LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Mike Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers shouts instructions in the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on February 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 86-78. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
We're now 29 games into this current lockout-delayed and shortened NBA season. Four games away from the halfway point, and exactly one month from the trading deadline. At this point in the season, we should know what to look forward to with these Lakers. For better or worse, there's a certain comfort in knowing how high or low to level expectations of your team. At least there's a definitive way to feel and you can manage your expectations accordingly. You know who your team is and what their strengths and weaknesses are. No matter what, you're able to hold some emotion towards your team. What the hell are we supposed to think about this year's Lakers so far? Excitement? Frustration? Disappointment?
Almost halfway into the season, the Lakers are still as huge a question mark (or twenty) as they were before Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls came to visit on Christmas Day. It's hard to have a concrete feeling about this team because I don't know how this team will look a month from now. In my rooting, I like to focus on positives. Sure Fish can't play D, but he knocks down big shots. No, World Peace can't shoot, but he play good defense off and on. I have absolutely no idea if the group of guys I'm watching and critiquing now will look anything close to whomever is going to share the floor with Kobe by the time Spring rolls around. Major trades have put a cloud over the entire Lakers season. The Dwight rumors have lingered forever, the Chris Paul attempt signaled the Lakers were seriously pursuing that major roster shake-up Magic Johnson promised us, and the Lamar Odom giveaway signaled (hopefully) more moves to be made. But, here we are on February 15th, still waiting.
How much longer will we have to wait?
In each of the previous three seasons, the Lakers made their moves before February 15th. In 07-08, the Lakers traded for Trevor Ariza on December 7th, 2007. They traded Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol on February 1st, 2008. In 2009, they traded Vladimir Radmanovic for Shannon Brown on February 7th. Last season, they traded Sasha Vujacic on December 15th 2010.
The trade deadline varies from season to season. The Ariza and Vujacic deals were done well in advance of the deadlines, and were minor deals since neither shipped out starters, nor wanted players. The Pau and Brown deals both shipped out starters, and each of those were made close to the late February deadlines in their respective seasons. Due to the lockout, this season's date was pushed back to March 15th, but the All-Star break starts on February 24th. I'd imagine the attention garnered during the All-Star break is something to consider upon announcing any major moves.
The only things I feel we know for sure, so far, are these: Kobe is Kobe, Mike Brown is the coach, and Jim Buss makes the decisions. We've had frustrations with all three, but it's the latter that has us (or at least me) worried the most. Even at his worst, we know what Kobe gives us. The dude has been the standard in his 16 seasons, and he's the one constant in Lakerland that doesn't have the last name "Buss". He hasn't shown much, if any, signs of decline. Mike Brown is afforded a leash because he's new to the team. He has experienced success (kinda) before, and following Phil Jackson is no easy task for any coach. And then there's Jimmy.
While I view Jimmy with a somewhat cautious eye, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt until he proves for certain that he's in Michael Jordan's category. Of course I don't want to see that, so I pray my skepticism is eventually proved unwarranted. But why hasn't anything happened yet? Even with Kobe, Pau, and Bynum, this team isn't quite elite, and I want to know where they're heading. I need the peace of mind of knowing where to look. I don't know if Dwight is coming here, nor do I know if Deron Williams will follow if he does. I wonder if Bynum is getting traded, then I wonder if it's going to be Pau (we only pray that Metta World Peace or Luke Walton's contract can be traded). Outside of Kobe, I have no clue what star will line-up next to him in a month.
This team is deeply flawed as is. So flawed I can't see any reason that the Lakers can possibly view this current roster as the team with which to compete for a championship. Basically, we have no point guard, no small forward, and no bench. There will be occasional bright moments here and there throughout the season. Fish will hit some clutch shots, Metta will shut some high scorer down in a game, and Troy Murphy might find his shot some nights. They won't happen enough to waste whatever remaining ring-chasing years Kobe Bryant has left. I suppose some of that "blame" falls on Kobe's shoulders too. After all, he does make over $24 million a season. So, it's not like the Lakers can just sign each and every free agent they feel the desire to have. I understand they have to skimp on some things. But here's where things make no sense and keep me on edge. Obviously knowing the team was weak at ball-handling, play making, and bench production, why in the world would they trade Lamar Odom for a pick and cap space unless they knew they would be making another move? This one move alone (should) signal that the team we're rooting for now isn't the team we'll be cheering for in a month. Should...
Are the Lakers getting ready for something? They waived Derrick Caracter. Then they worked out Gilbert Arenas, yet didn't offer him a contract. Excuse me if I'm naive or just too ignorant on the situation, but how the hell could Gil be bad enough that he shouldn't / couldn't / wouldn't warrant a shot on this team? The Lakers employ Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Andrew Goudelock, and Jason Kapono. Yeah, I know Fish is clutch and Kobe's boy, but Blake's been a bust so far, and Goudelock only got to shine because his competition is Jason fucking Kapono. Don't get me wrong. I like Goudelock, so I don't mean to take anything away from him, but look at what we have to compare him with. Jason Kapono deserves a roster spot on this team over Gilbert Arenas' corpse? I don't believe it. Sorry. Not when there's a roster spot open, Gilbert comes on the cheap, and so bad are the Lakers guards (not named Kobe), small forwards, and bench that Mike Brown is still tinkering with the starting line-up and substitution patterns. C'mon already.
I don't blame Mike Brown for that. Is it possible that Mike Brown can't find an answer because he isn't sure who will be suiting up for him in a few weeks? Wouldn't it make sense for him to try out each and every player in each and every opportunity? I could only imagine how hard it must be to build a foundation on this team under these circumstances. Everyone good outside of Kobe is looking over their shoulders. The Lakers are desperate enough to try kicking Arenas' tires because they need help scoring and ball-handling. In turn, we're still waiting to know who's going to be around when the Playoffs start. It's hard to know what the shape this team will take in a month while this cloud remains over our heads. I just want some peace of mind in knowing what direction the Lakers are going.