The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers bowed out of the 2011 NBA Playoffs and their run at a three peat in stunningly embarrassing fashion: a 122-86 shellacking to the Dallas Mavericks. The beatdown completed a 4-game sweep, the first ever Phil Jackson-coached team to get the broom.
Never mind the fact that the Lakers failed to play any defense beyond the 3-point line, allowing the Mavericks to hit 20 3’s tying a playoff record, LaMar Odom and Andrew Bynum decided to play like bush-leaguers as the game was winding down. Bynum’s foul was most egregious because he made no attempt on the ball and did not plan to, and it was against a player half his size in JJ Barea who was in mid-air and could have been seriously hurt the way he crashed to the court. To add insult to the punk move, Barea still made the shot he was attempting.
Bynum, who spoke out earlier in the series about trust issues amongst his fellow teammates (mainly the lack of help when Bynum leaves the man he is guarding to assist on the pick and roll), made no apologies for the foul afterward. While he was clearly frustrated, anger is never an excuse for trying to intentionally hurt another player. That behavior is not what Phil Jackson’s teams are about and not how the Lakers organization has represented themselves throughout their history. That being said, here are my predictions of what will happen to the Lakers this upcoming offseason.
5) Brian Shaw will be new Lakers head coach
Shaw is a former Lakers player who has played with Kobe Bryant and under Phil Jackson during the first title run at the turn of the century. Shaw has bided his time as an assistant under Phil for six years. Shaw was one of the front runners for the vacant Cleveland Cavaliers position before Byron Scott was hired and, most importantly, he has Kobe’s stamp of approval.
4) Kobe will demand changes going forward
While the Lakers have been blown out in elimination games before, most recently in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals against Boston, but never have players reacted in such a classless way. Kobe was visibly disgusted with Bynum’s foul on Barea and repeatedly said that fouls like that “should never happen” during his post game press conference. No one, save for Phil Jackson, is more hurt and humiliated by how the series played out. When asked about what the team needs to do in the offseason to get better, Bryant coldly said “that’s up to Mitch,” referring to Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. Let’s not kid ourselves. Similar to when Shaquille O’Neal was sent packing to South Beach, Kupchak and upper management of the Lakers will approach Kobe with any possible changes they will make. Kobe will have final say on everything which is not a good look for a few players to be named later.
3) Phil Jackson will not coach again
As the cameras followed Phil Jackson off of the court after his worst playoff series in 20 years as a coach, even Phil haters had to admit the NBA Finals won’t be the same without seeing Jackson in his booster seat.
Jackson, 65, definitely did not envision getting swept and embarrassed by his players as the way he would end his decorated coaching career. That gives some people reason to believe the Zen master will return to coaching, after taking a year off, to come full circle with the New York Knicks, the team he won a championship with as a player in the 1970’s. I am here to tell you this will not happen. Jackson has happened to inherit ready-made teams in his career (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the Chicago Bulls, Kobe and Shaq on the Lakers and finally Kobe and Gasol) and while the Knicks have two superstars in Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire, Jackson’s star players played lockdown defense. Anthony and Stoudamire are not committed to defense at all and are not being held accountable for it. If Mike D’Antoni decides to stop being stubborn and hire a defensive-minded assistant coach that can whip STAT and Melo into shape on the defensive end, MAYBE Phil takes on the challenge after D’Antoni’s contract is up. Remember the last “New York” kid that said coaching the Knicks was his dream job? Larry Brown lasted one season fighting with Stephon Marbury and bolted.
2) Bynum and/or Gasol will be traded
Bynum had a bounce back season in 2010-11 showing the potential that kept the Lakers from including him in any rumored deal for Carmelo Anthony. He was the best player in the playoffs for L.A., but the other players, for whatever reason, failed to get Bynum the ball on a consistent basis. That frustration boiled over (see aforementioned foul) and may have been the final straw in a good, but injury plagued tenure in Tinseltown. The rumors swirling is that Bynum could be dealt straight up for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.
Pau Gasol will be on the move after a 2011 playoffs where he never scored his season average (18.8) in points in a single game and only reached his rebounding average (10) once. Add to that the allegation that a teammate’s wife caused his fiancee to dump him being the reason for his poor play and the “Gasoft” tag gets magnified. If the unnamed teammate happens to wear #24, Gasol will definitely be sent packing. This has shades of LeBron James last year in Cleveland letting personal issues with teammates affect his play. Gasol has to be stronger than that. He was the piece that helped Kobe get back to the top three years ago, but there is no defending quitting on the court.
1) Dwight Howard will be the center for the Lakers in 2011-2012 season
Dwight Howard’s teammates in Orlando left him hanging. Because Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas, among others, forgot how to shoot , the Magic were bounced in the first round in 5 (!!) games. Howard, who scored 75 points and grabbed 35 rebounds in the first two games of that series, was justifiably upset. The Magic made the Finals in 2009, lost in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010, and took two steps back in 2011 going out in the first round. Openly speaking about the possibility of playing with Kobe, Howard has fans in Mickey’s backyard nervous. After all they loss one franchise center (Shaq) to L.A. for virtually nothing in 1996, a move which set the franchise back a few years. The aforementioned trade for Bynum would not hurt either team financially and Kobe would be getting the best pivot in the NBA. Howard has no history of injury which immediately makes him a better option than Bynum. Expect bringing Superman to L.A. to be one of those talked about moves (see #4) Lakers brass runs past Kobe.