The Lakers beat the Celtics on February 10th, proving to their critics, fans, and themselves that they still were a team to be reckoned with amongst the NBA elite. They sent a message: those seeking a championship would have to go through the Lakers to get it.
Apparently flexing their muscle against the Celtics was enough for them. They eased off the accelerator, losing the final three games of their annual 'Grammy trip.'
This is not the only time this season that the Lakers have put together a streak of uninspired games. The latest stretch of poor-play is part of what has become a recurring theme for these Lakers, who are playing the most inconsistent basketball since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008.
The normally reserved Mitch Kupchak recently said the Lakers would likely not be making a trade before the trade deadline.
His announcement came on the heels of the poor end to their latest road trip, and conflicted a previous one in which Kupchak said he would be open to making a trade. Kupchak's earlier statement came just after a loss to the Celtics in Los Angeles, but I'm sure that he didn't make the later one in response to the Lakers victory in Boston.
Earlier this season Kupchak dealt away the Lakers best trade asset, Sasha Vujacic. Vujacic was no more sought after than other Lakers players, but his expiring contract made him attractive. This trade was a cost-cutting maneuver, saving them approximately $8 million, and corresponded with the return of young center Andrew Bynum. Kupchak wanted to be sure Bynum would be able to return before pulling the trigger on the Vujacic trade.
Would he or Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss have green-lighted that trade had they known that early-season sporadic Laker play would continue when Bynum returned? It's impossible to know for sure, but now it is a lot harder for Kupchak to complete another trade without giving up a starter.
Harder, but not impossible. A trade may be exactly the right tonic to shake these Lakers from their sleepwalking malaise.
One can see the similarities between this team and the 1987 Lakers: established championship team led by long-time coaches (Pat Riley then, Phil Jackson now) whose message might be getting lost; mix of veteran players who have mostly been together for years, led by a dominant player getting older (Magic Johnson then, Kobe Bryant now).
However, that '87 team was rejuvenated by a key mid-season trade for a bench player, Mychal Thompson. Thompson not only gave that team a reliable backup to the aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he helped them win the following two championships. He brought a new passion and energy to the team, along with the defensive presence they used to beat the Celtics and bad boy Pistons in '88.
Scorer? Point guard? Big man? That is open to debate. I have proposed several realistic trades that don't entail breaking up the nucleus for the Lakers. O.J. Mayo, Gerald Wallace, Rudy Fernandez, Anthony Morrow, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince etc... are all names tossed around as trade-bait.
Panic time if no trade is made? No. These Lakers have shown that they can raise their game during the playoffs. However, based on their erratic play thus far this season, shaking things up a bit might do this team some good.
We can go back to 1987 and see that even a proven championship team can benefit from an infusion of new blood.
Kupchak would know better than others, though. It was his retirement from the Lakers the previous year which largely led to Thompson being acquired.