Kobe Bryant showing a great flair for the dramatic as he delivered a fantastic performance in Game 4 with Shaquille O’Neal fouling out in overtime. The young guard went on to score the final eight points on a barrage of long 2-point jumpers and a put back basket that helped the Lakers seize a 3-1 stranglehold on the series, which resulted in them eventually winning the title in Game 6 back in Los Angeles.

The 2000 Lakers finished their playoff run with a 15-8 playoff record; with their eight defeats being the second most postseason losses by a Los Angeles Lakers title team. In addition, Shaq and Kobe’s first championship team sported a plus-2.3 average scoring margin, which happens to be the worst out of any of the Lakers teams that won titles after moving to Los Angeles.

Phil Jackson’s first season with the franchise was a success given the terrific regular season as well as the championship parade that capped off the team’s fantastic season. In addition, Shaq and Kobe provided many memorable moments during the spring of 2000 and those will probably be remembered for a fairly long time given their impact as well as their importance.

With that said though, the team’s playoff struggles invariably led to them taking a fairly substantial hit in their ranking when compared to other title teams.

But still…

Kobe to Shaq…

What a moment.

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.

Throughout the rich history of the NBA, there have been some great teams, and then there have been some legendary ones. The league saw its first dynasty emerge during the 1950s as the Minneapolis Lakers won four titles in the decade with George Mikan leading the way.

The team then moved to Los Angeles prior to the 1960-61 season and thus began the apparent NBA Finals curse. Indeed, the Lakers were defeated a whopping six times during the 1960s in the Finals, with each defeat reinforcing the idea that the Boston Celtics perpetually owned the Lakers.  Indeed, the Celtics won nine championships during the decade and defeated the Lakers in six of those nine championship appearances.

But the team’s fortunes changed in the 1970s as the team finally managed to capture a title after moving to Los Angeles. Since the relocation, the purple and gold has won 11 NBA titles; with many of those title teams holding a great historical significance to the league.

It begs the question: which Lakers team since the move is the best of all?

Glad you asked. The FB&G staff looked at the 11 titles teams and voted in order to rank these squads. Whether it’s their historical significance, their trampling of opponents or simply erasing the curse by finally conquering the Boston Celtics in the Finals, we managed to put these Lakers teams from worst to first.

And without further ado, the team that clocked in at #11…

The 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers

In the Shaq and Kobe era, many view this team as the weakest of all the title teams and the voting of the FB&G staff reflected that as well. After winning 67 and 56 games respectively in the previous two seasons and also winning back-to-back titles, it was widely assumed that this team should get back to the Finals and complete the three-peat.

The 2001-02 Lakers boasted the second best offensive efficiency and sixth best defensive efficiency in the league, mind you they flew a little under the radar as the Sacramento Kings (61-21) finished with the best record in the league and the San Antonio Spurs (58-24) finished second in the Western Conference standings.

With that said, the purple and gold still had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Both players were in phases in their careers where they could assert themselves offensively seemingly on command without necessarily stepping on the toes of each other. In addition, the roles players on the roster had grown comfortable in their tasks and understood the pecking order on the team; but they never shied away from big moments.

Robert Horry provided clutch daggers against the likes of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Derek Fisher helped space the floor against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals and Rick Fox gave his teammates some scoring, rebounding, passing and strong defense in the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings.

This Lakers team was an impressive 15-4 during their postseason run on their way to the title, but many will recall them as somewhat of an underachieving bunch because of their 15-1 playoff record during the 2001 playoffs. In addition, unlike the season prior, the 2002 Lakers were tested and faced elimination.

Phil Jackson’s unit lost Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Sacramento and had to win Game 6 back in Los Angeles — which they did — to force an epic Game 7 showdown for the ages back in Sacramento.

The Lakers ended up winning Game 7 on the road in overtime against the Sacramento Kings — three of their four wins in that series were by six points or less — and then went on to sweep the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals as Shaquille O’Neal earned his third straight NBA Finals MVP trophy.

Although the Lakers easily dispatched the Nets in the title round, the accomplishments from previous seasons created expectations that would have been difficult for this team to match despite finishing the season with a title. Indeed, statistically, the 2001-02 Los Angeles Lakers are one of the best championship teams of all time, boasting a regular season scoring margin of plus-7.1 and a playoff scoring margin of plus-3.8 with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way during the playoffs with averages of 28.5 points per game, 12.6 rebounds per game and 2.8 assists per game on 52.9 percent field goal shooting; but in terms of the rich history of the franchise post-relocation, they are the least impressive title team.

