Moving Forward: LA Lakers Postmortem Part I

June 21, 2012

I was wandering down the sidewalk on Figueroa Street a day after the Lakers lost to the Thunder, taking in the view. Staples Center rests over tired downtown pavements, desolate pavements that resembled the day after the rapture, basketball now a frustrating thought to the natives.

The immortal statues who protected the pride of the building for years stood firm drenched in the shadows. The busy parking lots that usually swarmed in the evening hours, now favored a cemetery minutes after the funeral goers dispersed, eerie silence prevailing. Strange how it all started on the most joyous day of the year.

On Christmas Day, Laker fans were presented with a bench that looked like it had been devoured by termites, with the many holes it boasted. Truth is, the Lakers were inconsistent in the playoffs because they had an offensively-starved second unit and fatigue-plagued the starters late in games. It's simple.

After losing to the Thunder, 4-1, there were murmurs about what would have happened if Steve Blake hit that shot, and if the Lakers could've kept their leads in the fourth. The fact remains Blake missed the wide open jumper and they failed to keep the fourth quarter leads. I'm sure Sam Bowie, Michael Olowokandi, and Greg Oden still talk about what could've been and what should've been too.

Now the Lakers need to accept that they failed to execute down the stretch and move forward by correcting their mistakes in the next campaign.


Kobe Bryant

Right out the gate the main strength of the Lakers is one of the greatest players on the planet, two-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba's will to win is beyond compare, as he has been on the same relentless mission throughout his 16-year career.

Bryant averaged 31 points in the Western Conference Semis, scoring 42 in Game 5. And if his comments provide any indication, next year he will be back for vengeance: "It's not one of those things where the Bulls beat the Pistons and they disappear forever, I'm not going for that [expletive]."

One would be foolish not to believe this five-time world champion.


Critics and fans alike may say the Lakers' 7-footers let them down in the playoffs, and to some degree they did -- occasionally displaying the aggressiveness of newborn puppies against the Thunder.

But take a keen look at what happened when the double teams came. The inside-out game was non-existent because the shooters couldn't shoot.

To avoid this problem during next year's postseason, the Lakers will have to acquire or develop players who can shoot the basketball from the perimeter. Both 7-footers are crucial strengths for the Lakers, but lose their effectiveness when the paint gets clogged. As such, shooters are needed to stretch the floor and to make teams pay for doubling. If the Lakers find consistent shooters, opponents will use more single coverages, allowing the LA frontcourt to dominate the paint again.

Bynum and Gasol are not only valuable to the team's success on the court, but also as trade chips. The Lakers may be able to land an All-Star guard like Deron Williams in a sign-and-trade, or land the coveted Dwight Howard with one of the bigs being the centerpiece of the deal. The preference would be to deal Gasol, but his stock might be lower than Bynum's because of his recent playoff absences.


Bench/Role Players

Losing key players like Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher -- who provided instant offense and leadership off the bench -- was painful. The Lakers were affected by these departures in the playoffs, as the bench was outscored in all 12 playoff games. Derek Fisher's clutch leadership over the years also was missed, as the Lakers dropped two games in the second round with comfortable leads in the fourth quarter.

In order to upgrade their bench, consistent shooters and athletic wings should be on the Lakers wish-list this off-season. Unfortunately, the shooters the Lakers acquired before the season -- Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono -- had minimal impact. Hence, spending wisely this offseason will be pivotal, as the Lakers are now the broke college students of the NBA and cannot afford any mistakes.

Salary Cap Concerns

The Lakers had the highest payroll in the NBA in 2012 at 86.6 million, roughly about 26 million over the salary cap. This means the Lakers are a whopping 16 million over the luxury tax threshold. Having digested this, the Lakers will have few opportunities to pursue top tier free agents, and thus, must shed by trades to improve the roster.

Considering that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum's salaries will exceed the NBA's 2013 salary cap of 60 million alone, LA will have to be very clever in how they tweak the roster. This adds up to a troubling Hollywood Drama, and given Pau's recent playoff performances, he will likely be the one to exit stage left.

Screen-Roll Defense

Even in the Phil Jackson era, the Lakers struggled to defend the pick-and-roll. Whether it was the 2006 Suns or the 2012 Thunder, the pick-and-roll has been unstoppable against L.A.

Early this season Mike Brown attempted to remedy this problem by having his big guys hedge hard on screens. It worked for awhile, but quicker guards soon realized this scheme could lead to switches, leaving them in isolation against the Laker big men.

Perhaps Mike Brown was discouraged by those diminishing returns late in the season. More aggressive hedging would have certainly helped against the Thunder, but it was seemingly nonexistent in that Thunder series.

To be continued in Part II . . .

By Kareem Arnold
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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