By Chris Gayomali
So Wednesday night, the Phoenix Suns were able to hand the Los Angeles Lakers their final defeat of the season despite the valiant efforts of Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom. The Suns didn’t even need to play at their best to beat a Laker team riddled with injuries and broken confidence.
The thing that hurts them the most is that every single Laker-save Kobe and perhaps Luke Walton-knows that they are at risk of being dispensable, and they’ve been operating for the last two months under that dark cloud. L.A. fans are ruthless – we’re notorious for wanting results now rather than later.
Which brings me to Andrew Bynum. He was considered a bona fide steal during the mediocre 2005 draft year when he went tenth overall. As one of the last players to ever be drafted straight out of high school, Bynum possesses a lot of physical gifts for someone not yet 20-years-old. All that said and done, he’s young, and it will take years to develop and refine him into the type of player a team will need to win a championship. Granted, he’s not a complete big-man bust (Michael Olowokandi anyone?), but the Lakers are in a situation where their window of opportunity is slowly dimming. Sure, Bynum could very well one day become an All-Star, but from what I see, he doesn’t have the competitive drive or confidence it takes to be a championship center. The argument could be made that he’s young, but if that seed of confidence isn’t planted early enough it might never be seen.
Even though he’s under the wing of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he doesn’t have those intangibles that other superstars in the league possess. Case in point: when Jermaine O’Neal came into the league the same year as Kobe back in 1996, he was a bench warmer for the Portland Trail Blazers for a good while before he ever developed. It was only when he was traded and allowed to shine that his stock shot up, as he became an All-Star caliber player. On the contrary, Bynum is expected to perform under the bright Hollywood lights; he’s thrust into an unfair situation that is slowly shattering his confidence. If he stays in L.A., he could perhaps never develop into the type of player Lakers owner Jerry Buss sees.
So what are the Lakers to do? Kobe Bryant’s game is unmatchable. He is the only player in the league whose ferocity on the court matches his talent and intelligence. To say that he doesn’t make his teammates better is a bogus argument. Even if Michael Jordan comparisons are a bit cliché, the fact that they are made speaks volumes about his game. Jordan was surrounded by players that complimented his game, and he in turn made them look better. It was this symbiotic relationship between superstar and role players that led the 90s Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. The Jordan argument has the privilege of operating under a guise of mysticism; we only remember Mike’s successes, whereas all his shortcomings are conveniently forgotten. To say that Kobe is a ball-hog and Jordan was not is the mark of a superficial fan of the game.
The point is, Kobe’s game is good enough to win a championship because it requires the fewest amount of pieces to compliment him. In all honesty, all the Lakers really need is another decent perimeter defender who can make open shots, some big men who can guard the rim and finish plays, and someone to handle the ball when it’s not in Kobe’s hands. The Lakers need to do everything in their power to land Kevin Garnett. His intensity matches Kobe’s perfectly, and his mere presence around the paint will change the defensive persona of the team. Offensively, the Lakers will always be okay, but having Garnett will give them a post threat that makes the triangle deadly.
The other major trade option is rumored to be Jermaine O’Neal, who I’m not sure would help the Lakers out all that much. He doesn’t have the defensive presence in the interior the Lakers need. His offensive game is unquestionably potent, but that’s not what they need.
A trade I’d like to see happen would be to somehow steal Ron Artest from the misguided Maloof brothers. Phil Jackson is notorious for bringing the best out of “bad” players (i.e. Dennis Rodman), and Artest’s antics would more than likely be channeled into positive results on the court.
Another move I was a fan of was Bynum for Jason Kidd. Even though the Lakers aren’t a fast-break team, they could have essentially been a vastly improved version of the current New Jersey Nets. Imagine how ridiculous Kobe’s game would be if he didn’t have to waste energy handling the ball every possession, and then imagine how much potential Kidd’s game could’ve unlocked out of a player like Odom. Top it off with Kidd’s perimeter defense and you can imagine how formidable the Lakers would be, especially since they’ll likely be battling the Suns in the playoffs for the next couple of years.
The current incarnation of the Lakers is scary when they’re all healthy but with a few tweaks and some veteran leadership, they could very well dominate the league for the next couple of years.