Tonight’s Jazz-Lakers game gives us a chance to check in with Andrew Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles and the Land ‘O Lakers blog. The fortunes for the Jazz are down right now, but I had a few questions about the Lakers.
1) In the wake of Jerry Sloan’s retirement, the Jazz have no identity and no rudder. The Lakers still have a few good years left with Kobe, but how do you expect the culture of the team to change after Phil Jackson leaves? Also, who is the most likely replacement and who would be your personal choice as coach?
Actually, the culture shouldn’t change too much after Phil leaves. Don’t get me wrong. It will be an entirely different world without Jackson — particularly for the media, who get treated to choice copy on a daily basis from The Zen Master — but fundamentally, the culture has been defined most by winning, and everyone remaining seems determined and qualified to maintain the status quo. Plus, the roster is primarily composed of veterans who seem aware their window at a collectively elite level may not be “shutting,” but it’s certainly not limitless. Lamar Odom in particular has mentioned a desire to maximize this opportunity, and I don’t think he’s alone. Thus, everyone should be motivated to help create a smooth transition.
Along these lines, Brian Shaw is the consensus heir apparent, and despite inexperience, I’m good with that. Any successor will undoubtedly have Kobe’s seal of approval, and if Kobe signs off on Shaw (as I expect he would, given their long relationship), everybody else will fall in line. Plus, I suspect Shaw would run the triangle, which means a championship-caliber team won’t devote large chunks of next season towards learning a new system. (If the CBA issues actually do result in a lockout and games missed, this becomes even more important.) Continuity is an underrated commodity in winning championships, and Shaw in place allows the Lakers to maintain as much as possible with this core.
2) Which player would you like to see the Lakers target in the offseason?
That’s tough to answer, since we don’t know if the new CBA will eliminate the mid-level exception, the primary means for adding noteworthy new blood for a team so far over the cap. But broadly speaking, I’d love for the Lakers to find a better option for a backup/third string center.
This may sound like a trivial wish, but a) the Lakers are pretty stacked, assuming Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown stick around and b) Andrew Bynum’s injury history has emphasized the importance of true center depth. (If he’s back next year, Derrick Caracter is too short for the five.) Without a trustworthy option behind Drew, the burden has fallen almost entirely on Pau Gasol, and the toll from banging bigger bodies 40+ minutes on a nightly basis is obvious. I realize it’s difficult to find a credible big willing to sign on for sporadic PT, but in a world both dream and semi-realistic, that’s who I’d go after.
3) Which Western Conference team and which Eastern Conference team presents the most difficult matchup for the Lakers?
In the East, I’ve been feeling increasingly… wait for it… Bullish about Chicago. They have a star capable of taking over (Derrick Rose), a fierce defense with a quality anchor (Joakim Noah) and balanced depth. Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer are solid options to make Kobe work and no coach has enjoyed more success game-planning Bryant than Tom Thibodeau. Granted, this incarnation of the Bulls has no track record in the postseason (a very different animal than the regular season) and Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have absolutely owned Carlos Boozer during the last few playoffs, so these strengths all relative. My money would still be on the Lakers, even without home court advantage. But I don’t take the Bulls lightly at all. They’ve been quietly impressive this season.
For the west, I need to see the April 10th matchup between the Lakers and Thunder before making up my mind. It’ll be the first time the Lakers will face OKC with Kendrick Perkins, and I’m curious to see his effect not just defensively, but on the offensive end as well.
Perk’s screens were a very underrated part of what made Boston’s offense go, and it’ll be interesting to see how well he can free up Russell Westbrook and especially Kevin Durant for better looks. To put things mildly, Ron Artest has made life miserable for the NBA scoring leader over the last two seasons and I doubt the Thunder can pull the upset with Durant consistently locked up. If Perkins’ presence somehow opens things up for KD (or just makes the defense exceptionally stout), the Thunder become the most worrisome Western conference team. Otherwise, I’ll give that respect to the Spurs, despite the current slump.