The Lakers get the point

Posted: July 6, 2012 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
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The NBA has some pretty good point guards.

Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker. Superstars. Then you have guys like Ty Lawson, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley, and Devin Harris. Solid guys, occasionally outstanding. And then you have players like Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving, young, exciting stars who could dominate in the near future.

And then the Lakers trot out Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. Before that, Derek Fisher, God bless his flops, missed layups and big three-pointers. The Lakers had the best point guard in NBA history for 12 years and since then have employed journeymen, has-beens, never-weres, enigmas, slugs, over-the-hill veterans, overmatched rookies, Magic (again!), slow guys, fast guys, bad shooters and worse shooters.

Now they get Steve Nash.

In some ways it changes nothing for the Lakers. As of now their bench remains abysmal and if they do sign some players to upgrade they’ll be guys Nash calls “old men.”

They still have to figure out how to get Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to play better together, preferably in an offensive system that doesn’t consist of Gasol standing at the 3-point line being a nice-guy version of Bill Laimbeer or Jack Sikma with better hair and a worse beard.

Mike Brown’s ability to handle the LA spotlight and the Lakers personnel remains a question mark. Kobe Bryant’s four years away from attending his 20th high school reunion. And they still can’t guard Westbrook or Paul or Parker. Some things haven’t changed.

But so much has.

For two years — ever since the buzzer sounded at the end of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, when an exhausted Lakers team survived to defeat Boston — the franchise has been a listless, weakened goliath. Even during Phil Jackson’s final year it appeared to be a somewhat moribund franchise, still pursuing a third straight title but doing it with a joylessness that easily carried over once Brown replaced the Zen Master. The Nash signing energizes the franchise, even if he’s six years removed from his second MVP and perhaps a year or two away from becoming ineffective. It’s a bold move, the type the Lakers have been known for under Jerry Buss, a quality many fans feared was lost when son Jim took over from his dad.

It should add some years to Bryant’s career, now that he finally has someone else who can create on the perimeter, someone who can relieve him of being not just the primary scorer, but the primary ballhandler. Will Kobe relinquish those duties? Well, what do you think he enjoys more: Scoring or being the primary distributor? For too long he’s had to do both. Now he can more fully concentrate on being a scorer, and when you’re one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen, that’s a good thing.

Nash should re-energize Gasol, who has looked beleaguered for the better part of two years, weighed down by the Finals championships and life with Kobe. No, Nash won’t shut down Westbrook or Paul or any of the superstar point guards who have taken over the league the past three seasons. Those guys will continue to score 25 points against the Lakers and they’ll get to the rim and they’ll hand out eight assists. In other words, they’ll do what they’ve always done to the Lakers — and what they do to each other and everyone else. No one stops those guys.

But now, for the first time since, well, I suppose you could go back to Nick Van Exel if you want to stretch but otherwise you’re going back to the guy who wore No. 32 and possessed a big smile, the Lakers have a point guard who can also attack those guys. They have a point guard who can give as well as he gets. He’ll do it by giving to others, but also by knocking down jumpers off the dribble and 3-pointers off the pass. He’ll throw up his quirky layups, a floater with the right and an underhanded one with the left. Best of all he’ll control the game, dictating tempo and pace, running on those rare times the Lakers’ ancient legs get an advantage and manipulating the halfcourt when it all slows down.

This is a new world for the Lakers and their fans, who have been so starved for a point guard who could do those things that for a few weeks last season they rallied around Ramon Sessions, a guy who pieced together a good run when he first joined the team before Mike Brown’s system and his own liabilities slowed him down. Ramon Sessions excited the masses. Imagine what a real star point guard can do.

During Phil Jackson’s years the Lakers didn’t have a great need for a traditional, ball-dominant point guard. The one year they had one — when Gary Payton, who by that time was really more of a mitten on defense than a glove, joined the team — he struggled to adapt to the Triangle. But that was that offensive system. People who use that as evidence that Kobe might struggle to co-exist with Nash ignore the fact the Lakers no longer run the Triangle (if you know what they do run, please let me know. Really.) and Payton was never the pure distributor Nash has been. With Kobe, Gasol and Nash — three of the smartest offensive players in the league — Brown could even just concentrate on defense and no one would complain.

The Lakers know what they’re getting, but did they give up too much? They handed out cash to Phoenix, plus four draft picks. They could have given up a fifth pick and I don’t think it would have been too much. In the new economic system in the NBA draft picks will likely be more crucial to a team’s success, even those ones lower in the first round. So in three or four years, when Nash is off kicking a soccer at a pickup game in New York and Kobe is sitting silently in a dark room, alone, watching the film of his 81-point game, the Lakers could be in trouble when it comes to the salary cap.

