The Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. The Lakers have reached a point where roster upheaval is clearly necessary. This core has been together since Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers from Memphis on February 1, 2008. In that time, the Lakers have won two titles and reached one more NBA Finals. However, they have been bounced in the second round each of the last two years. Change is coming.
Gasol was an integral part of the team for the last four years. He combined with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom to provide the intimidating length that made the Lakers so feared. His skills inside made him a perfect complement to Bynum’s power.
However, over the last two years, Gasol has gotten a deserved reputation for shrinking from the big moment. In Game 4 against the Thunder, he passed up a wide-open jump shot in the last minute and instead passed it to Kobe, which led to the turnover that iced the game for OKC.
Pau is generally regarded as the most expendable piece in Los Angeles. His undoubted talent means that he will always have suitors, and more than ever, the Lakers have tired of his disappearance in big games. He is the Laker most likely to be on the move.
Could Bynum still be on the way out? He has not exactly endeared himself to Laker fans with his comments, antics and performances. While he occasionally shows that he could be in the discussion for the best center in the NBA, too often he has clunkers like he put up last night: 10 points and four rebounds in 35 minutes.
He is still only 24, though. This was the first season he stayed fully healthy, which bodes well for the future. If he becomes more consistent, he can be a dominant centerpiece on a championship team. The question is whether or not he is capable of reaching that point.
Brown was not put into a position to succeed this season, as he was asked to take over a veteran team that had been running the same offense since the late '90s without the benefit of a full offseason or training camp. Keeping that in mind, he did a decent job, navigating the tough Western Conference and leading the Lakers to the third seed.
However, some of his decisions were roundly criticized, namely allowing Kobe Bryant to finish fourth in the league in minutes. In addition, Brown’s experience with LeBron James in Cleveland left something to be desired. He never demonstrated the ability to control the team, instead allowing James to do so. Similarly, there were times when Kobe and Bynum got out of control, although Brown admittedly did a much better job disciplining his stars this time around.
I am a big believer in continuity, so it would make sense for Brown to keep his job. No team can reach their ultimate goals if they constantly have to adjust to new coaching. That being said, it makes no sense to stick with a coach if you do not think he is the guy to take you to the promised land.
Stan Van Gundy was just fired by the Magic and is a fantastic coach. His dealings with Dwight Howard show that he is capable of dealing effectively with superstars and I believe it would make a lot of sense for the Lakers to chase him. If he does not want the job, the Lakers should stick with Brown. But if Van Gundy does want it, I would not fault Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for hiring him.