The last three years we have sat back and watched the Lakers dominate the NBA, but now the league has finally caught up to us. Or has it? Could it be that the Lakers have slowed down? Of course that’s what it is. We can’t blame it on the players; it is simply not their fault. Let’s analyze the situation to see what great mind is at fault for the Lakers’ demise in 2003.
Jerry West decided that 1996 would be a great year for a Lakers overhaul. He decided he would trade one of the last staples of the Magic Johnson era when he swapped Vlade Divac for high school superstar Kobe Bryant.
A few months later, he scored the big man of the time, with Shaquille O’Neal signing the biggest contract in sports history.
After early exits in the playoffs, West found the final piece in the championship puzzle. This time it would be more Zen-like. In June 1999, the Lakers got their Zen-master in Phil Jackson, who was given the task of making Shaq and Kobe play as one, so Jerry Buss could give one of his young girlfriends a championship trophy for Christmas. After squeaking by the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers brought the title back to its original owner.
Then the Lakers decided that they would do it one more time to show that it wasn’t a fluke. They breezed through the playoffs, beating the Philadelphia 76ers in five games.
The second year was so much sweeter than the first, but no one knew what the off-season would bring, with an aging team and a league that was now starting to catch up to the competition.
By the end of the season, West had decided that it was time to end his dynamic career in Los Angeles. Would this also be the end of the dynasty that was being compared to the Bulls teams of the mid-1990s? Never fear, Laker fans, longtime assistant general manager Mitch Kupchack was ready for the job.
What?!! This guy wouldn’t know how to manage the local Pic ‘N’ Save.
After riding the great early moves of West for the Lakers’ third consecutive title, Kupchack decided not to make any moves to try to win the fourth title.
The moves Kupcheck has made to this point have been weak at best. The acquisition of Samaki Walker was supposed to solidify the middle, but his play has been horrible.
The Lakers’ losing record in the first half of the season was not a fluke; they were playing bad because they were bad.
Where do the Lakers go from here? First, Buss needs to fire Kupchack. His inability to sign players and get Jackson the players he needs to complement O’Neal and Bryant was seen against the Spurs.
Kuchack has made about the same progress in his first two years that Kevin Malone made with the Dodgers. The only difference is that the Lakers have an owner who cares about winning championships and not about how much money he can get for a sports cable television network when he sells the team.
Second, the Lakers need to clean their closet of old players. Start with Walker. His 4.4 points per game, 1 rebound per game, and in over 18 minutes a game just did not cut it.
Speaking of dead weight, get rid of Brian Shaw-but keep Robert Horry. Despite “Big shot Rob” missing the biggest shot of the season in game five, I would keep him on the roster for team leadership with his five NBA titles.
Third, they need to sign a big name down below in the post to help Shaq. This person needs to be used to playing second fiddle to a superstar.
So that means Karl Malone is out of the question. Not because his ego is bigger than his 18-wheeler that he drives during the off season, but because he is over the hill and should take the advice of John Stockton and finally start collecting that long-awaited Social Security check.
The Lakers need to sign Scottie Pippen. Despite his troubles in Portland, he is one of the greatest players in the game. He would be a great player in the post and also a threat from the perimeter, with one of the best jump shots in the league. If the Lakers sign Pippen and a few bench players to give them more depth, they will play the winner of the Junior Varsity Tournament (Eastern Conference) in the 2004 NBA Finals.