NBA / May 9, 2011 / 10:45 am

L.A. Attends Their Own Funeral

Lamar Odom

Lamar Odom (photo. Jeff Forney)

As Kobe Bryant wandered off the American Airlines Center floor yesterday afternoon, he had to be asking himself “Why?” He was on his own, free to give a hug to Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and accept some words from DeShawn Stevenson. But he was alone. Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom were already in the locker room, ejected for boyishly acting closer to embarrassed 13-year-olds than two-time defending champions. Pau Gasol had mentally checked out over a week earlier, worn down from endless speculation and gossip, worn out from years of people questioning his toughness. Phil Jackson had both feet out the door, and was already entrenched in the Montana wilderness by the time his postgame press conference started. The Zen was gone, all but disappeared for a team that just a week ago was aiming to grab a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. Why did it have to end like this? It all came so abruptly, the funeral no one saw.

Death is never an easy thing. And like the Lakers learned this past week, the warning signs are hard. You don’t want to believe them. Believe them now L.A. They are real.

This never felt like a true Laker team. They were fractured more than anything else, completely spent from three-plus years of basketball together. In close games this season, they were awful. There was no trust. There was no togetherness. We should’ve seen this coming.

Even when he accepted the Lakers’ head coaching job in the summer of 1999, Jackson might not have envisioned this much success. Just four times before this year did he finish June in Hollywood without another ring. Now that it’s all over, a formality, it’s easier to dissect. L.A. had issues, and those issues were stemming for a long time. Talent took them to two titles, talent, and a group of players still willing to prove themselves. After they finally beat Boston last summer, validation set in. No one was bothered when they had long losing streaks this season because it was the Lakers and because that’s what the Lakers did. But the core of the team had been stripped and there was no turning back.

Jackson now realizes he waited too long. When the team starting airing their problems through the media and not in the locker room, he knew it was over. A change in preparation, a change in motivating the lost Pau Gasol wouldn’t work. It was over, even for someone like Jackson, someone who has never lost a team. Every coach has a shelf life, and Jackson’s finally hit, 11 rings and numerous NBA records later.

Most of the core is on the wrong side of 30, and fat with success. How much left did they have to give? The Lakers have rarely looked down, so high were they the last four years on their mountaintop. But now things are changing.

For Kobe, it’s time to adapt. While he’s still a fabulous player, this season pointed out the obvious: other players have caught up. His late-game heroics aren’t the norm anymore, but rather the exception. He needs more help. Will he share? Will he step back enough to still win? For Bynum, it’s time to grow up. For the rest of the team, it’s time to question, question whether or not they are comfortable, and happy to have a couple of championships. For many of them, it won’t matter. They won’t be back.

Just as many fans grew tired of seeing the same Lakers vying for a title every year, L.A. grew sick of each other. Just as Oklahoma City, Memphis, Miami and Atlanta came together, the Lakers fell apart, a family with too many nights spent arguing at the dinner table over who’s going to watch TV, who has to clean the dishes and who won’t take their laundry out of the dryer. Petty things, stuff that only bothers you when you’re drained, beat up and sick of the normalcy of winning.

In the second half yesterday, Kobe must’ve felt alone. He’ll be alone going forward, the rest of the team retiring, getting shipped out, on the trading block. He’ll be the holdover, the adhesive bridging one Laker era to another. They pushed time one year too far, and now the inevitable has arrived.

Yesterday, on the day we celebrated the women who bring life into the world, we witnessed a funeral. The Lakers will be back at some point – just as they always are – with new faces. But this era of Laker championship basketball died yesterday. It’s gone, and it’s sad it ended like this.

What will the Lakers do this summer?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    i hope that the lakers keep Bynum i believe he is the future of Laker basketball and will bring us back to another finals appearance if he can keep healthy a full year. his defense has improved every year and his offense was one of the few things that made the laker not look like total losers this playoffs. since kobes game has changed and need to change even more next year i dont feel that we need big time stars to win. if kobe can get another regular season MVP im sure we have a chance to get back to the final before hes done.

  • jane

    As an LA fan, I am ashamed by the bush-league plays of Odom and Bynum. The one from Bynum was the worst I have ever seen in the NBA and he could’ve seriously injured Barea. I was watching the post-game interviews and Bynum was unapologetic and acted like an idiot saying he was getting frustrated so he decided that he would foul someone. What an idiot. And to the fans that tolerate this kind of play, shame on you. If that was your child shooting the ball in mid-air then getting socked in the ribs, you would probably shoot Bynum in the head.

