By my count, there have been numerous times over the past three seasons where media and fans alike have hit the panic button but this never phased the Lakers. Whether it was Kobe channeling Phil Jackson or the Zen master himself addressing the media, the Lakers always remained calm, cool and collected. Always informing us that it’s still a non-summer month and that the ship is still on course. Smooth sailing regardless of the choppy seas. But is this year different? Are we seeing the Lakers themselves panicking?
After the 109-96 clubbing the Lakers took in their own arena on Sunday at the hands of their arch-rival Boston Celtics the doubters came out of the woodwork, this time from within the Lakers organization. For the first time that I can recall during the Kobe-Pau era, Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak made a strong statement in regards to making an in-season trade (via NBA.com):
“Regarding a trade, I may have to,” Kupchak said at the team’s practice facility a day after the convincing loss to the Celtics. “I’m not saying that I’ve made calls today or I’ll make them tomorrow. But I just don’t think that we’re playing as well as our talent level should allow us.”
I would be surprised if this is nothing more than posturing by the Lakers’ GM. After all, the Lakers have very limited pieces that are actually movable and Jerry Buss is probably unwilling to dive any deeper into the Luxury Tax, as SI’s Zach Lowe explains.
Whether or not this statement is an actual threat to the players or a promise to the fans doesn’t concern me. What does concern me is the fact that Kupchak actually made a statement of this nature. If Mitch and the Lakers are truly exploring trade options, then the panic in this organization has burrowed it’s way down to the front office; a front office that has always remained calm under the greatest of pressures. Since when has this group of players needed more motivation than that from a 11-time championship coach and a 5-time champion team captain in Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, respectively? If the trade talk is simply for motivational purposes then I wonder why Mitch was the messanger? Has the front office lost some trust in Phil Jackson’s motivational abilities or did Phil reach out to Kupchak and ask for a statement to be released? Phil’s been known to shop players around to give them a little extra jolt of motivation (see: Bynum, Andrew 2008-10) but never through the front office, not like this. Today Phil came out and said the “door’s open for business” and that ”It was a good calling card that Mitch threw out there,” in regards to the possibility of trades.
With all of the trade talks swirling and this being the first day of February, it’s no surprise that the man in the middle of all of this is injured once again. Adrew Bynum, who injured his knee on Sunday, will sit out tonight’s match with the Houston Rockets due to a bone bruise on his left knee, ESPN reports. This will by Bynum’s 121st DNP due to injury over the last 4 seasons, the highest of any Laker on the current roster. Couple that with his work ethic, cumbersome contract and the attractiveness of his skill set to other teams and you understand why a championship driven fan base and organization are constantly throwing Andrew’s name into the trade hat.
As for the Zen master, Phil Jackson had a post-game interview after the loss to the Celtics unlike any I have heard from him. Jackson, who has earned the “Zen master’ nickname by being very calculated and calm in demeanor, was unusually snarky in his post-game. Jackson, who usually hands out pun-loaded zingers was more direct in his commentary (via LakersBlog):
“We have guys who are experienced and we know what to do,” Jackson said in amused condescension when I asked him what’s helped him maintain the upbeat view that the Lakers will prove more effective in the playoffs when they haven’t shown a consistent pattern thus far.
Fair enough. Jackson’s 11 championship rings certainly give him a big-picture perspective on knowing when to worry about the team’s state of being and when to brush it off. On the surface, Jackson took the latter approach, expressing amusement over the large media contingent following a two-game losing streak, joking that the Lakers were planning to commit “mass suicide” and saying tongue-in-cheek that he doesn’t need the Lakers to improve until “April 15 or 17,” a direct reference to the playoffs.
What the Lakers need to realize is that this team is more talented than the two previous season in which they won titles. They don’t need to make any real moves, they just need to shake up their fringe players to wake up their core rotation. Boston did so last year when they traded Eddie House for Nate Robinson. I think Kupchak and Buss realize that this team has talent and the trade talk is nothing more than posturing but it is a direct result of the panic that is coursing it’s way through the Lakers organization.
The overall frustration is understandable as the Lakers are just 1-4 vs. the upper echelon of the NBA (Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Heat). But the major concern is how insurmountable San Antonio’s 7.5 game lead on the Lakers looks. LA knows the importance of home court but they also know the importance of using the regular season to setup the team for a playoff run. Jackson expresses his concern with the teams consistency and ability to do just that this season:
“It’s probably more of a disappointment to me that we haven’t taken care of the teams that we should take care of,” Jackson said. “The inconsistency is what bothers me the most. … (But) we have two years of pretty good records in the playoffs, don’t we? That’s what makes me optimistic.”
And optimistic is probably what the Lakers and their fans should be. Just remember, this is a tired team, one that’s trying to get to it’s 4th straight Finals appearance and win it’s 3rd straight championship. Ironically, Laker fans should turn to their rivals for some inspiration. Last season, the Boston Celtics went through the same exact issues. They were a team that looked gassed and finished with just 50 wins after back-to-back season with 60+ wins. They limped their way into the playoffs in May while everyone had written them off well before April. But they, like the Lakers, were a veteran savvy team built to win it all.
What these Lakers need to do is put aside the panic button and remember who won back-to-back titles, then posture accordingly.