Full disclosure from Jump Street: I'm a pure Los Angeles Lakers fan. I didn't just jump on the bandwagon after Kobe and Shaq. Or after Kobe and Gasol.
I was rooting for the purple and gold when Happy Hairston was flipping both feet during his unique, but deadly jump shot. And when Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain and his octopus arms were flipping the ball off his fingertips into the basket as defenders watched helplessly. And when Jerry "The Logo" West was racing up and down the court scoring at will. And when Elgin Baylor's picture perfect jump shot was a thing of beauty. And when Gail Goodrich was West's running mate in the backcourt. And when Pat Riley and his mutton chop sideburns came off the bench to provide spark for the Lakers.
You see, I'm old school with the Lake Show.
I didn't run out and buy a Lakers T-shirt when Magic and Kareem invented "Showtime" at the Forum. Or when Kobe and Shaquille were dominating. Or when Kobe and Gasol recently won back-to-back titles at the Staples Center. I was there when the Lakers were the only game in town on CBS at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon.
But I must admit I'm getting a little anxious these days with the Lakers. I'm not feelin' the way they're playing. And I don't agree with coach Phil Jackson's comment about it not being playoffs yet. Look, I understand when you have the best player in the world and back-to-back championships you have a bull's-eye on your back every single game. Every game is a big game on the competition's schedule because they want to kick the champion's butt. I get it.
But with that being said, as two-time champs you have to be up for the challenge every night. You can't play one day and take the next night off mentally. You see there's a thing called home-court advantage in the playoffs. Ask the Boston Celtics about that; it was one of the deciding factors in their loss to the Lakers last year in the championship.
If you're the Lakers, having home-court advantage in the postseason should be a priority. And if that's the case, you can't keep losing to Memphis, Charlotte and Cleveland. In fact, I can't even believe I just typed that. The Lakers losing to Memphis, Charlotte and Cleveland? DJ Augustin, Mike Conley and Mo Williams? Are you kidding me?
I'm not sure what's going on with Kobe, but something is off. He seemed to play better last year with broken fingers and a banged up knee. But I give him credit because he's still ballin' and throwing down more than 20 a game and playing with his usual intensity.
Unfortunately, he seems to be going through an athletic funk, so to speak. I don't like it when he doesn't shoot for an entire half and waits for his teammates to get it going. I don't like it when he takes over and starts shooting every time down the floor.
I like it when he's getting his teammates involved and taking the big shot when the game is on the line. He may not be having his best year, but he still brings more to the table than any other Laker. They'd be in big trouble without him, and he's the sole reason they're still one of the top teams in the league.
One of the guys I play ball with refers to Pau Gasol as "Big Softy." I'm a little annoyed when he says it, but he makes a good point. Sometimes Gasol plays like the All-Star that he is. Sometimes he's getting dunked on by an unknown bench player from the Cleveland Cavaliers. At times he seems uninterested, and only has his best games when he's doing the pick and roll with Kobe.
Memo to Pau: Don't wait for Kobe to elevate your game. Take the initiative and stay aggressive, whether Kobe is passing you the ball or not.
I give a lot of credit to Ron Artest for auctioning off his championship ring and donating the proceeds to mental health organizations. I believe in what he did and wholly support helping those who need counseling. But he picked the wrong time to do it. That's something he should've done in the offseason. His sole focus right now should be helping the Lakers three-peat and performing the role of a shutdown defender.
Somewhere along the way Ron-Ron has forgotten how to play defense and for some reason he can't hit a shot to save his life. The LA lifestyle isn't for everyone and at times it can be overwhelming to newcomers. I know this after living in northern San Diego County for a few years and hanging out in Los Angeles every weekend. Ron-Ron should forget about his off-court charities, projects and hobbies until after the final buzzer has sounded in the championship finale. His lack of focus has definitely hurt the Lakers and thus he's now being mentioned as possible trade bait.
Andrew Bynum was sort of smiling the other night when being interviewed in the locker room after getting slapped around by the Bobcats. I'm not sure what he found so amusing, and he should be careful not to let Kobe see him grinning after such a demoralizing defeat. At 23 years old he's had enough knee surgeries to make all of us question his longevity in the league. The Lakers gave him a big contract a few years ago and seemed at the time to believe he'd be wearing the purple and gold for many years to come. As a friend told me the other day during a game of pick-up basketball, Bynum already has the knees of a 40-year-old.
When he's healthy, 'Drew is a force to be reckoned with. When he's playing with passion, anyone who drives into the paint has to deal with his wide body. It's nice having two bigs in Bynum and Gasol. Having twin towers patrolling the lane presents quite a challenge for any opposing team. NBA teams would kill to have two seven-footers in their lineup.
But 'Drew can't seem to stay healthy, and his attitude makes me wonder if he's mature enough to ever realize his unlimited potential as a center in the National Basketball Association. Having a smirk on your face during an interview after losing to a weak team raises questions about his commitment to winning a third championship in a row. And like Ron-Ron, his name has also surfaced in possible trade talk. Maybe the Lakers front office and I share some the same perspective.
Lamar Odom has managed to minimize the off-court distractions despite being married to a so-called socialite. He's still one of the top, if not THE top sixth man in the league. He may not be on fire every night, but most of the time he's a big contributor off the bench.
We all know Derek Fisher has lost a step, but that's okay. Why? Because he hustles and will run through a brick wall if it'll help the Lakers win the game. Plus, he's proven to be capable of hitting the big shot in the playoffs and that is irreplaceable. Yes, he lacks a little on defense when it comes to guarding younger point guards, but he's not a push over and makes up for it in other areas. The Lakers thought they had a good backup for him, but this season has proved otherwise.
Let's face it. The Lakers bench is horrendous. Other than Odom and Shannon Brown—who's streaky, exciting and sometimes unreliable—they have no bench. This is where Mitch Kupchak dropped the ball in the offseason. His key acquisitions of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have backfired.
Barnes has been injured and wasn't doing much before he got hurt. I assume they got him to play defense, but he's looked suspect at times. He has a limited offensive game and therefore doesn't provide much of an offensive threat.
Steve Blake seems lost. He's tentative when it comes to taking the outside shot, and is often bullied by the opposing team's backup point guard. Therefore, the Lakers' offensive firepower off the bench is misfiring.
Is it too late to reclaim Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar? Neither is getting major minutes off the bench for the hapless New Jersey Nets. And let's not forget they were a major part of the Lakers' recent championships. Allowing Farmar to leave and trading Vujacic were big mistakes and the Lakers are paying the price. Both could score off the bench and knew the triangle.
Unfortunately, Farmar didn't kneel down to certain teammates and Vujacic got hurt, fell into Jackson's doghouse and Brown took his minutes. Let's not underestimate the fact that half of the guys on the Laker bench are new and know nothing about what it takes to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The Lakers' road to a three-peat is similar to a minefield littered with explosives. I'm still on the bandwagon, but the ride just got a little bumpier.
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