Usually when a great band breaks up, its because the lead singer had decided to go on to a mega solo career and the lesser lights of the group struggle to regain their footing. Think “The Police”.
What follows is often desperate attempts by those pushed from the limelight to try to put the pieces back together again. Rarely does an accomplished band come back together willingly and go on to be more than just a shell of their former themselves. Unless its the “Eagles”.
The Lakers have survived a tumultuous season of the shorter than expected Dwight Howard era. All the backbiting, anonymous leaks to the media, players’ only meetings, and lethargic play that marked the early Kobe Bryant years had returned with a vengeance.
This time the spotlight was trained on Howard who was going through an extreme case of culture shock. The antics that were cute and endearing in Orlando, were grating to a Lakers fan base that understands the urgency to win one more title to cement Jerry Buss’ and Bryant’s legacy.
The Lakers’ two time champion led by Kobe and Pau Gasol were a close knit group that had grown together into champions. Most of the rotation was drafted by the team. Over time, Jim Buss saw the need to jettison some of his expensive contracts, essentially dismantling the bench and role players surrounding Kobe, Pau, and Andrew Bynum.
Coincidentally, the Lakers’ decline began with those cost cutting moves.
In the aftermath of Howard’s departure, the consensus was for the team to tank and submit to mediocrity, hoping to land one of the hot prospects so anticipated in next year’s draft. No one would begrudge them for just bottoming out. Their cap situation was such that there was no money to offer free agents.
Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss had publicly stated they had a Plan B in case Howard left. And we are seeing it unfold. Instead of shying away from the controversial Mike D’Antoni, upper management sought to rebuild its roster to his liking.
The signing of Nick Young and Wesley Johnson pointed to a more open and fast paced offense. The signing of Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar confirmed a returned emphasis to the pick and roll.
The Lakers are going to run next year. They will be entertaining. Whether they win, that’s to be determined.
The other aspect of the moves was to provide the best possible conditions for good team chemistry. Teams with a bunch of expiring deals often have separate agendas that hurt team goals.
Sacrifice becomes more difficult when you’re fighting for your next deal. Kupchak brought in players with deep Los Angeles ties. Players who would love and be appreciative of wearing the Purple and Gold.
Bringing back Farmar to pair with Bryant and Gasol instantly elevates the trust and communication needed between its stars and role players. There’s still one missing piece out there that would put a feel good spin on this roller coaster offseason. Resigning Lamar Odom.
Lamar was the drummer on those championship teams, keeping the team in rhythm with his floor game, skillset, and personality. The Lakers lost their heart and soul when he was traded to Dallas, and Lamar lost his game.
There’s a sliver of hope that he could regain his skills that just two years ago made him 6th man of the year and a near all star. His game is perfectly suited for D’Antoni’s offense.
Gasol is similarly seeking a resurgence, after two seasons deferring to younger talents Andrew Bynum and Howard. He now gets to return to the low block and play in an offense that plays through him, and allows him to work his favorite spots. In a contract year, there is every motivation to prove he can still produce as in the past.
With good health and a motivated roster, upgraded on the cheap, and happy to be in Los Angeles, the Lakers may be able to surprise the Western Conference. The team isn’t complete but as always the front office has made shrewd moves to make the team relevant going forward.
It just might work.