Los Angeles Lakers: Management Mistakes Cripple 2011-2012 Team

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Los Angeles Lakers: Management Mistakes Cripple 2011-2012 Team
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Mitch Kupchak

Despite being swept by the Mavericks in an ugly playoff series last year, the Lakers did not need to make many changes to the team for the 2011-2012 season to be contenders again.

The Lakers needed to upgrade their aging point guard rotation, find some players off the bench who could score and simply get younger in preparation for the obvious changes coming in the next three years.

Instead of installing a long-term plan to improve the team, management rolled the dice with an aggressive trade for Chris Paul that has reverberated around the NBA both on and off the court.

The trade immediately threatened all of the small-market owners who had tried to control the large-market teams, like the Lakers, who had historically signed whomever they needed, flaunting the salary cap and the wishes of small-market owners.

Owners like Mark Cuban managed to intercede in the trade, and the rest is now history.

Where would this Laker team be if it did not dump Odom and let Shannon Brown slip away and sign with the Suns?

Undoubtedly, Brown’s talents fit better in the Lakers' system than the Suns', where he has been a DNP for much of the past two weeks. With the Lakers, Kobe drew double teams and Gasol and Bynum could not be left alone in order to double team Brown.

With the Lakers, Brown looked all-world, like a cleanup hitter with strong protection behind him in the lineup.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Jerry and Jim Buss

Odom, in a funk over several deaths in his family and around him, was not certain he was going to play in 2011-2012. That uncertainty, coupled with the shock of the failed trade, caused him to lose his temper and ask to be traded.

Under the new salary cap, Odom would have cost the Lakers close to $30 million. The Lakers simply did not want to keep a disgruntled player with a high salary multiplied by cap penalties, and traded him for an $8 million trade exemption to the Mavericks.

But with Brown and Odom, the Lakers were only a penetrating point guard and an improved bench from contending.

There have been several adequate point guards available such as Ramon Sessions who could have been had in exchange for a first round draft choice.

Last night, Ramon Sessions scored 14 points with six rebounds, five assists, one steal and just one turnover in 36 minutes off the bench for Cleveland against Sacramento.

And, he is only 25 years old, turning 26 in April.

No Laker point guard has equaled those statistics in the first 31 games of the season.

The best indicator of the failure of the Laker point guards is that Kobe Bryant is leading the team in assists with five per game. Considering that Fisher and Blake scored two points and four assists in 47 minutes against the Suns on Sunday night, it should be clear that point guard has been a disaster for the Lakers this year.

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Earvin "Magic" Johnson

And Lakers fans should be concerned that Bryant leads the team in scoring as well as assists from the 2-guard position. Considering that Kobe leads the league in shots taken by a wide margin, it signals a clear path to disaster.

For these reasons, management’s decision to shop Gasol looks strange unless it would be for a point guard like Deron Williams, who is not available.

While Sessions is not the only player available, he is certainly a step up from the fading Gilbert Arenas, slowed by age and personal baggage.

Under this scenario, Brian Shaw would have made more sense as the coach than Mike Brown because he could mix other offenses into Phil Jackson’s triangle and accomplish a seamless transition into a new team as Kobe approached retirement.

At the same time, the Lakers should have used their amnesty clause to release "Metta World Disaster" and save approximately $20 million in salary cap and penalties. It would have been better for the Lakers to keep Odom for $30 million than "World Disaster" for $20 million.

These simple steps could have made the Lakers a contender. Now they look like Moses wandering through the desert for 40 years looking for the Promised Land.

The direction that management has taken so far may cause the team to be lost without an NBA title for as long as Moses was wandering in the desert.

It is amazing how one simple mistake in business can result in disaster. Portland has done it twice with Sam Bowie and Gregg Oden.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

It happened to the Suns when they lost a coin toss and ended up with Neal Walk instead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It will be interesting to see how the Lakers stave off mediocrity as a result of their recent decisions.

In the past, they were saved from mediocrity by a disgruntled Abdul-Jabbar, who wanted to leave Milwaukee desperately in 1975, a lucky trade for a first-round draft choice that brought Magic Johnson to the Lakers in 1979 and a narcissistic Shaq O’Neal, who abandoned Orlando as a free agent in 1996 so he could make a fool out of himself playing a superhero in a bad movie in the offseason.

We are all pulling for the Lakers management. But none of us would go to Las Vegas and bet on their chances of fixing their problems soon.

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