From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: For all parties involved — fans, media, and especially, the Lakers themselves — Sunday’s 122-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks was a sucker punch finale to a season steeped in misdirection. The preseason favorite among pundits and General Managers, an underwhelming regular season left the Lakers no longer regarded as bullet proof entering the playoffs, but still a force to be reckoned with. The first round created more doubts, and believing meant also buying into an exceptionally difficult path, despite home-court advantage in the West unexpectedly regained. But not even the most skeptical Lakers fans (or zealous Mavericks fans) can honestly claim to have foreseen the bodies left for dead in Dallas. It’s one thing to get upset. It’s quite another to get swept, and in fashion even the “Jail Blazer” squads would have deemed classless. The world Lakers fans knew has steadily spiraled in an unfamiliar direction, and by Sunday’s end, had been turned completely upside down.
ESPN.com’s 5-on-5: Before Phil Jackson rides off into the sunset, we tracked down five guys who know a thing or two about coaching to explain the Hall-of-Famer’s impact on the game during his 20-year tenure and what lies ahead. What was Phil’s greatest strength? We he ever coach again? Our star-studded five-man coaching staff breaks it down:
From Joey Whelan, Hoop Speak: On Saturday, the venerable Tom Ziller penned a column discussing the peculiar and unsure future for the Lakers and their enigmatic big man Andrew Bynum. This future – difficult to predict before – has suddenly been thrust into a spin cycle of uncertainty following the center’s contemptible actions in the closing minutes of Los Angeles’ season-ending loss to the Dallas Mavericks yesterday. Initial questions will center around the severity of the almost inevitable punishment that will be levied against Bynum, but perhaps the overarching issue will be whether the 23-year-old has a realistic future with his current franchise. This isn’t a knee jerk reaction to a single act, a moment of weakness and frustration from a young player that manifested itself in the worst way possible. It’s more complex than that, because the last 72 hours yielded at once the best and worst that Bynum has to offer moving forward for the Lakers.
From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: Yesterday, the Los Angeles Lakers saw their season come to a stunning, early, and shameful end, losing to the Dallas Mavericks, 122-86, and being ignominiously swept out of the playoffs a full two rounds earlier than they have advanced for the past three years. Stunning? I meant predictable. After all, before Game 3, I all but called how this series would end, committing to words exactly how badly Laker teams have flamed out in those of the last 15 years that haven’t ended with parades. Early? Hindsight is obviously 20/20 here, but based upon this series, and what we know of the limitations of the team faced in the last round, one has to ask if the Lakers would even have advanced past round one if they had faced any team but the one they did. It is no coincidence that, of the eight teams which advanced to Round 2, all the other ones are still playing, because they are all better than whatever it is the Lakers became in their final weeks. Using the Hornets as a baseline, and the Mavericks as the team to measure against, one has to believe the Lakers would likely have lost to any other team in the West.
From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: This 21st century version of the Lakers brought something different. When the Shaqobe Lakers’ were in full force, they seemed literally unbeatable. However, was it just me or did it seem like Lakers’ fans seemed very segmented on who they pulled for. It wasn’t just “The Lakers” it was… “Man, its all about Shaq.” “Kobe is the greatest player in the league, tell Shaq to get out the way.” “This team would be nothing without Shaquille O’Neal.” “Shaq needs Kobe more than Kobe needs Shaq.” It almost seemed like Lakers’ fans were pulling their own team apart for no reason. Only a few sane Lakers’ fans realized the true greatness that a Shaqobe pairing with both parties buying in meant that this duo was literally unstoppable. However, as much as the fans seemed segmented, the players did too.
From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: Yes, Kobe is a wonderful defensive player when the moment calls for it. He can guard three positions, he accepts challenges (Chris Paul in this year’s playoffs, Russell Westbrook in last year’s), he’s a smart helper and he can change a game on that end. But he did few of these things during the bulk of the regular season, and this award, as far as I understand it, is designed to honor players for their contributions on defense over a full season. Kobe spent much of this season relaxing as often as possible on defense while Ron Artest took on the heaviest wing (and sometimes, point guard) assignments. This was smart strategy! Kobe suffered some pretty serious knee problems at the end of the 2009-10 season, and the Lakers knew they would need him at full strength in May and June (whoops!) to win the title this season. Sparing him as many taxing defensive assignments as possible was a sound move, but it should have disqualified Bryant from any serious consideration for a first-team spot.
From David Murphy, Searching for Slava: The end was like the beginning and like places in-between – a season of sections and distractions, of poetry and hero stances and the flipping of a switch that had grown old and unreliable. A month ago I wrote, “there’s been three four-game skids now and we’re all just rolling the dice that it doesn’t happen in a seven game series. Because then it’s over.” And so, the season coughed and sputtered and spun on its haunches before settling down to die, looking at us one last time, asking if it was okay to go now. It was. Danny Chau penned a piece that likened the end to a melting sun. Darius Soriano wrote about disappointment turning to reflection. Brian Kamenetzky invoked Japanese monster movies while brother Andy pointed out the lack of nuance in a lopsided loss. And, Dexter Fishmore described a low point in Lakers’ history. Different takes on a difficult subject, sharing the commonality of good writing. I am indebted to them and so many others, for keeping me entertained and sated over the course of a topsy-turvy season.
From Broderick Turner, LA Times: The Lakers have to fill a very big void now that Coach Phil Jackson is walking away into retirement — again. The decision on the new Lakers coach will be made by owner Jerry Buss, his son Jim Buss, the team’s executive vice president of player personnel, and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. The Lakers can only hope this hire turns out better than the last time they replaced Jackson. The Lakers hired Rudy Tomjanovich as coach, but he lasted only 41 games into the 2004-05 season before leaving because of health problems. Who will succeed Jackson is a hot topic around the NBA. But after talking to many general managers, scouts, coaches and players, there seems to be no clear-cut favorite for the job. So, in keeping with the guessing game, here’s a snapshot of some likely candidates to become the next Lakers coach:
Lastly, the LA Times has a cool photo essay highlight Phil Jackson’s playing and coaching careers. Tons of memories and fantastic photography. You can check it out here.