The Lakers 'Old' Center
Most people do not realize that in the midst of all the controversy surrounding their former Franchise Center's departure from Los Angeles, the Lakers did in fact make a contract offer to said player. The Center promptly turned down the offer. The Lakers made their offer in February, in June the Lakers lost the Finals to the Detroit Pistons. The Center's reasoning for turning down the Lakers' offer was because he felt as though his services were no longer needed. Keep in mind this was four months before he, the team's other franchise player, a Guard, and a lethargic Lakers team dragging Karl Malone and Gary Payton along as extra baggage were promptly thumped by the Pistons 4-1 in the championship round.
By the time the Finals had come around,the Franchise Guard, as well as the Lakers' Hall-of-Fame Coach, were indeed fed up with The Center's work ethic, or lack thereof, as well as Payton and Malone's pouting because The Coach's championship winning triangle offense didn't suit their huge egos.
So what happened in the off season, all three of the primary components of the Lakers title teams either left or tried to leave. The Lakers no longer willing to endure The Center's public quips about being disrespected promptly shipped him to Miami in a trade for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant , Caron Butler and a first round draft choice. The Guard shopped his services around the league, and the Hall-of-Fame Coach headed to Montana to write a book about his dysfunctional former team.
It wasn't the first time The Coach had abruptly departed the locker room of a storied franchise. Remember that same Coach had left the Bulls, after six titles, under similar tensions between himself, management and a key player (Scottie Pippen).
It certainly wasn't the first time that The Center had bailed out on a team and teammates which he played in the Finals with, choosing to abandon the Orlando Magic to head to Hollywood after being abused in the Finals by Hakeem Olajuwon.
Yet the individual who received the lion's share in the blame for the drama unfolding in Hollywood was none other than The "I should be the leader of this team" Guard.
The Lakers, to their credit, did in fact recognize that The Guard was the supreme talent in the league and ponied up enough money to keep him from playing in the same gym for a different team. How good is The Guard? In Colorado, the state where he was facing rape allegation charges, the home team offered him a $130 million dollar contract, while he was in court!
The Lakers increased their basketball I.Q. by bringing back The Coach after realizing that if you have the best player in the league on your team, you might want to hire the best coach as well. So, after it was all said and done, the Lakers organization put the future of the franchise before any one player, any one coach and most importantly before any member of management's ego.
Fast forward to the summer of '07 and the Lakers' front office is being tested again. The Guard is griping about the fact that he cannot win a championship with guys like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown as starters on his team and that the Lakers either needed to significantly upgrade the talent of the team or trade him.
The Coach, pretty much takes The Guard's side in this affair, because he too knows that there is no title to be had with the Lakers' current roster. Over the summer, the Lakers refuse to trade The Guard and resign his former teammate from his championship years, Derek Fisher.
As the season begins, The Guard takes The Coach's advice and despite having not been traded, finds solace in the fact that at least Smush Parker will not be his starting point guard, and begins the season with a renewed vigor, as much as a display for teams that may be interested in his services as a reminder to Lakers fans of the caliber of player management could be letting go.
The Guard's teammates, who he threw under the bus in the off-season, decide to be the anti-Smushes, and step up their games to compliment The Guard or at least prove him wrong.
The Lakers immediately rise to the top of the Western Conference, again, as the roster feels the pressure of being under the microscope every game as sportswriters and pundits worldwide scrutinize teammates of The Guard to see if his claims had any merit. Then, after their starting center (you know, the one they got with the draft pick they received in the trade for their Old Center) went down with an injury, Lakers management pulled a coup and traded Kwame Brown (who they got in a trade for Caron Butler, who was only a Laker because of the trade for their Old Center) to Memphis for All-Star forward Pau Gasol and instantly the Lakers were favorite's to win their 15th
NBA Championship. Oh yeah, The Guard was named the league's Most Valuable Player.
The Guard - The MVP
The Lakers dominated what was considered one of the greatest and ultra competitive conferences in league history during the post season and now find themselves back in the NBA Finals for the 30th time, almost half of the total of NBA Finals ever, without their starting center.
The Lakers - 30th trip to the NBA Finals
So as we watch historical clips of the Lakers and their Finals opponents the Celtics being run up, down and sideways for the next week leading up to the start of game one on Thursday, pay attention to the faces that flash across the screen. Bird, Magic, McHale, Parrish, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper, Dennis Johnson, K.C. Jones, Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Jerry West, The Coach and from henceforth...The Guard.
History in the making, which of course the Lakers knew all along, they always have.