Doesn’t matter. The Lakers had to go all in because there’s really no alternative. When you have a Hall of Famer, especially when he’s one of the 10 best players of all time, not to mention someone who has an ugly contract and a no-trade clause, you don’t worry about a five-year plan. Whenever Kobe Bryant finally retires, the Lakers will have to rebuild, whether Andrew Bynum’s a dominant player by then or even if Dwight Howard has landed in the city. That’s the way of the NBA world. When your legend leaves you don’t stay dominant. You become a miserable team at worst and an average one at best. It’s what happened to Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, Jordan’s Bulls, Hakeem’s Rockets, Ewing’s Knicks, and Isiah’s Pistons and it’ll happen to Dirk’s Mavs and even to Duncan’s Spurs. So why not take advantage of Bryant’s presence while you still have a chance? He’s slipped some but is still a first-team all-NBA player. The Lakers could have done nothing other than re-sign Sessions and they would have had an all right season. Probably won 48 to 52 games, likely would have won a first-round series, probably against the Nuggets again or maybe the Blazers or perhaps even the Wolves. But then?

Now things have changed, even if that change arrives in the form of a 38-year-old with a balky back.

Are the Lakers now better than the Heat or the Thunder? No. But do they have a better chance of beating both of those teams now? Absolutely.

And for the first time in three years, it’ll be fun watching them try.

  1. Jerry says:

    The biggest issue is still going to be the coach and the ‘offense’ he reportedly uses. It seems to be get the ball the Kobe (or LeBron when he was in Cleveland and LeBron didn’t like it) and have the other four guys watch and try to get out of the way. I think a good high school coach could come up with a scheme to slow that type of offense down, if not stop it completely.

    Nash is still playing at a high level but for how much longer? And how much gas does Kobe still have in the tank? Or Gasol, provided he isn’t traded? Can Nash find a way to motivate Bynum on a nightly basis or keep Metta from the inevitable meltdown? Too many people think that Nash will be the answer to keep order in the world but he probably won’t be able to. I think the biggest question has to be what number will he wear? 14 as an homage to Bob Cousy?

    • shawnfury says:

      That’s why I’m hoping Brown just sort of lets Nash/Kobe be the offensive coordinators and Brown can handle defense. You have to let Nash be Nash, not as much as he was in Phoenix because of personnel but he can’t be a guy who just stands in the corner waiting for passes (although if he does become that guy, hey at least he’ll knock down the threes).

  2. Mark says:

    I absolutely love this move for the Lakers. Love it, Love it, Love it.

    Draft picks, Schmaft picks… how many draft picks in the last 3rd of the first round are going to step in ready to contribute to this team…. They don’t have needs at post, and grabbing the 4th or 5th best pg, or 6th-9th best wing player in the draft isn’t going to help with a starter.

    Nash is in phenomenal shape for his age, and his level of play has been great. He pretty much single handedly kept the Suns in the playoff race last season… they just missed, passing to the likes of Jared Dudley and Martin Gortat. He was 2nd in the league in assists last year for crying out loud, behind Rondo. Rondo was passing to 3 future Hall of Famers.

    The post players are established, whether they try and swap Bynum for Howard or not. I think with Nash, you’d want to keep Gasol, who is excellent in Pick and Roll offense… and with that length up front… I see numerous alley oops at the rim for this team because Nash will get into the paint.

    I’d like to see Jordan Hill re-signed. He brings energy and effort, and I like Josh McRoberts as a 4th post player rotation guy (which is hard for me to say as a Heels fan).

    Steve Blake is fine as a backup to Nash, with Sessions he was asked to play the crunch time minutes…he won’t have to do that with Nash, just play some minutes in the middle of each half.

    The question is what to do with Metta World Peace. He’s not a bad player, he’s not… but he is sort of mentally questionable, and his salary is very expensive. Ebanks is fine, reminds me alot of Ariza but not as good of a shooter. Talk of bringing in Grant Hill, meh, I could go either way on that.

    It would be great to have a decent backup shooting Guard to spell Kobe some more… it was difficult to watch the Sessions/Blake combo or either of those guys with Ebanks playing at the 2.

    Mike Brown, although I’m not sold on him as being “the answer” as a coach, I say give the guy some time. He ran alot of set plays, but with Nash that won’t need to happen as much… let the creator create.

    The point is, with Gasol at his age, Kobe at his age, and MWP at his age, this team needs to do something to win NOW. A young player fresh out of college isn’t going to put them over the edge, unless they had a top pick. But they don’t, and they won’t. This team wasn’t terrible… they just weren’t good enough. Are they good enough now? Who knows? But I think they are better. And bringing in a veteran guy, who knows how to elevate the level of play of his teammates, who is a great shooter (50% fg, 40%3pt, 90%ft) and is hungry for a ring… is a great move.

    I may have to buy the NBA’s version of Direct Ticket this year, I’m so excited.

    • shawnfury says:

      Good points, Mark. I will give Brown the benefit of the doubt as far as he’ll have a full training camp, etc. I’m still not optimistic (still holding out Adelman becomes their coach. I mean, it could happen…okay. And actually it worked out well because he’s the perfect coach for the Wolves).

      Gasol I think will benefit greatly so I really hope they don’t move him. I’m fine with Blake as backup too. But can’t wait for Nash in final minutes — do they lose that devastating Game 2 against the Thunder if they have Nash handling the ball instead of Kobe going 1-on-5 in final two minutes? I don’t think so.

      League Pass is my big indulgence each year (although they charged full price this year, jerks).

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