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Ever since the Lakers lost in these 2011 playoffs, all I've heard from fans and the Media alike is how Dwight Howard will eventually be dealt to the Lakers in a trade package centered around our very own flagrant foul dealing young Andrew Bynum. Oh how wrong so many of you are; let me count the ways.

All this rumor and speculation is based on the fact that Howard listed the Lakers (among other teams) as a possible preferred destination should the Magic choose to trade him. Last time I checked, it was some months ago that Howard dropped his little trade list and a lot has changed since that time. Nevertheless, Laker fans (namely Bynum's most persistent critics) have been relentless in their pursuit of this now unrealistic and highly unlikely trade scenario. I'll elaborate.

As I see it, Dwight may have already changed his mind about wanting play in L.A., especially after this disastrous end to the 2010-11 season for the Lakers. When Dwight mentioned that he wanted to be a Laker, the Lakers were the defending champs and looked dead set to 3-Peat. In the wake of their epic failure, a new NBA champion will be crowned, and the Lakers have rarely looked further from championship form than they do right now. Their roster is filled nearly to the brim with aged, unmotivated, egocentric players, many of whom are past their prime. Even with the addition of Howard, there's no guarantee that this old, weary Laker team will win more championships in the Kobe years. The Lakers waved bye-bye to the salary cap for years to come and it won't be easy for Mitch Kupchak to make the kind of moves that will bring younger, hungrier, more athletic, experienced, and highly skilled players to the team.

Did any of you bother to ask yourselves why Dwight Howard would want to come to L.A. and play with an old, washed up, quickly fading star in Kobe? Didn't Dwight already go down a similar road last year as a teammate of old man Vince Carter? Why would Howard want to play with a soft, easily distracted quitter in Gasol? Why would Howard want to play with the rest of these Lakers: a gang of egocentric misfits and underachievers? Dwight might as well stay in Orlando if he wants a team like that. Dwight already knows what it's like to be the only player on his team with exceptional speed, quickness, and athleticism. That reality wouldn't change for Howard if he swapped his Magic jersey for a Laker one. Furthermore, Phil Jackson, the coach who won 3 championships with the last great center from Orlando, appears to be leaving L.A. and retiring for good; so there's yet another reason for Dwight to stay away.

So many of you fans want to act like Dwight coming to L.A. is a sure thing if we put Bynum on the table as a trade piece, but I still see no realistic way that the Magic will ship their franchise center to the Lakers. It was a long road to recovery after the Magic lost Shaq, and Magic fans had numerous brutal years of watching Shaq win titles in Los Angeles. I think Orlando's fans would be infinitely upset with their franchise if the Magic let another league best center go to the Lakers. That kind of drop in support could potentially cost the Magic a lot of money in ticket sales and merchandise.

In closing, I'd like to say that anyone who thinks the Magic will trade Dwight to L.A. is either not thinking clearly or you're just smoking crack. Orlando may trade Dwight next year, but even if it's just out of respect for their fans, they aren't going to trade him to the Lakers. I think it's far more likely that the Magic trade Howard to a team like the Nets in a trade package that includes a young, non-injury prone center like Brook Lopez and some of their other young talent (Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, etc...). The Indiana Pacers could also offer Orlando a more enticing trade package centered around their young center Roy Hibbert, another talented big man who comes without the injury-prone history of an Andrew Bynum.

I've given my reasons why I believe Dwight Howard isn't going to be a Laker and I believe they are reasonable and perfectly logical ones. Dwight to the Lakers next year (or the year after) is a pipe dream and that's all it'll ever be.

With LA now unofficially, officially eliminated from the playoffs, let’s take a look at what has been lost, why it was lost and where we are heading.

One thing that has come to point in unequivocal terms is that the front office, just as with the Shaq-Kobe threepeat teams, was negligent in restocking this team in order to keep our run going. This is evident especially with the second unit. They were again so badly outscored and outplayed that it predicates the starters most practically kill their counterparts in order for us to beat really good teams like Dallas. The addition of Blake, Barnes and Ratliff were as good as no additions as all.

Often, you see champions hold those same cards just a bit too long, hoping that the same old guys will suffice once again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One player that comes to mind that really had to be replaced this year was the old warrior, Derek Fisher. A player who used to thrive with tough bulldog defense, a steady jumper and total clutch shooting has lost his ability to do any of it. And this was becoming apparent already last year. In a league where rules changes has made a premium of fast, quick point guards who can either excel at scoring or passing, Derek is abysmal at both. Never a great passer, Derek, bereft of his other plusses, is now a huge minus. Phil and Mitch should have seen these signs last year and moved heaven and earth to upgrade that position. They did not. That decision was costly all year right up to this moment.

Phil showed all the earmarks of an old coach who could not make changes or adjust to a new reality. He refused to try developing younger energetic players like Ebanks or even Character during the long NBA season. He cast his lot with his aging crew and now has paid a price. Playing these young guys may not have turned an inevitable tide, but not playing them insured that we would drown, as we have.

