Before I launch the latest in our "Fill the Void" series, I have to apologize for a few things. 1st, for writing a piece that is so clearly homeristic. It’s not usually my style, but the very nature of this argument basically compels it. 2nd, for writing a piece that is so clearly designed to spark up an argument that can be neither won nor lost because it is so purely subjective, and 3rd, for using this piece, from Informative Sports, as a jumping-off point for making said argument. The only excuse I can provide is that I didn’t want to get too much of the analysis of the upcoming season done so quickly while there is still so much time before the season starts. Without that analysis, there isn’t a whole ton of subject matter to work with unless we turn Silver Screen and Roll into TMZ-Lakers.
If you haven’t already clicked over and read the piece I’m talking about, let me save you the time and the frustration. The author, John Fraty, starts off by proclaiming that the Spurs are the team of the decade over the Lakers, using the same basic logic found on an earlier post from Pounding the Rock (i.e. consistency of success is more important than winning the largest number of championships). Since we’ve discussed that one ad nauseam already, we’ll let it go. He then goes on to discuss which teams are most likely to be the team of the next decade. His 5 choices are: Oklahoma City, Portland, Chicago, Orlando, and … the Memphis Grizzlies. It must be said, his choice of the Grizzlies has more qualifiers than a pre-nuptial agreement, but it is still an unforgiveable crime.
The other 4 choices are fine, I guess. There’s no doubt that Oklahoma City(2-3 years away) and Portland (0-2 years away) have quite an array of young, talented players that could theoretically set up either team for a period of great success in the near future. As long as Dwight Howard learns how to play offense over the next couple of years, the Magic will definitely be a force in the 10’s with quite a few young players to build around him. I’m not nearly as sold on the Bulls, who have a great piece in Derrick Rose, and a whole bunch of other pieces that never seem to fit together. But the piece as a whole got me thinking: What about the Lakers?
I know, surprise, surprise, a Lakers fan thinks the Lakers might be the team of the next decade. This, after he claims the Lakers are the team of the current decade. It’s such blatant homerism that I’d be embarrassed to put it into print … if I weren’t capable of making a decent argument to support it. So here we go, don your purple and gold sunglasses and come with me on a journey into the future. We won't have to go very far.
The future is right now.
The team of the next decade will be the best team in the NBA over the course of the next 10 seasons, starting this year. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument for any team to be better over the next 4-5 years than the Lakers. Of the teams that appear the strongest in the current NBA, only the Lakers and the Magic seem to have any staying power. San Antonio and Boston are clearly going to decline within the next 2-3 years. Cleveland’s entire roster might be different this time next year. The Magic have a young core, outside of Vince Carter, and therefore deserve their place as one of the possible teams to form the next dynasty. But the Lakers were clearly the better team last year, and it’s hard to see them relinquishing that advantage as long as Kobe remains a dominant player. Every important member of the Lakers is locked up for at least two years except for two; Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that neither one of those players goes anywhere. So, if you consider them off the table as well, the Lakers have Bryant, Odom, Artest, Gasol, and Bynum all under contract for at least 3 years. Of that list, only Kobe is over 30.
It’s true that this version of the Lakers will only remain a powerhouse as long as they can do so on Kobe’s shoulders. It’s also true that we have absolutely no idea when Kobe will truly start to deteriorate as a player due to all his mileage. It could be in a couple years, in could be 6-7 years. No one before Kobe has played as much as he has, from such a young age as he has, which would indicate that he might start to decline earlier than others have. However, no one in the league works harder or takes better care of his body than Kobe either (skipping surgeries aside). There is simply no barometer with which to judge, no previous case that we can use to have any idea of what’s to come.
In any case, I’m going with the relatively middle of the road assumption that Kobe remains a dominant force for 3 more seasons, and then begins a slow decline for a few more seasons before hanging it up. Which means I think you can pencil in the Lakers as a dominant force in the league for the next three seasons. As this decade has proven, the seeds for this "Team of the Decade" title can be sewn very early on. What if the Lakers win 2 of the next 3 titles? That may not be probable, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, much more so in my opinion than thinking that any of the other "future great" teams will be able to do so. That would mean they’ve already got a huge leg up on any other competition before we even need to worry about what will happen in the distant future.
So what happens after that?
This is where the "What If" game must come into play. In order for the Lakers to have a realistic shot at success once Kobe starts to take a step back is if Andrew Bynum develops into a dominant force. That is a big if, to be sure. But is it any bigger of leap of faith than it would be for Greg Oden to turn into that force? How about any Thunder player not named Durant? The very nature of this entire argument is a hypothetical, and we have every bit as much proof that Bynum can be a dominant force in as any other of the hypothetical future stars mentioned above. Hell, it wasn’t until Kobe’s 4th season that he really began to take off as an NBA player. This is Bynum’s 5th, but in terms of games played, it’s more like his 4th. All we need is for God to lay off the poor kid’s knees with the freak accidents.
So, let’s say for the purposes of the hypothetical that Bynum does turn into a great NBA player. A dominant Bynum surrounded by grizzled veteran Kobe (who is awesome, just not dominant) and Gasol could win at least one more championship before all is said and done. That would put the Lakers’ titles for the decade at 3 in this alternate reality, and to be perfectly honest, that might already qualify them for team of the decade honors, as there is no guarantee that any other great team will be the yin to this Bizarro-Lakers’ yang.
Quick aside: All of this hypothetical, including Fraty’s piece mentioned above, ignores the huge elephant in the room. There is a strong chance that the team which is most likely to form a dynasty in the next decade is whichever team Lebron James is playing for. The only problem is that nobody knows which team that will be. God forbid if he and one of his 2010 free agent buddies actually follow through on their innuendo and sign with the same team, that team will instantly jump to the top of the list as most likely to win multiple championships in the next 10 years.
Back to the Lakers, after Kobe and Gasol hang it up, we lose Lamar in free agency, and Artest just disappears, there’s absolutely no telling what happens. The Lakers could falter badly, similar to what happened after Magic was forced to retire. Maybe the last bit of the next decade won’t be very kind to the Lakers. No one knows how that all plays out. But there is a reason that the Lakers have only missed the playoffs 5 times in the franchise’s history, why they’ve been to the NBA finals in nearly half of their seasons, and won titles in ¼. The Lakers are a high profile, storied franchise, one which has never had difficulty attracting big name players (and coaches) via trade and free agency. And once Kobe retires, that event will singlehandedly pull such a massive salary number off the Lakers’ books that it will not be difficult to free up the requisite cap space to go after the huge stars of tomorrow. And you know ownership will not be shy about doing whatever needs to be done to return the Lakers to prominence. With dominant Bynum and Fill in the Blank superstar, the Lakers could reload faster than anybody could imagine. After all, history does tend to repeat itself.