"Do something and do it now. Personally for me, it’s beyond frustration — three years and still being at ground zero. This summer’s a big summer. We have to see what direction we want to take as an organization and make those steps and make them now."
--Kobe Bryant Wednesday night
Kobe Bryant is frustrated. He should be. When the Kobe/Shaq feud reached the point that one of them had to go three years ago the choice for Dr. Jerry Buss was pretty simple -- you always take the 26-year-old with the great work ethic over the 30-something guy who shows up out of shape every fall.
(And by the way, don’t even start the “Kobe forced Shaq out” argument, it’s BS. It takes two enormous egos not to tango, and Shaq was far from blameless. Go read Roland Lazenby’s “The Show” to get a balanced picture.)
But when the Lakers went with Kobe, the plan needed to be to rebuild around him and do it quickly, even now his window for a title is probably only four or five years tops. His first three years without Shaq seem wasted, and that has more to do with the organization than Kobe. In the first year, with Rudy Tomjanovich as the coach with his unconcerned defense and shoot-the-three offense, the Laker organization looked like a rudderless ship. Phil Jackson came back and provided direction, but another first-round playoff loss this week shows that he does not have the talent needed to win.
So, what’s next?
It’s not so simple as going out and trading for a superstar like Kevin Garnett (which really is far from simple). The Lakers management has backed itself into somewhat of a corner with the NBA salary cap and can’t just go on a spending spree. Mitch Kupchak is going to need to be smart and clever, although trades are more likely than big free agent signings.
However it gets done, here’s the areas he has to address:
1) Perimeter defense. The problem with the Lakers this season (and last season) was not the offense -- the Lakers averaged 103.3 points per game, fifth best in the NBA (use the more-accurate statistic of points per possession and the Lakers still rank seventh in the league in offense). You should win a lot of games scoring that many points -- unless you give up 103.4 points a game (25th in the league, they still end up 24th using points per possession). Do that and you're basically a .500 team. Which the Lakers basically were.
The moves the Lakers make this off-season have to have defense in mind first. The Lakers score plenty, they need guys who can stop people from scoring.
2) Point Guard. Smush Parker is a great story, from the New York City playgrounds to the NBA. But talent wise he is a backup NBA point guard, not a starter on a good team. Jordan Farmar may be a starter on a good team someday, but he's not there yet.
The Lakers need to address the point guard, they need to bring in someone who is a good defensive player first and foremost. Phil Jackson's beloved triangle offense does not need a Steve Nash at the point guard spot. It needs someone who can do three things -- hit the open three pointer, play good defense and make smart decisions. The Lakers must get a player like that. I don't care if Garnett is playing for the Lakers, if the point guard defense is still the team's weakest link they will exit the playoffs early again next year.
3) Veteran players. The Lakers lack of veterans and the stability they provide was made obvious late in the season and in the playoffs. Look at San Antonio, Detroit, and other teams moving on. They are unflappable. The string of injuries created a lot of adversity for this Laker team but how the Lakers responded to that adversity has raised a lot of chemistry questions. Veterans will help solve that.
AP photo by Ross D. Franklin