Phil also showed his age in how he ran the team. It became obvious through the year that Andrew Bynum was a player who needed to take a very much bigger role on the offense of this team. Yet Phil never made a move to implement this until now. His epiphany came way too late. His insistence on going with a Kobe-Pau centric offense showed how he just was not seeing the reality in front of him, most especially with the increasingly weak play of Pau that started from the beginning of the year and was wrongly ascribed to fatigue because Drew was not yet playing. I have lately heard that some type of conflict happened between Pau, his fiancĂ©, a Laker and his girlfriend which caused the wedding plans to end. Talking heads on ESPN were discussing whether this was contributing to Pau’s problem. It is possible that this situation, if true, had an effect. But I would say if it did, Pau should have been professional enough to overcome it, at least during the time he was paid to play at the level he is enumerated for.

Finally, now that the championship runs are over, one must look at where we are going. Phil is undoubtedly leaving. For the reasons I have given here and others I have not, I think this is a good thing. Time changes things, even when it concerns a great coach. There even came a time when the great Pat Riley needed to leave.

In a year of disappointment, there is one large bright spot: Andrew Bynum. In a year where he finally got healthy, he showed not only marked improvement on the court, but perhaps even more important, in his mental comportment and leadership. As the season wore on, Drew not only become more assertive on the court, but became demonstrably more confident and animated on the court. By the end of the year, he had no compunctions about calling out the team when they were not doing things correctly on the court. And not only did he call them out, he backed up his words with his play. One of the interesting things about Drew was in that great article that LakerfanJeff posted. In it Drew was shown to be intensely curious, a man who deconstructs computers and other things in an effort to learn how they work. This innate curiosity is a great thing. Because it is instructive about how his mind works. And a person whose mind works that way will also be curious about his profession, how basketball works, how the team he is on functions. How it should function at its best. It was amazing to see this heretofore quiet, reticent, smiling, shy kid grow up into an emotional, talkative leader and man so very quickly.

This bodes well for him. His physical ability is obvious, but a leader, a star, has to have that desire and fire to lead, the curiosity to learn his craft and about his team and the game he plays. It now seems that Drew possesses all these characteristics. That is a very comforting revelation.

So where does all this leave us for next year and beyond?

I think it will be a while before we sip from the sweet, emotional dregs of championship wine again. First off, we have an aging team. The only player we have right now that we expect to continue to get better, that being Bynum. Ebanks has shown some promise. Character perhaps too, but much less so.

GOOD trades seem almost impossible. I mean who wants Artest, Fisher, Walton, Barnes, Blake? What can you get for these guys that will put us back in championship contention? Nothing. After the travesty of his year, what can you even get for Pau? Had we traded him after last year, we could have perhaps gotten a disenchanted CP3 or Deron Williams, but no more.

So the trade cupboard is pretty bare. In fact, if given my druthers, the only players I would not want to lose, that I would hate to lose are Kobe, Drew and Lamar. Lamar is no superstar, but he is that very fundamental jack of all trades who makes the game so much easier for his team and causes many different problems for our opponents. I would say that if the team decides that our true championship contention is over, it may have to be Lamar to be traded to either bring back good value in players or in high or multiple draft picks.

Kobe’s future is more problematic. Because of what the passage of time is taking from him and giving Drew, this team must begin moving in a different direction, a more functional one that makes sense. The fact is Drew is now becoming the best and most efficient scorer on this team. I expect after a summer of working on his game and a full training camp, by the end of next year, he will be the best player on this team, period. In order for this team to maximize its effectiveness, to get the most of what it has, ALL the returning players need to recognize this and play their games accordingly: that includes Kobe. Most especially Kobe. There is no shame in understanding what the passage of time brings. The Big O did, Bird did, Kareem did. So did many other greats who wanted to win just as bad as Kobe does. All of then had just as much pride. All of them also were smart enough and gracious enough to understand when the time to came to step back a bit and let another talented player step up for the good of the team. What this team does not need next year is a turf war between Kobe and Drew. That gets ugly and leads to disaster. We say it once already between Kobe and Shaq. The end result is inevitable and bad.

Back in the day, it was time for Kobe to spread his wings, graduate from Robin to Batman. In the end, the Lakers knew this and had to send the older Shaq packing to prevent a total nightmare. Before next season starts, the Lakers owe it to Kobe, Drew and the team to sit down with Kobe and ask him if he is willing to allow Drew to become the focal point of the team. Not to make Kobe a glorified point guard, but to bow to the reality that there is now a guy on the team who can score better, more effectively. This would mean that instead of Kobe dribbling with the ball, deciding what HE is going to do, he would have to start dumping the ball into Drew much more, as he used to do with Shaq and letting Drew make the first decision as to what HE wants to do. If Kobe can’t honestly tell management that he is OK with that, then you are left with where we were back then, when Shaq had to leave. If Kobe can’t acquiesce to the reality of this change, then management needs to ask him where he would like to be traded.

This new reality would also apply to all the players. Any of them that cannot acclimate to this would need to go. There is on constant on EVERY team in basketball: When that team has player who is head and shoulders atop his teammates in the ability to score effectively, he does the majority of the scoring. He decides more than any other player whether he will shoot or pass. And so it has been with us with Shaq, then Kobe. And so it must be with Drew. That is common sense logic and smart ball. Anything else flies in the face of common sense and logic and is stupid ball.

