I don't have to tell you the news. You already know the news. It's why you're here.
So let's just skip that part, and I'll tell you something else. Coincidentally, you probably already know this, too. But it's a lot more fun to talk about, so STFU already. Here's what you need to know: With Phil Jackson back for another year ...(brief pause for collective w00t!)... the Lakers are primed to threepeat.
We'll have some more detailed thoughts on what this means in the near future — but this moment, this one right here? This moment is for pumping your fist and reveling in your favorite team's prime position, for envisioning another season ending just like the last two, and for boldly standing up and daring all comers to give us their best shot.
So in the spirit of this excellent moment (second only to this most perfect moment), here are 17 reasons why the Lakers will threepeat in 2011, starting with the Zen Master himself.
1. The Zen is Back
I'll be honest, I never saw him leaving. Not quite yet, at least. I agreed with the great Woj when he said that Phil doesn't want to leave any championships on the table, and I think as long as the Lakers keep winning championships, Phil will be back to defend them. And let's be honest: PJ back on the sidelines increases the Lakers' chances of threepeating dramatically. Brian Shaw would have run the same system and been comfortable with the players, but I'm not keen on the idea of a rookie coach for a defending champion team. I would have liked Jeff Van Gundy as the best non-PJ option, but who knows if he would have been interested. And Byron Scott? Well, no thanks. The Lakers probably would have had good chances of returning to the Finals with any of those other three, but with the Zen Master, they have a pretty good chance of actually winning the championship.
2. If Anyone Can Do It...
...PJ can. To continue with the theme of the day, Phil Jackson is really the only coach in the modern era who really knows how to coach a team to three straight championships. Repeating is hard enough; it takes an entirely different mental approach to win the second than it does to win the first. So you can imagine that that is even more true of threepeating. A team looking to win it's third straight needs to be coached to a different mentality than one looking to win its first, or even its second. And guess what? PJ knows precisely what those coaching needs are. He knows how to develop the necessary mentality. He's done it three times — in fact, he's never not done it! Which leads us to...
3. It's in the Numbers
I've been tossing this thought around for a couple months: Would it not be one of the oddest, most peculiar things for a professional coach to win 12 rings, and all of them in bunches of three? Statistically, I can only imagine that the odds of that ever happening to anyone must be so low as to approach impossible. And yet, if the Lakers can defend this title one more time, that's exactly what Phil will do. Just think about that, for a moment. I think it would be one of the strangest things in sports history. And it doesn't stop there — Kobe and Fish would be the second duo to win two sets of three champions together. To which I say that this is clearly destiny at work! Clearly, PJ is fated to complete his fourth threepeat, and Fish and Kobe their second. It's in the numbers; it's meant to be.
4. Matchups and Adjustments, That's What It's All About
This will be the last of our Zen-centric reasons to expect a Lakers threepeat, but hey, on a day like today I'm sure you haven't minded. But let's just get this out there: I don't care who comes to challenge us, I like our chances. See, this game isn't about regular season numbers, and it isn't about which superstar-studded team looks better on paper. It's about matchups and adjustments. The Lakers have the physical skills and the coaching ingenuity to match up with anyone, and no one is better at the adjustments between games than Jackson. But most of all, it's about finding a solution for whatever problem(s) the other team presents, and at that, Phil Jackson excels. How many times have you seen a team wreak havoc on all of its other opponents, only to fall to Phil? Last year, no one could find a solution to Dwight Howard, nor could any team contend with the Magic's long range bombers. Phil Jackson had answers for both. This year, neither of the East's two best teams could figure out Rajon Rondo... or even come close. Guess what? Phil found answers for him, too. So yeah, I'll take my chances against whatever star-studded LeBron- or Wade-led team comes out of the East. Because this game isn't about who can average a triple-double or win 70 games in a season. It's about matchups and adjustments, and finding solutions to the problems the other team presents, and no one does that like the Zen Master.
5. Fish Will Be Back
Hey, I did one for PJ being back. Fish will be, too. It's not just that he wants to continue to play and no other team wants him, though that is as good a reason as any to expect his return. But it's more than that. It's that the Lakers can't make it without him, and they damn well know it. They need his leadership on the court. They need his clutch shooting, even if that's the only thing he provides (which it won't be). They need his leadership off the court. They need his veteran presence. Most of all, they need him to be Kobe Bryant's best friend. They need him for Kobe's sanity. They need him because he softens Kobe's leadership. They need him to be the vocal leader, because that's not Kobe's style. His and Kobe's "Good Cop, Bad Cop" routine doesn't work very well without the Good Cop. They need him because he's the only guy Kobe will listen to, and you need a guy who can tell Kobe when he's "effin' up." No, this isn't just about Fish wanting to play, no one else wanting him, and the Lakers thinking that having him back would be a nifty idea, for a few plays a game. No, this is about the Lakers desperately needing him. And because they need him so badly, you can be assured they'll get him. And anyone who has paid attention in the last couple years knows that having Fish back, standing next to Kobe, means we got a shot at a title. A beautiful, high-arching, buzzer-beating, left-handed rainbow shot at the title.
6. An Older, Wiser, Freer Ron Artest
Okay, so really only a year older — but it's not about age, it's about time. Specifically, time spent in the triangle offense. Ron was awesome this year, particularly in the Finals, but let's be honest. When the ball touched his hands, it tended to stop moving. After another full training camp and another full year in the triangle, Ron will be much more comfortable with the offense. Next year, that ball will flow through him, rather than stopping at him, and we'll be that much harder to stop. At that point, maybe he'll even stop being an afterthought on offense, as he'll have learned where to find his offense within the system.
