December 25, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16), shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) and point guard Steve Nash (10) react during a stoppage in play against the New York Knicks during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Lost & Found: The Lakers Motivation

In professional sports, the goal is to amass as much talent as possible, under whatever the rules allow in order to win a championship. In the NBA there is a salary cap that limits the amount of high priced, supposedly high value talent any one team can bring in. In the MLB there is no such restriction and teams are allowed to have payrolls that can exceed $200 million. Last season for the Lakers, they managed to have an extremely high payroll, with what were supposed to be high talent players. As we saw last season, all of that high priced talent didn’t amount to any real success on the court.

Taking a look at the MLB this year, we can see teams with expensive, high talent rosters that aren’t performing. For example, the Yankees, Phillies, Angels, Giants, Blue Jays, White Sox and Cubs all pay over $100 million for their teams, and the Yankees are closest to a division lead at 7.5 games back. For all the money being thrown into those teams, they aren’t seeing a lot of return on their investment – just like the Lakers of last season. Is there potentially an issue with putting together so many high priced stars? Does the high payroll lead to complacency and an expectation that you don’t need to go out and earn your success?

Last season, it seems abundantly clear that this was how Dwight Howard saw things. He knew he was a made man for the Lakers – Mitch Kupchak made that abundantly clear by making declarations of a statue and jersey hanging from the rafters of Staples Center. Dwight was being told, without having done anything for the franchise, that he would be the man. This lead to Dwight doing whatever he wanted. Until the All-Star break he refused to commit to D’Antoni’s offense. Following the season, he asked the franchise to give him a timeline on Kobe’s retirement or to possibly amnesty Kobe. What cache did Dwight really have with the Lakers that he felt he could get away with this attitude? A quick exit from the playoffs after a lackluster season was supposed to afford him this type of gravitas in the organization?

That is why you didn’t hear the organization make a big stink out of Dwight leaving. Why would they? An entitled player came and wanted everything handed to him, he decided not to stay and the Lakers are potentially better off for it – only time will tell.

This year’s team will have something the past two year’s squads have lacked; hunger. We know Kobe Bryant will be hungry to come back and show all the doubters he can still be an elite player, the same goes for Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Chris Kaman admitted he wanted to prove he can return to his All-Star form from his time with the Clippers. Nick Young took a minimum contract to play for the Lakers and show everyone what he is capable of. Wesley Johnson knows that this might be his last chance to stick with an NBA team and certainly will make the most of his opportunity. Jordan Farmar left millions of dollars on the table to come back to the NBA and in particular the Lakers. Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, and Jordan Hill are all on the final year of their respective contracts, an incentive to perform at their absolute best.

If nothing else, this will be the biggest change in the Lakers roster. No longer are overpaid, underperforming players littering the roster; on the contrary, there are many players who took pay cuts for the chance to play with the Lakers. For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Lakers will actually have some real motivation.

Consider that every single writer, pundit, and analyst have been clamoring for the Lakers to tank this season. As a competitor, what could be more motivating? Imagine you are Kobe, a 5-time champion, or Steve Nash, a two-time MVP, or Pau Gasol, a two-time NBA Champion – hearing everyone say you have no chance and would be better off intentionally losing games this season isn’t only a slight, but slap in the face.

I am not proclaiming the Lakers are going to be world beaters, or even a playoff team. What they will be is a team that is no longer complacent. A sense of urgency will be instilled upon a team that played with none. The team will be forced to earn any success they desire – a welcome change from the atmosphere surrounding the Lakers of the past two seasons.

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