I honestly don’t want to see Kobe leave. Despite what many of you believe I understand exactly how great Kobe is and how much he can still help this team. But if he or any player on any team puts individual desire and ego in front of the team and smart ball, then he is a problem, not a solution. And if you want to win in sports, you have to get rid of problems. It is no simpler than that.

I don’t say this to diss Kobe. I don’t say it because I want him knocked down a peg, or because I don’t like him. I say this because time and Drew’s ability have made it true. I know many of you, fighting for the old man who has been so great will disagree with me vehemently. But next year, you will see for yourself. You can’t hide talent. You can’t stop time. Kobe is not going to get better. He is going to get older. It is Drew who will only get better. That is just how this is going to play out. This team now has more efficient scorer than Kobe. And to ignore that is stupid. And this is another fact: stupid teams don’t win titles. And aging, stupid teams are a bitch to watch and suffer through. So if you want to see some suffering, just leave things as they are. Play stupid ball. Ignore our strength. Then we will see a real flame out and in the end a very ugly scene explode in our faces.

I know some here still want to trade Drew for Dwight Howard. I understand this. Howard is a terrific player. I am not one of those proponents for that move. As good as this kid played this year; he is still a baby on the learning curve. This kid should get better for years yet, making what we are seeing now just a vague prelude to what we will get down the road. Physically he just has it on Dwight. The other thing is that this kid, in the playoffs has begun to show those leadership skills you so desperately want. In fact, he seems more willing to lead and speak up than Dwight already. And I like that. A lot.How much has Drew improved in this one year? Phil Jackson, who erred so badly in not insisting that Drew get a bigger role on this team this year said after our game three loss, “Drew played a special game tonight.” It will not be the last special game we get from him. It is just the start.How much has Drew improved in this one year? After the game, Dirk Nowitzkie said, “I think Bynum might be the best center in the league.” That won’t be the last time an all star, hall of fame player will say those words about him. It is just the first time.But for those who want Howard, it still does not change the Kobe equation. Whether it’s Drew or Howard, Kobe has to sublimate his ego and agree to take that secondary spot for the good of the team.

So we have an old team that has to make changes. Not just in personnel, but also in its mindset. Major changes in both areas. Not a recipe for thinking we will be back in the finals any time soon. That is just how it looks for me. It may even be best if we bottom out for a couple years to get some high picks. The problem is, with this current team, that won’t happen. It would mean we would have to have a fire sale of players in an effort to get bad, lol. I don’t see Mitch doing that, but in all honesty, it would not be a bad thing.

So what hope is there? Perhaps Kobe will understand what needs to be done and accept a somewhat lesser role. Maybe the Lakers can trade and unload some salary-Pau, Artest, Fish, Walton, Blake, Lamar- over the next couple of years. At that point, we can start to sign some good free agents. Guys who want to add to the Lakers legacy. Perhaps, finally we can get a great point guard. I mean what point would not want to play with Drew? Perhaps in two or three years, if Drew continues on his path, we unload salary and get some talented free agents, we will start to think about once again challenging for a title. Perhaps.

Although change can hurt, the loss of players and ways we got used to, depended on, grew to love can really be sad. But the fact is, this team just did not look like it was having fun this year. It seemed like they were going through the motions, much like the Shaq-Kobe team that lost to Detroit. When that happens, it is time for a change. There is not much reason to keep dragging out something that has worn out its welcome, that now drains the players of fun and excitment rather than effusing them with it.

Finally, I hope we make a total break from the old Jackson-Triangle order. Bring in fresh system, a new look at basketball. This would mean that nobody on the Lakers coaching staff who wants to implement the triangle would get that big chair. That includes Brian Shaw. Just as this team needs new bodies, a new pecking order and mindset, so does it need a fresh look at how to play this game. This team looked stale in every sense of the word, for the whole season and the playoffs. There is no reason to leave any remains of something that imploded so violently and inimically as it did this year.

But this is for damn sure: the loss to Dallas signifies no small change for the Lakers. For Kobe. For Mitch. For Dr. Buss. This is no normal loss in the playoffs for this team. No small bump in the road that will be overcome with the same old team and philosophy next year. It is seminal moment that will change this team forever in many ways. For Kobe, Mitch and Dr. Buss, how they respond, how well they do their respective jobs, will determine how easy, or how ugly, who smooth, or how rough, this transition will be for them, the organization and the fans.

This won't be an easy time for many fans and players. A championship run has ended. An era, really. We spoiled fans will not licking our chops at another fait accompli title birth next year. Or perhaps for more than a few years. Old legends, are quitting, and others are fading. This is change of the highest order for a sports team. We may not like, but we don't have the choice of it. Time has forced it. All we can do is hope the players and management are all smart in making this transition as smooth and short a duration as possible until we can once again look foreward to more heady things and that sweet taste of championship wine.

© Gabriel Moore 1269 Concord Place Ave, Kalamazoo,MI
Last Update: August 17, 2011
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