It’s been over a half day since the Lakers had Chris Paul in their mitts only to suddenly not. It’s a nifty magic trick to make a player disappear in plain sight but that’s what the owners of the Hornets - who double as the owners of the other 29 franchises in the NBA – did on Thursday evening.
Rehashing every detail inspires anger, but somewhat necessary. The Lakers were set to deal away two thirds of their advantageous front court for the purest point guard in the land. Gasol and Odom – two pillars of character and, combined, elite production – would be shipped away. Their loss can not be overstated or overlooked. Without them the Lakers don’t win back to back championships in ’09 and ’10; they don’t make an unthought-of of Finals run in ’08; they’re not considered one of the handful of championship contenders every season.
In return they would have gotten the six foot maestro of tempo and efficiency the league has not seen the likes of in a generation. The evolutionary Zeke Thomas with the mean streak to match. For all the concerns about a suspect wheel, Paul is a bona fide top 5 player in the league and impacts the game in ways other play makers simply don’t. I remember the first round of the playoffs in 2011 quite well with guys like David Andersen and Aaron Gray looking like above average big men and slashers like Trevor Ariza and Willie Green getting hit in stride in the creases of a Laker defense thought to be too formidable to be pushed by such average talents. Paul elevates his teammates. He can make depleted rosters better and would have done so with the Lakers holdovers that match that “average” description. What he could have done for the games of Andrew Bynum or Kobe Bryant inspire a wry grin just thinking of it.
But it’s not to be. The league has decreed the deal dead. That has consequences the must be looked at:
The Lakers find themselves in the unenviable position of having players on their roster that feel unwanted. Lamar Odom – a key lockerroom cog, a leader, an unquestioned talent – did not report to training camp today. Pau Gasol did report and tweeted messages of positivity, but lets be real: he too is surely upset and wonders where he stands within the Laker organization regardless of how he thinks of himself as an all world talent.
The Lakers need to heal and in a compressed season under a new coaching staff where there was barely going to be enough time to learn sets, they now have to re-learn how to trust; how to co-exist. A fractured relationship does not get repaired the same way that a leaky back side coverage of a pick and roll does. This can’t be remedied by the x’s and o’s on a grease board.
Is Mike Brown – an excellent teacher – up to the task of being a healer? We shall see but the challenge is in front of him now.
He’ll also need help from the other leaders on this team. Kobe Bryant must reach out to his mates to reassure them that a management decision does not impact his mind about what these players mean to him, to his team. Phil Jackson is gone now,Kobeis the holdover that must channel some of that zen to bring his mates back into the fold of the family. Derek Fisher must also step in and perform some of his own unifying magic. The man that led the union in a fight against the owners must now lead his players in a similar fight against those that wish to tear the team apart.
I don’t envy anyone in this scenario. Their work is hard and there’s no set path to walk to get it done.
Despite that awkwardness that will exist it needs to be remembered that the Lakers roster, as constructed, is a damned good one. Those rumors that had them acquiring some of the best players in the world are only in place because the existing talent is good enough to bring those players toLos Angeles. Those that don’t believe in this team have the Mavericks series fresh on their minds and I don’t blame them. However, those that do believe understand that a healthy off-season for every single one of the Lakers top 6 players just happened.
KobeBryant is refreshed. Andrew Bynum is, by all accounts, ready to make an impact as far reaching as his mammoth wing span. Removing the emotional baggage discussed above will be difficult for Gasol and Odom (especially Odom) but they too had a long off-season to recuperate, reflect, and recharge. This team has motivation to prove the doubters wrong and even without a Paul or a Howard are primed to make a push. A team doesn’t go from elite to afterthought overnight. At least not this one; not with #24 on the team.
A balance must be struck. The deal that was reported died. It was killed by a league of owners that are too busy worried about their pocket books and the fortunes of the Lakers to see anything else but what helps line their own pockets. Commissioner David Stern has become the anti Pinocchio turning from a human to a puppet right before our eyes. This is nature of the league now and as a basketball fan this angers me to no end.
But as a Lakers fan, the time to feel bad or be angry is pretty much over. It’s now time to work on healing. And learning. The season starts in 16 days when the Bulls visit the team. As far as I know – as far as anyone knows – the team as constituted now (save for some FA signings to address depth) will be the team that dives into the trenches together on Christmas Day. The deal that died must soon become a memory – just as all things that pass away do.