Let’s Just Say It: Lakers Won’t Even Make Finals
No one in Southern California wants to come out and say what is becoming more obvious by the day. So allow me to be the first:
The Lakers won’t even make it to the NBA Finals.
As much as people have tried to overlook the sluggish performances, the lack of hunger, the horrible losses, including the most recent all-time stinker at Cleveland, the evidence now is overwhelming.
These are just some of the reasons Phil Jackson’s guys won’t get to the NBA’s version of The Big Dance.
1. Kobe Bryant really has taken a step back. It started to look that way last year, but he rallied to silence the talk. Now reality has crept into those tired legs. He can’t lift off the way he used to, and although he can still rise his intensity level to the occasion for a big game here and there, the way he did at Boston on this trip, he no longer can sustain it. He’s always been more of a scorer than a shooter, and his percentage some nights now (8-for-24 against the Cavs) is awful. Is he still one of the great players in basketball? Absolutely. But can he still carry the team on his back throughout a couple of tough playoff series when the opponents have a home court advantage? Probably not anymore.
2. The defense is horrific. Those were journeymen players on the worst team in the league driving by them for easy lay ups all night long in Cleveland. Ron Artest, the so-called defensive specialist, has been so bad he hardly plays anymore. Derek Fisher is a grand, old pro, but he can’t guard anybody at this point. Kobe looks slower. Pau Gasol just isn’t aggressive enough by nature, and as for Andrew Bynum, well, even Lamar Odom seems consistent by comparison. You just don’t know what you’re going to get from Bynum or Odom on a nightly basis. Some think they simply will flip a switch and turn it on come playoff time, but will they really? I wouldn’t bet on it.
3. The bench is thinner than some of the Hollywood starlets who sit courtside. They’ve missed Matt Barnes desperately, and that alone should tell you something. It helps when Bynum can stay on the court, allowing Odom to come off the bench. But when Andrew is in foul trouble and/or playing poorly, everything changes.
4. The desire isn’t there. Psychologically, this happens to a lot of teams that win titles, especially if they win a couple in a row. What is the incentive to do it again? They’ve been there and done that. Now most of them make more money and attract even more adulation. They’re more into making fragrance commercials or strange tweets about God’s opinion of their ability. So what is there to play for at that point? Only Kobe seems to have that inner fire that burns on a nightly basis. He wants to win all the time. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most of his teammates.
5. The home court advantage will be gone. More and more, it seems clear that not only San Antonio, but Dallas will finish with a better record. Unless something changes, Oklahoma City has a shot, too. What that means is that the Lakers will have to beat at least two deeper, hungrier teams who will have the extra game at home in order to make it to the Finals, where they would have to defeat yet a third, even better team with the home court advantage. Can they outpoint anybody on a given night? Certainly. But the way they’ve played of late, you couldn’t pick them to beat any of those clubs in a long, tough, physical series.
6. Even Phil doesn’t appear motivated. Is it just me, or does Jackson just seem to be mailing this season in? Not long ago, if his team had performed as badly as this one did in the final three games of this recent road trip, he would have fumed publicly and ordered longer, tougher practices. But now he just kind of shrugs and says he’ll make them watch themselves on tape. Well, guess what? That doesn’t seem to be working. With all his rings, this is a coach who probably doesn’t have much incentive himself, but you would think pride would enter into it somewhere. Wouldn’t you?
7. A trade is unlikely. If there was, indeed, a window to deal for Carmelo Anthony, it seems to have passed. So whom else would you go after and what would the Lakers have to offer in return? Jim Buss won’t give up his pet project, Bynum. You couldn’t get two old game programs and a bag of peanuts for Artest at this point, especially with his contract. That doesn’t leave much, unless you want to talk Odom, and that wouldn’t make much sense, considering he’s still a match up problem for most teams, at least when he wants to play.
I know there are some out there who believe it is wrong to panic. “You’ll see,” they say, “this will all change come May and June.” That was true in other years. But this year is different. This Lakers team has too many holes and too many question marks, especially on defense.
It is time to admit the truth. It is no longer a question of whether they can beat the Celtics, the Magic or the Heat in the Finals.
The question is whether they can even make it that far? No one else seems to want to address that one, so I will.
The answer is no.
— STEVE BISHEFF