LA Lakers

The Collapsing Lake

After overcoming injuries to everyone except Payton, the ominous presence of the Kobe trial, Phil Jackson’s wait-and-see approach to the season, constant bickering between their two biggest stars, and a tougher Western Conference than they had ever gone up against, Los Angeles was still alive.

That miraculous shot by Fisher was indicative of how the Lakers overcame obstacles all year long. Were they overconfident heading into the Finals?

Of course they were! And because of that smug arrogance and cockiness, the Laker experiment failed miserably.

Is that being too harsh?

Can a team that reached the Finals be considered a total failure?Does jaw dropping, non-comprehensive, face-slapping, head-shaking shock cover it?
I mean, the Lakers’ championship was supposed to be a done deal, what with four players on their way to the Hall of Fame.

Over two different stretches of the season, this Los Angeles team looked like it might be good enough to break the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins.

Then again, at other times the Lakers seemed like the last thing they wanted to do was play basketball.

Well, whatever the excuse, the addition of two Hall of Famers at the end of their careers just wasn’t enough to put L.A. back on top.

Who did they need? Jordan?

Flashback to when San Antonio knocked the defending champs out of the playoffs last season.

Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher were shedding tears on the sideline.

Then during the offseason, Gary Payton and Karl Malone signed on creating perhaps the most talented non-all-star starting five ever to play basketball.

Other teams out West, scared of Lakers dominance, started beefing up their own rosters as well.

Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell went to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Antoine Walker was traded to the Dallas Mavericks.

Rasho Nesterovic, Hedo Turkoglu and Robert Horry ended up on the San Antonio Spurs, and Brad Miller jumped to the Sacramento Kings.

None of these rejuvenated squads could measure up to the Lake Show.

In an erratic season to say the least, Los Angeles struggled at times, but on the last day of the regular season, a few Kobe miracles locked up the No. 2 seed, and made Western Conference survival possible.

Sure, they could have easily lost to the Spurs, but the Fisher 0.4 shot put a stop to that.

Minnesota was overwhelmed by Shaq, worn down from their previous seven game series with Sacramento, and faced injury problems that would make the Lakers team that played in the Finals seem as healthy as Malone on the Utah Jazz.

Remember the Lakers-Wolves series, how Cassell just couldn’t stop Payton?

What happened to that Payton?

I know that the Detroit defense was ferocious, but he was basically a waste of a body out on the court.

Backtrack to the regular season now.

Shaq was in shape again.

Kobe got his mojo back, and was flying all over the place making sensational plays.

Malone returned from his injury, and was playing great defense while taking on the role of emotional leader of this team.

Payton picked and chose his spots, fed the post, and moved the ball around.

All four of them drew foul calls, got to the line, and made long stretches of the season seem too easy.

They were having fun on the court, taking turns scoring.

After all, even if Malone and Payton were at the end of the road, they still were among the greatest power forwards and point guards ever to play.

Well, in theory, the Lakers were the champions of the West, but if you watched any of the games on television or in person, you would know that they did not show up at all for the Finals.

With so much talent and playoff experience, there really isn’t a good enough excuse to cover for what happened.

Sure, there were injuries and a ludicrous discrepancy in the foul calls, but the Lakers were out-hustled to every loose ball and rebound.

While the Pistons played relentlessly on the defensive end, the Lakers just sort of hoped that Detroit would miss open shots.

Even O’Neal, the Lakers best player in the Finals, didn’t play as hard as he could have.

Sure, he had bursts of excitement, but he let Ben Wallace jump over him dozens of times.

Kobe allowed the Pistons double and triple teams to frustrate him, as he passed to open teammates early who couldn’t hit their shots, and then Kobe forced terrible shots of his own late in the games.

In Game 5, he finally began to attack the basket, working around those double and triple teams, but it was too little too late.

The Pistons were confident for a reason and they ran the Lakers right off the face of the earth.

Jackson had an abysmal series from the sideline, especially considering he was chasing a historic 10th title.

When Luke Walton provided a much needed spark for L.A. in Game 2, the Zen Master rewarded him with a nice seat on the bench for the entire third quarter.

In Game 5, when Slava Medvedenko emerged as the first Laker other than Kobe or Shaq with the potential to score in double figures, Jackson pulled him the instant he cooled off the slightest bit.

The series was littered with bad coaching decisions from his sideline, while Larry Brown did the opposite, making all the right moves.

However, the bulk of the blame has to fall on the heads of the two future Hall of Famers that were brought in specifically to win the Lakers a title — Payton and Malone.

