Kobe Bryant (left) is not ready to fade away as he is still determined to win a championship with the Lakers, but Andrew Bynum does not seem to care where he plays next season. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Please do not argue with the Sports Editor. That is like depending on a soft power forward, an immature center, a career backup point guard, and a thin bench to win a championship. It’s just a bad idea. Illustration by David C. Brown
Last year the issue was a lack of heart, but this year there are a number of other problems.By Jason LewisSentinel Sports Editor
Around this time last year I stood up on my soapbox and proclaimed that the Lakers had a lack of heart after they were swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Lakers forward Pau Gasol was one of the main focuses of that article, and seeing that the Lakers flamed out again in the second round as Gasol again failed to play up to his capabilities, I could easily copy and paste that article, run it again, and be done with this awful Lakers post-season. (Click here for last year's article http://www.lasentinel.net/On-the-Soap-Box-Lakers-have-no-heart.html)But the Lakers issues went far beyond Gasol going soft again in the playoffs. Bynum shrunk in key moments, Ramon Sessions is really a back up point guard, it is still a mystery what the Lakers offense is, old age causes them to fall short in the 4th period, the roster does not fit what ever style coach Mike Brown is trying to run, they do not have a bench, and lets not lose sight of the fact their second best player will not shoot the ball when it matters the most! Out of all those issues, Gasol is the big one. Many people focus on Bynum being inconsistent and immature, but the Lakers won back-to-back titles with him as a role player. Those title teams had a super star in Kobe Bryant, and an All-Star in Gasol. Taking a look at the stats, Gasol averaged 18.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for the Lakers in the 2007-08 regular season, and in the postseason he averaged 16.9 points and 9.3 rebounds. The Lakers made it to the NBA Finals that year. During the 2008-09 regular season Gasol averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds. In the postseason he averaged 18.3 points and 10.9 rebounds, and that resulted in a NBA Finals championship.During the 2009-10 regular season Gasol averaged 18.3 points and 10.2 rebounds, and in the postseason he averaged 19.6 points and 11.1 rebounds. The Lakers went on to win a second NBA Finals championship. Gasol was a consistent player and he complemented Bryant extremely well. But that all changed last postseason. During the 2010-11 regular season he averaged 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds, which are typical numbers for him. But in the postseason he disappeared as he averaged only 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds. The result was being swept in the second round. This past regular season Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds, which are still good numbers, but in the postseason, again, his production dropped as he averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds, which led to another second round exit. The Lakers counted on Gasol to make it to the Finals three times, but the past two seasons he is the one player that they have missed the most. People will say that the Lakers should have kept Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. But they had those players last year and still lost in the second round. Gasol playing up to par would have made the difference this year. The Lakers had the personnel to win this year, but a player like Gasol not showing up when they need him sabotages their efforts. Three points and three rebounds in a Game 6 blowout loss at Denver in the first round? A combined four points in the 4th periods of Game 4 & 5 losses against the Oklahoma City Thunder? One complaint is that Bryant shoots the ball so much that Gasol does not get enough touches. But Gasol is seven-feet tall. How about getting a rebound and putting the ball back up in the hoop? In the Lakers Game 4 loss, Gasol finished the game with only five rebounds, while Bryant finished the game with eight. The moment that defines Gasol the most was with about 30 seconds to play in Game 4, with the game tied, Bryant dumps the ball into the low post to Gasol, but instead of taking a simple 10-foot jump shot, he sees a defender coming his way so he passes the ball, which was intercepted and the Thunder ran down the court and hit the game winning shot. The Lakers should have won that game, but Gasol once again shrunk in the moment, just like his postseason production over the past two seasons. Gasol was bad, and so was Bynum. His combined 4th period numbers from Games 4 & 5 losses against the Thunder, four points and four rebounds. In Game 5 he only grabbed four rebounds all game long. Bynum finally became an All-Star player this season, and there was a lot of talk that he surpassed Dwight Howard as the best center in the league. But Bynum proved numerous times that he could not handle his new found stardom because of his maturity issues. At times it looked like he checked himself out of ball games and was just going through the motions. The thought was that the Lakers were going to build their future teams around Bynum, but Lakers management might be exploring other options right now. At times Bynum proved why he is better than Howard, but too many times he showed exactly why he is not as great as Howard. Howard is consistent and gives maximum effort every game. With Bynum, it depends on what mood he is in. The Bynum for Howard trade talks are floating around, and seeing that Bynum is having that “I don’t really care” attitude when he said that it really does not matter where he plays next year, it might be time to part ways with the immature big man. But simply trading one center for another may not be the answer. If the Lakers make that trade straight up, do they then hold onto Gasol, who they already tried to trade last off-season? Do the Lakers need to stick to this two seven-foot low post player model? Seeing that Bynum was not much of a factor in the two titles, do they really need all that length?This team has other needs besides low post players, so the Lakers may want to address other needs besides their bigs. It was exciting when the Lakers traded for Sessions because they had been so bad at point guard, and he is a young and athletic player. But after a few weeks of over hyping his athletic abilities, it did not take long to figure out that he is really just a back up point guard. He never started anywhere else, but he was supposed to be the answer for the Lakers? It did not help that coach Brown did not have an offensive model to utilize a true point guard, so Sessions had to get used to playing without the ball instead of running the offense. And it was hard to figure out exactly what the Lakers offensive identity was. Gasol certainly could not figure it out as he spent more time on the perimeter setting screens than playing down in the low post. The Lakers need shooters more than 14 feet of big men. The only true shooter on the team is Steve Blake, who was coming off the bench, but at times he was not shooting the ball much. Metta World Peace found his jump shot late in the season, but that is not what he is on the court for. The Lakers bench is extremely thin. Matt Barnes may be tough and athletic, but he cannot shoot the ball. At this point the only way that the Lakers can improve is through trades, because they are over the salary cap and their only draft pick is the final pick of the entire draft. Their major pieces are Gasol and Bynum, and count on one of them, if not both, to be traded away. The best thing that the Lakers could probably do is trade Bynum for Howard, and obtain complementary players for Gasol. They could address the point guard position and possibly the bench by giving him up. But one problem with that plan is that Howard may not want to sign a long term agreement with the Lakers, so they could be getting him for only one season. The Lakers are going to have to make major moves, and seeing that they made a blockbuster move after flaming out of the playoffs last season, count on them to do the same this off-season. Losing in the second round of the playoffs may be a step in the right direction for the other Los Angeles NBA team, but not the Lakers. Bryant said that he is pretty impatient, and he is not ready to fade away. Historically the Lakers have had those same attitudes, which is why they always rebuild themselves back into championship contenders.
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