  • http://thesphericalstudies.blogspot.com Professor J

    God I hope the Laker organization thinks Bynum is the future franchise player too! With him as your franchise, you’ll never get out of the first round hahahaha

  • hahns

    I completely agree with Jane- Bynum is a genuinely bad human being. He has no business being in the league if he’s going to go after people like that. Mind you, this isn’t the first time he’s done something like this – he did it to Michael Beasely too during the regular season. The league needs to come down hard on this kind of behavior.

  • Khalvin

    “So when did Mark Cuban hire the Navy Seals?
    Only difference between Bin Laden and the Lakers?
    Bin Laden got a more respectful burial”…. too soon?

  • LakeShow84

    Drop Matt Barnes because no contender he has ever played for has made it out of the 2nd round i believe lol

    SERIOUSLY

    We just need another viable scorer off the bench and a decent backup behind Pau and/or AB..

    Odom was good off the bench but THAT WAS IT.. Blake needs to be more assertive next year..

    Sorry

    But Shannon Brown gotta go as well..

  • APE

    I can’t believe I’m going to point this out…

    but this team can’t win titles without Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar.

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    lakers have NO shooters whatsoever and thats what hurts our team the most. yah lakers got pau, bynum and odom but if we cant spread out the floor and make them pay for double teaming our big men inside its gonna look like this last Dallas game. Lakers need to pick up some dead eye shooters and a new defensive minded guard with high IQ and we’ll be back in no time. i would like to imagine that with kobes explosiveness leaving his legs he will fall on his vision and knowledge of the game to take the Lakers back to the finals and win his 2nd MVP…

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    @APE

    lol, thats funny, but maybe your right. not on an on court perspective but during practice. sasha and farmar could have helped the lakers be better prepared for someone like CP3 or JJ running wild off of pick and rolls and fast breaks. but since farmar made to many mental mistakes and sasha became a useless jacker before he left LA, they both had to go…

  • NYK

    my facebook today was filled with laker fans saying gasol has no soul is soft and should be traded or banished. didn’t this dude win you two rings? wow… just wow…

    yeah he sucked this series (and the whole postseason) but come on son dude helped get your city two chips.

  • NYK

    @APE

    yeah I was thinking just that yesterday. between the barrage of the 3s from the mavs i think Sasha would be one to put a few 3s back in to shake the mavs confidence a little bit and stop the bleeding. they need to ask Vujacic and Farmar back from the nets!!! bring deron williams along while they’re at it lol

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    @NYK

    the Lakers have had a constant problem with Pau and his lack of agressiveness. Pau played in the finals that we lost to Boston and Bynum did not. bynum played in both finals that we won and so did Pau, hmmmmmm, very interesting. Bynums only fault is his health…His heart, will to win, talent and effort on both ends of the court has really never been questioned.

  • Shot In Ya Face

    Sean, first this was a nicely written article. I enjoy reading it.

    Second, all the Laker fans are getting their panties in a bunch. Everyone is saying “Trade Bynum for Dwight. Let’s go after CP3″. Last time I checked, the core group of Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom went to the Finals three years in a row, two of them collecting rings.

    Although I don’t know what’s going on in the locker room and nor do I think we will ever know (unless Phil write another book), the problem isn’t with the core group Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum. Lakers problem lies in the fact that they are OLD and have no bench. Slow and old guards like Fisher, Blake, Artest get burned left and right by quick guards and they can’t close out on 3 point shooters. This makes it especially frustrating and hard for the bigs, as noted by Bynum’s cheapshot to Barrera.

    Lakers are riddled with bad contracts like Blake and Walton who contribute to the team winning as much as the Laker girls do –nothing. I don’t see the Lakers being able to move their bad contracts. Who wants the atrocious Blake, the way-past-your-prime Fisher, or the my-psychiatrist-made-me-soft Artest? The Lakers team built last summer was suppose to maximize the few good years Kobe has left in his career, but since it’s been a diaster , Kobe’s done collecting rings.

  • Soopa

    They got Bynum one more year and then theres a team option worth $16mill for another year.

    Do you guys seriously think Bynum can carry a team to the finals? Right now he is getting room to work because of Pau and Kobe. Take those away and flank him with Ben Gordon and Charlie V? Yeah, not much winning happening there.

    He has yet to consistently see aggressive double teams so we have no idea what kind of passer/play maker he can be out of the post.

    And his defense? Well show me a 7-1 285 guy whos doesnt play defense, contest shots or at least rebound. Sure Bynum is abit above average, but lets not get carried away. He still gets lost on rotations every game and i dont think he has taken a charge all season.

    Call me crazy but I could make the case that Oden would be a better pick up for a fraction of Bynums price. DeAndre Jordan is another guy who i think potentially has a higher ceiling then Bynum.

