Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The End of an Era?

It might be time to face it Laker fans. The glorious run of the last 10 years could be over in the next 10 days.

It’s an idea that horrifies the Purple and Gold faithful. Jack Nicholson would rather return to the Overlook Hotel than think about the idea. But with every Phil Jackson mistake and Derek Fisher miss, the Lakers are moving closer and closer to the end of one of the greatest runs in NBA history.

Face the facts; Kobe Bryant is not Kobe Bryant anymore. No, he was not abducted by aliens and taken to Moron Mountain to battle the Mon-Stars (that fine distinction belongs to the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and the other co-stars of Space Jam), but Kobe, as talented as he is, can’t carry this team every night. And the saddest part, his teammates don’t seem to care.

Pau Gasol, a man with so many post moves, and a sweet 15-foot jumper, actually makes me believe that a Space Jam sequel is in the works, and he is the star. Ron Artest, while still a good defender, has never found his scoring groove in Hollywood, and has lost a step (or three). Speaking of losing steps, Fisher would get beat by Diana Taurasi if he dared try and guard the WNBA star. Andrew Bynum simply doesn’t have enough time as the go-to guy to know what to do, and offensively is still limited outside the post. And Lamar Odom, the one guy who physically could have dominated the NBA for the last decade, just doesn’t want to. He’d much rather let everyone else take the glory (See: Khloe & Lamar for more examples).

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think the Lakers are done. Not yet, at least. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks eliminate the Lakers. Even if the Lakers manage to recover and win their third straight NBA Championship (and 6th in the last decade), the run is nearing an end. And that should scare the Lakers faithful more than they know.

The Lakers have no backup plan. If Kobe hits a major decline anytime soon, and Pau and Odom follow, the team is Andrew Bynum and a bunch of reserves. Nowhere is there a future star on the roster, outside of the nimble Bynum. Take a look at what has happened to teams in the last 20 years (the prominent years of free agency and expansion) when major stars get old and can’t dominate anymore, eventually retiring, and the team refuses to rebuild:

Philadelphia 76ers: Allen Iverson lost a step, and never found a jumper, and after a trip to the NBA Finals in 2001, fell into limbo, where they remained until Jrue Holliday saved the day. The 76ers refused to trade AI when they could have, and ended up overspending for Elton Brand in a desperate move to get back into contention. The draft has let them down, and until the lottery delivered Holliday and Evan Turner, the future was bleak. Still, even on the road to recovery, this team is a long way from a return trip to the Finals.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics are actually in a similar situation as the Lakers, and they can tell you all about limbo. After the glory years of Bird, McHale and Parrish, the team disappeared in the early 90’s before Paul Pierce dropped into their lap (thank you Philly for drafting Larry Hughes). Even with Pierce and Antoine Walker, the team never got over the hump until Danny Ainge stole Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. And now, three years later, the Celtics are down 2-0 to a much more athletic Miami Heat team, and the future is cloudy outside Rajon Rondo.

Atlanta Hawks: After years of finishing runner-up to the Celtics and Detroit Pistons in the Dominique Wilkins era, the Hawks went through a stretch where nothing went right. The Phoenix Suns bailed them out when they offered up Joe Johnson, and the Al Horford pick was brilliant. But still, for a good stretch of the 90’s and early 21st century, I often forgot Atlanta had an NBA team.

Detroit Pistons: Let’s examine their most recent run of success. After building the best defensive team in NBA history, the Pistons proceeded to let both Rasheed and Ben Wallace leave without replacements, then handed Rip Hamilton a horrid contract, and then watched as every player taken after Darko Milicic seemingly made an All-Star team. Oh, and Kwame Brown didn’t work either. Joe Dumars, feeling pressure, signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva to huge deals, instead of being patient, and now the Pistons PA Announcer spends more time yelling (Insert Visiting Teams Name) BASKETBALL.

Phoenix Suns: Just ask Steve Nash how much he misses Amar’e…Yes, Channing Frye is nice. No, he isn’t Amar’e. The Shaq hail marry failed, and the Suns never replaced Joe Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, or some really good player named Shawn Marion with anyone close to their talent level. And now Nash is old, and no heir apparent is waiting.

Sure there are other examples, but you get the point by now. And one last glaring note; the Lakers easily could have been on this list, and never would have won 5 Championships in the last decade, if not for two league-altering transactions post Showtime; Trading Vlade Divac for a 17-year-old high school kid whose NBA dad was more famous for his nickname than his playing skill, and singing the most dominant post player since Wilt (Apologies again, Kwame Brown).

And guess what, unless those same things happen again, the future could be foggy in the land of glitz and glamour. But the Lakers do have one thing going for them…At least they aren’t the Clippers.