First, Payton, entered this year as one of the most complete point guards ever to play the game.

As recently as last season he was still one of the top five in the league at his position.

In fact, when he was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks last season, the match-up between Jason Kidd and the Glove was discussed as a major factor in a playoff series.

This season had been a bad one for Payton statistically, and he made it worse by complaining about his role on the team, particularly on the offensive end.

He knew what he was getting into by coming to Los Angeles.

The days of being the superstar, the go-to guy, were over for him.

All that Payton had to do was bring the ball up court, play his trademark feisty defense, and maybe hit an open shot or two when the ball found its way to him.

Evidence that Gary wasn’t the same player he once was began to take form in the second round against San Antonio.

After a hilarious tirade aimed at those who tried to pin the blame on the Glove, the Lakers went on to win four straight against the Spurs, and kept going through to the championship round.

Then came the Finals.

What happened to Payton? He couldn’t hit an open shot to save his life, had no prayer of guarding Chauncey Billups or Rip Hamilton, and looked like he had no business being in an NBA Finals game.

This was one of the moves that was designed to put Los Angeles over the top?

Payton continues to not have a championship on his resume, and this was clearly his best shot.

He wasn’t asked to do much this year, and he couldn’t even deliver on that.

Then there’s Malone, the indestructible mailman.

This is where the supernatural may have intervened.

In 18 seasons with the Utah Jazz, Malone missed about nine or 10 games total.

So naturally, in his first season away from Utah, he suffered the first major injury of his career, which caused him to miss 40 games.

But, Malone came back, and as a father figure to many of the Laker players, who went so far as to express a desire to bring him the title that has eluded The Mailman for all these years, Malone played an important role on this team.

In the first round against Houston, he had a 30-point game and played solidly throughout.

Over the next two rounds en-route to the finals, his defense on Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, maybe the NBA’s two best players, was just as important as any firepower supplied by Shaq and Kobe.

With the Lakers heading to the Finals and a front line of Shaq and Malone that should have overpowered the Wallace boys, it seemed like Malone made the right choice by leaving Utah.

Then the horror that occurred in the regular season resurfaced. The two things that marked his season — injured and inspirational — came back in the Finals.

He tried his hardest to play around the injury in Game 2, holding down the defense on Rasheed Wallace, but that was all he had left.

With Malone done, coupled with Payton’s uselessness, the Lakers were right back where they ended up last year, with Kobe and Shaq and a supporting cast that couldn’t hit open shots.

Can Malone be blamed for an injury?

No, but it is very suspicious that he would have to deal with this injury now of all times.

It’s as if there was a force surrounding him that blocked him from winning a championship.

The Mailman signed on with L.A. for one thing only, and he didn’t deliver what he was supposed to.

From forgone conclusion to pathetic blowout losers, the Great Lakes melted down and were as disappointing as any assembled group of megastars we have ever seen.

If it wasn’t enough to add two Hall of Famers to be role players in support of the two-mega stars that already had a three peat, then nothing will ever be enough for L.A.

The Kobe-Shaq-Jackson era of basketball is over.

It went down in flames thanks to Malone and Payton.

2 replies on “The Collapsing Lake”

Re: The Collapsing Lake I have a couple of comments.  First of all, Phil Jackson has always coached in an unorthodox manner but because he’s won doesn’t get called on it too often.   I agree with you on his underuse of Slava but was not surprised by it nor his unwillingness to use Luke Walton for long stretches.  I think the only reason he used Luke in the first place was to shake his team up.  

Where I really disagree with you is your blame of Karl Malone.  Do you really think he got injured on purpose?  Come on!  I hope he recovers fully from his injury and rejoins the Lakers for the upcoming season.

As to Gary Payton, he has never been a consistent jump shooter (especially when open!) and his strength has always been to post up opposing guards.  He was not allowed to do this by Phil Jackson.  As to his defense, his inability at 36 years of age to keep up with small, quick guards ten years younger than he is should not be surprising.  I do think though that there is no excuse for Gary not working on improving his jump shot (if he didn’t) when he knew that was his offensive role.  I do think, however, that Gary–under a new head coach–will show his abilities this upcoming season.

GP As much as I love Gary Payton (hell, I modeled my trash talking after him!), I think he’s done.  It was sad to see him out there getting lit up by Tony Parker and Rip/Chauncey.  Twin Cities wrote a column recently about atheletes playing past their prime and how sad it is for Agassi.  GP shouldve just stayed a sonic and faded into the sunset.  Joining the high profile Lakers this season just to win a championship has almost put a damper on his otherwise stellar career.  


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