    That being said, I think he was the best Laker this series and he has improved dramatically over the last year. He is getting his knees under him and next season, which is a contract year for him, he could land on 18-11-2…

    …But id never what him on my team. I have “trust issues” with him.

  • Sure about that bro?

    @panchitooo – bynum’s heart and will to win has been questioned for yrs, man. i’m not sure what newspapers and websites you’ve been reading. as merely one example, wasn’t it kobe bryant himself that got caught on youtube talking about how the lakers need to trade bynum?

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    @sure about that bro?
    the only reason bynum has been questioned is because his injuries. and kobe said trade bynum way before this season started, did you see him say that bynum is our defensive anchor only a couple months ago? was his heart and will to win questioned while he was dragging his leg up and down the court in last years finals against the Celtics? the fact that he elbowed barrea like that makes me know that he cares and is deeply frustrated that his teammates arent playing defense. if he didnt care he would have just kept getting tossed around like Pau this whole post season.

    im not saying that he should be a Lakers franchise player all im saying is that we need him on both sides of the court as an effective role player.

  • Casey

    I honestly don’t know what happened to the Lakers in this series. The number of open 3s the Mavs got in game four was shocking. Where does blame for shots fall upon? It’s not like Bynum or Gasol are supposed to be out there contesting shots on the perimiter…I think if you asked any team in the league they would take Bynum to anchor their defense in a heartbeat. The guy really is a game changer, but the Mavs were the first team I’ve seen who were able to negate him. And Haywood deserves a lot of credit for this. If they could get a decent point guard and get a guy like Trevor Ariza (should have resigned him) they will be back in the Finals.

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    here are some Centers in the league that i feel are not as effective as Bynum is on both sides of the court:
    Andrea Bargnani-no defense
    Robin Lopez-no offense
    Darko Milicic-low IQ
    Nazr Mohammed-too old
    Ben Wallace-no offense
    Ronnie Turiaf-too small
    Antonio Mcdyess-too old
    Nenad Kristic-too soft
    Andris Biedris-no defense
    Spencer Hawes-no offense
    Brendan Hayward-no offense
    Roy Hibbert-not enought experience
    Joel Anthony-no offense
    Kendrick Perkins-no offense
    Andrerson Varejao-no offense
    Emeka Okefor-too small
    Jermaine Oneal-too old

    there are alot of Centers in the league that are better than Bynum in one asset of the game but not alot of players that are just as valuable on both sides of the court like Bynum and D. Howard are. here are some players that i think are equal or better than bynum in defense and offense combined:
    Yao-too big, too many offensive moves
    NeNe-attacks both on defensive and offense
    Marc Gasol-big body, great post moves
    Marcus Camby-shot blocker and solid jumper
    Al Jefferson-big body, unstoappble down low
    Joakim Noah-hustle points and defense
    Al Horford-all around game
    Chris Kaman-big body and great post moves
    and of course Dwight Howard-BEAST!!!

  • BRUCE

    hahahahahah——Al Jefferson-big body, unstoappble down low

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    @BRUCE

    19 PPG and 10 RPG this season, maybe his best season yet this year. thats pretty good, i know you may not respect Al Jefferson but he got game..

  • mugsy

    Anyone heard that gasol aint talking to Kobe cause Kobes wife made his girl leave him?

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    Amare went for 15 PPG and 8 RPG this year
    Aldrige went for 20 PPG and 8 RPG this year
    Duncan went for 13 PPG and 9RPG this year
    KG went for 15PPG and 9 RPG this year
    Pau Gasol went for 19PPG and 10 RPG this year

    so you could say Al Jefferson aint that good but he put better numbers this season then all these guys, except for Pau and Aldrige

  • http://www.dimemag.com panchitoooo

    correction*
    Amare went for 25 PPG and 8 RPG this year, sorry about that

  • jay

    i am not sure what the roster looks like next year but kb will get his finger fixed and get rest. this reminds me of 1995. orlando ushered out mj bulls. everyone said mj was done..they win 72 next year. la wont do that but kb will be a beast next year! book it!

  • BrandonDNH

    Fuck Bynum, trade him and Gasol to Magic for Dwight and Turk, in a couple years sign Chris Paul, new dynasty right there

  • deagletime

    And so begins the Blake Griffin Era of LA Basketball

  • http://brokejumper.com/ brokejumper.com

    I think the Lakers are fine, Dirk was the X factor, Terry and Peja finally woke up, Dallas was just clicking on all cylinders. Put Dirk on the Hawks or Bobcats and even those teams could sweep the Lakers on any given series.