If you haven’t had the chance, you should go read Dave McMenamin’s article on Jerry Buss’ media session held at a fundraiser event for the Lakers Youth Foundation. In the piece, you’ll read the the good Dr. spoke on a variety of topics including the Lakers’ payroll, his hall of fame indcution, Shaq to the Celtics, and much more.
However, the part that interested me the most were Buss’ comments on the Miami Heat. Here’s a sample:
Suddenly there’s this juggernaut out there that we have a chance to play against and that excites me, that really excites me because, quite honestly, I think we can beat them and I’m looking forward to playing them. I don’t think it’s automatic that Miami will be our biggest opponent come the end, but on the other hand, I must admit they have the world’s attention and that means we’re going to be on center stage when we get a chance to play them.
He then spoke about the Lakers’ personnel moves of this past summer in relation to the “super team” that the Heat have assembled:
Our intentions were to sign those players prior to Miami coalescing all of the talent that was left over. I don’t think we reacted to them. Once the season is over, we look backwards on the season and say, ‘Were there any weaknesses? Could we do something to improve this team?’ And we did that quite independently of Miami. … I think we just prepared ourselves for the general war, not specifically for anyone.
All of this interests me not because of the reference to the Heat or because Dr. Buss semi-discounts their chances of being the top contender by lumping them in with other very strong teams like the Magic or the Celtics. But, it interests me because we got a little insight into the mentality of the Lakers brass when building a team. You see, the Lakers were intent on not standing pat. Their goal was to build as strong a team as possible that could manage to defeat any opponent rather than gearing up for one specific team.
And this is a mentality that has been lost on other contenders over the past couple of seasons. Look at the 2009-10 Cavs for example. That team aquired Shaq during the off-season to deal with Dwight Howard and then traded for Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline in order to better match up with Rashard Lewis, both of whom play for the Magic. This would seem like common sense considering the Magic eliminated the Cavs the previous Spring. However, these moves proved to be short sighted as the Cavs never faced the Magic in the 2010 playoffs and instead were dispacthed by the Celtics in six games. You see the Celtics had the perfect counter to the moves that the Cavs made to “improve” as they attacked Shaq in P&R and off ball screen actions that took advantage of his limited mobility on defense while smothering Jamison with a long and (still) athletic defender in KG. This forced the Cavs to turn to a Lebron-centric offense that the Celtics are built to shut down over the course of a playoff series. Really, the results were inevitbable as the Cavs roster was not built to beat all comers, but was instead built to beat ones that depended on big man play (the Magic or Lakers) that they never ended up facing. (I understand that this is a simplistic view and that there is much more nuance to the Cavs/Celtics match up that was not explored. However, this was essentially the key to the series as the Cavs didn’t have the variety of offensive threats on the wing and their big man that could actually score – Shaq – was a liability on defense while their best defensive big man – Varejao – could not score against the C’s dominant defense. This left Lebron on an island and even though he performed well on most nights, it was not enough.)
Meanwhile, look at teams like Boston and the Lakers. These are teams that continue to self scout, identify general weaknesses that matter against every oponent, and them attempt to address them through their personnel decisions. This past off-season, Boston knew that it was short on big man depth and acquired the O’neal’s (Shaq and Jermaine). They also knew that they were short on perimeter defenders and back court scoring and then sought to retain Marquise Daniels (who is better than the showed in an injury riddled season last year) and Nate Robinson. When you combine those moves with the retention of Ray Allen, Pierce, KG, and an improving Rondo and you have a versatile roster that can match up with any team in the league by scoring enough and clamping down on defense. As for the Lakers, you see the same approach of identifying weaknesses and then moving to improve those areas. Need a steadier point guard that can play with either the starters or the resevers? Enter Steve Blake. Need a back up SF that can defend, rebound, shoot the three ball, and slash off the ball? Go get Matt Barnes. Even by retaining Shannon Brown and drafting Ebanks/Caracter, the Lakers addressed their youth and athleticism concerns. This is how you build a team.
So, while Dr. Buss was speaking on any and all topics I was listening to the parts where he was talking about how this organization was intent on staying on top. A good friend of mine has always said that even championship teams need a certain amount of turnover to stay competitive. We saw this last year with the addition of Ron Artest and see it again this season with Barnes, Blake, and Ratliff. No one can be sure if this will be enough for the Lakers to remain the class of the league, but I’m grateful to Dr. Buss for opening his wallet and to Mitch for working his magic with the agents and players to bring in guys that have made a strong team even stronger by suring up weaknesses with quality contributors.