As the Lakers stroll into to Dallas tonight, they do so on the heels of yet another head-scratching loss, continuing their frustrating habit of killing the momentum of winning. Just when it seems like things can't get any better for the Purple and Gold, of course they give us two "WTF" losses in a row to kill our excitement just enough. Lord forbid forbid they actually go on some real kind of streak. It's just the way these Lakers roll.
They're inconsistent. Yet even with stupid losses, you never forget how good they actually are, or can be, when they aren't playing like boneheads. In December, L.A. traded the player many Lakers fans had become accustomed to associating with inconsistency, Lamar Odom. At the time, the it seemed like Lamar was traded for nothing, and there were some fears that Odom's trade would go down as one of the worst in team history. The move was the kicker in a series of off-season moves that made Lakers fans wonder what the hell was going on in El Segundo. How could the Lakers trade the reigning NBA 6th Man of the Year for a low 1st-round draft pick and a trade exception to the defending champ Mavericks, of all teams, who had just recently dusted the Lakers en route to their first title? How could a player so valuable for two championships be discarded so easily? Everything seemed to being going the wrong way.
In the three months since the season started, many of our fears have subsided. Fears of mediocrity have been replaced with excitement, and the Lakers have shown the ability to compete with any team in the NBA when they're playing to their potential. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom continues to struggle in Dallas since he was cast from Staples Center for a salary dump. As sad as it is to watch a beloved former Laker lose his passion for basketball, every bad game he has actually strengthens my faith in the Jim Buss Era.
Maybe Jimbo knows what he's doing after all?
The best owners in sports are usually successful because they're able to make tough decisions that aren't easy to make. Sometimes owners have to make choices that might not fall in line with public belief, but are made with the best interests of the organization's future in mind. Like trading Shaq in his prime, or releasing Peyton Manning to draft a rookie replacement. Or not consulting with your mega-superstar on who the next coach might be. We fans might not always like the plan, but we need it to work out.
Golden State's Joe Lacob was booed heavily on Monday because he had just traded Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. They booed Lacob because Monta was a fan favorite. It didn't matter that the Warriors were never any good with Ellis as their alpha dog. Monta was their guy, and Warriors fans have always been loyal, if anything. So here Warriors fans were, booing their new owner for making what had to be tough choice to improve their team from their annual lottery pick status because they liked a player. Keep in mind, Lacob just paid a record $450 million for a team that never makes the playoffs. Lacob doesn't have the pressure from his fanbase to win as Jim Buss has in L.A., and still felt he had to make a change for the better of the team.
After half a season of secret fears that Jimbo's regime would eventually lead the Lakers downfall, he and Mitch were able get the point guard they wanted (not named Chris Paul) and needed, and somehow get rid of three of their worst players in the process. Check just about any major site, and you'd probably read that the Lakers were major winners when the trade dust settled. Considering the Lakers were able to pull this off with sacrificing their efforts to conform to future stricter salary cap rules, these roster moves were quite the coup. All of a sudden, Jim Buss doesn't look so bad. We might be leery of his decision-making until his direction nets another ring, but what other options do we have? His last name is Buss, and he's not going anywhere. We have to trust him.
Who besides Jimmy actually thought the Lakers would be making the smart move keeping Andrew Bynum over Dwight Howard? Lamar Odom was traded for peanuts, Pau seemed destined for another city, and Bynum didn't seem fully ready for the superstar role he had been groomed for. The trade seemed inevitable, with the Lakers looking like a team with a puncher's chance of winning the title at best. If Dwight wanted in, how could the Lakers pass? Today, we shouldn't even be sure a Bynum for Dwight trade was ever a serious discussion. All along, Jimbo never had any intentions of trading Bynum. The failed Chris Paul trade was never a prelude to Dwight's arrival. It was confirmation that the Lakers were moving forward with building the team around Bynum. I always felt the Lakers never really wanted to re-sign Lamar in 2009. Except, Bynum's health was still a major question mark, and Phil Jackson insisted on Lamar. With Phil gone, and Bynum being handed the second-banana role, along with the Lakers eye on the future, Lamar was the odd man out.
With Lamar's woes continuing, you'd have to consider that the Lakers have always known they should sell Lamar high. I have no doubt that Lamar would have been an asset for these Lakers if he was never traded, but considering the realization that the Lakers are going to be forced to play on a more level playing field in terms of spending, would you prefer the Lakers remain flexible for the remainder of Kobe's career, while easily transitioning after his retirement? Or would you prefer they go all-in now and risk the future? I might be all-in with Kobe, but I have a lifetime of Lakers fandom to live out.
As it stands today, the Lakers are better without Lamar Odom than the Mavericks are with him. That shouldn't be the case, but the Lakers appear to have made the correct choice. Will Lamar turn it around? He might, but as the season progresses, his dissatisfaction outside of Los Angeles only seems to be becoming more apparent. We shouldn't enjoy his demise, but we should take comfort in knowing our owner might have made the correct choice. What if Lamar was this disappointing with the Lakers? For a player known to be wildly inconsistent coming off the best season of his life at 31 years old, there was the very real possibility of decline.
Whatever the reasons are for bad losses on the road, no longer can we blame Jim Buss' supposed idiocy for not putting together a roster good enough to compete with any team on any floor. The Lakers still have some work to do and a ways to go, and Jim Buss still has plenty of years left to prove he's every bit as great an owner as his dad was, but as Lamar gets ready to face the Lakers for the first time on his new home floor, he's a shining example that some of the best choices are the toughest ones to make. When it happened, I wasn't happy when LO was traded for just a pick and cap space, and I pray he doesn't come back to haunt us. For now, I'll keep the faith in the Lakers' ownership, until they've given me a damned good reason not to.
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