The Shaq and Kobe pair will always be one of the greatest dynamic duos the league has ever seen, and the 2001-02 season will be remembered as the final chapter of their championship days together.

The 2002 Lakers might be the “worst” Los Angeles Lakers championship team, but in the grand scheme of things, they still managed a title and completed the ever elusive three-peat.

Lakers fans will tell you, that’s a great way to finish last…

With Steve Nash set to become a member of the Los Angeles Lakers officially on July 11th, let’s ask Prince to bless us with some of his lyrics:

“[…] but tonight we’re going to party like it’s 2003!!”

Avid Prince fans would point out that the year mentioned in the actual song is 1999 and not 2003; but in this case the year 2003 has some historical significance for the Los Angeles Lakers. Indeed, in the summer of ’03, the purple and gold pulled off the seemingly unthinkable when they brought in Karl Malone and Gary Payton via free agency to play with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

Needless to say, that was a blockbuster summer for the Lakers given that they had added two players destined for the Hall of Fame to a team that already featured arguably two of the five best players in the NBA.

The Hall of Fame foursome may have actually prepared us for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Miami Heat given the incredible amount of attention that it garnered, especially after losses. In addition, the team was under the microscope for most of the season and also faced a lot of media backlash given that Kobe Bryant had been accused of sexual assault and had to occasionally miss team functions or even show up late for games due to mandatory court appearances.

But when that team got on the court, they were a joy to watch.

It took some time for them to get accustomed to playing with each other within the triple-post offense; but once they started to figure things out, they often looked unbeatable.

Their ball movement as well as their interior passing made them tough to defend and put defenses in huge bind given the plethora of options available to the Lakers.

Fast-forward to the present, and it’s almost as if history is repeating itself, with Kobe Bryant finding himself at the center of it all.

The 2012-13 Lakers will probably face the pressure to win it all, much like the previous installment from the 2003-04 season, but bringing Nash on board may actually change the sentiment towards the Lakers in some respects. The franchise has often been viewed as having an unfair advantage because of their ability to pick up star players and thus fans have often wanted to see them fail; but things may be subject to change now that the player that every one apparently wants to see get a ring has joined the purple and gold.

Public sentiment may be fun to sway, but the real kicker will actually come on the hardwood.

In Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers will have four potential All-Stars — all four have played in at least one All-Star game — sharing the court together. Not one, not two, not three; four!

More importantly, the collective basketball IQ of three of those four athletes — sorry Drew — is high enough that the expectation will be that not only will they figure things out quickly, but they will play basketball with great synergy.

The identity of the team in years past has been to allow Kobe Bryant to figure out when and where to switch from facilitator to scorer, and although his role should be about the same, he will probably be asked to be more of a scorer with Nash on the roster.

Nash will obviously have to adapt to dumping the ball inside the post and then drifting to open areas of the court, but the Lakers will also adjust and probably play a little more pick-and-roll basketball with Nash and Gasol; with Kobe Bryant waiting on the weak side of the court for either an open jump shot, or a pump fake and drive.

Consider that little tidbit, how often do defenses actually rotate off the Black Mamba? And yet, this may in fact become a reality for this new Lakers team.

Notwithstanding injuries, the purple and gold will probably always have two All-Stars that complement each other on the court at the same time, which is probably terrifying news for the rest of the league.

With that said, there are still some minor concerns about this team.

Although yours truly has already previously made the bold statement that Steve Nash is probably the best shooter in the league’s history, the Lakers struggled to connect from 3-point range at key times last season and thus could use a wing player capable of converting shots from deep. It’s still worth noting that Metta World Peace was a decent option towards the end of the season from long-range, but it’s tough to predict whether that will translate into 82 games in 2012-13 as well as possibly another 20 or so playoff games.

In addition, many will state that the Lakers need an influx of athleticism, which wouldn’t hurt but isn’t an absolute necessity. Instead, Mike Brown’s unit might want to take a look at a destructive perimeter defender — Tony Allen anyone — to help the defend the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker as well as wing players.

While many still believe that Oklahoma City is still the team to beat in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers just narrowed the margin. Obviously, there are other moves to be made by the rest of the Western Conference but if the players come together and play well in concert, they may end up celebrating like it’s ­not 2004.

Remember, that team lost in the Finals…