At the same time, the dude has been playing all year with a ginormous monkey on his back. First, there is the pressure of trying to redeem himself, trying to win a championship, and you've got to know that was huge. Second, there's the pressure of all of Laker Nation peering at you under a giant magnifying glass, demanding that he prove the Ariza "trade" was worth it and threatening to f--- his sh-- up if he f---ed this up for us. Next year, he'll be free from those pressures, both internal and external. He has nothing left to prove; he has been redeemed. As for the fans, well, the Ariza issue is settled, and I'm thinking right now Los Angeles loves Ron Ron just about as much as Kobe and Pau. Or almost. A Ron Artest who is more comfortable both in the offense and in his own skin will be an improvement for the Lakers.
7. Still More Bynum
The last three years: didn't play, didn't matter, didn't dominate. It's been a general upward trend for Andrew Bynum, and I think it's safe to say that with this postseason, he earned the respect of Lakers fans everywhere, and then some. If the trend of being a bit more effective each year continues, hopefully he'll be stronger, better conditioned, and healthier for the 2011 postseason — and even more effective than he was this year. L.A. proved over the last two years that they don't need him to dominate. But if he does? Look out.
8. Kobe Will Be Better
Seems counter-intuitive, right? The dude ain't getting any younger. Here's the thing: In two or three years, Kobe will reach the point where physical deterioration due to age will start to really affect his ability and impact as a basketball player. But that's not next year. At this point in his career, the things that make Kobe better or worse have nothing to do with athleticism; they have to do with maturity, leadership, willingness to share the spotlight (and the ball), making the right decision, submitting himself to the offense, etc. Did anyone else notice that after Ring No. 5, Kobe acted differently than he ever has before? It was like this one did something even No. 4 didn't — it didn't just make him happy, it lifted the weight. He was able to be someone he's never let himself be before. I think that carries over, and I think we see a Kobe more willing to submit to the team concept than ever, because he feels less the need to prove himself than he ever has before. And of course, there's health — and his off-season will be quiet, and devoted to surgery and getting healthy. With healthy fingers, knees and ankles, I feel confident that he can be a little better than he was this year.
9. Pau Gets A Vacation
The Spaniard has been playing non-stop for, what, three or four years now? And he has still managed to dominate. However, this year started out with Pau on the bench, injured. As a result, he is withdrawing himself from international basketball in this, the summer of 2010, in order to get some much needed rest. Wise move, Spaniard. Got any guesses as to how he might spend his time? Here's mine: In the weight room, beefing up. Because here's a news flash, Shaq — for an NBA athlete, "resting" doesn't mean "sitting on your ass and doing nothing"; it just means not playing highly competitive basketball. Pau has already gotten a lot stronger, and this summer will be an opportunity to spend some time in the gym getting even stronger still. Then he can spend the rest of his time relaxing.
10. We're Stable, but We're Not Set
As C.A. said, the Lakers are the most stable team in the League. That doesn't mean we'll stand pat, though. We got Ron Artest last summer, and that turned out to be the most important free agent acquisition of 2009, but have you noticed that most of the veteran free agents have been heading to Boston over the last couple years? Well, not anymore. There are rumors about T-Mac, and there has been talk of the Lakers acquiring a decent point guard who can let Fisher take the bench. You think that's the end of it? We're repeat champions, and I can assure you the list of guys who want to jump on the banner bandwagon won't stop there.
11. Bye-Bye Boston
I hate the whiny little bitches every bit as much as Dex. I really do. But here's the thing: They're the only team that has presented a serious problem for the Lakers in the last three years. They're the only team that had the physicality to really give Gasol a hard team; he's dominated everyone else. They're the only ones capable of triple-teaming Kobe while still having at least some hope of rotating back to other guys when Kobe gives it up. For that matter, they're the only team that has even the remotest chance of causing Kobe to struggle, at least in some small way. And they won't be back. C.A. has talked about the many roster decisions that will make it tough for Boston to continue to contend, and he's dead on. But I'll say this, as well: Even if the Celtics can bring the same team back for one more run, it won't be enough. Not this time around. In 2009-10, everyone thought they were too old. In 2010-11, they actually will be. Sure, Celtic fans will point to the fact that doubting them and calling them old wasn't such a good idea this year, but I don't care. They really will be too old this time, and I don't see them coming out of the East again. And if they did? They didn't beat us this year, there's no way they'll beat us in 2011, a year and 110+ games older.
12. The Magic Is Gone
Meanwhile, the Magic are looking less scary than 2009, to me, not more so. C.A. touched on that, and I've got nothing to add, but suffice it to say that all the stable competition coming out of the East looks very beatable.
13. Who's Left?
In terms of current, existing threats, that takes care of everyone in the East. As for the West? Please. As C.A. said, the Thunder are probably the biggest looming threat, but I think they're a year away, still. Portland has never scared me, even when healthy... and they won't be healthy. The Suns are exciting, but still not built to beat us. And Denver is a team that is singularly equipped to beat a championship contender — themselves. Let me put it this way. The Lakers would win the West for the fourth straight time with Jeff Van Gundy at the helm. They'd win the West with rookie Brian Shaw at the helm. Hell, they'd win the West with Byron Scott at the helm. Barring some truly mind-blowing free agency (or mid-season trade) transaction, the Western Conference simply isn't up for grabs. It's ours. So, if the East's existing challengers aren't likely to beat us, and the West isn't up for grabs, who does that leave? Oh, right... the Free Agency SuperTeam. Speaking of which...
14. LeBron+Wade+Bosh Just Ain't Happening
Does the idea of competing against Michael Jordan's legacy scare LeBron away from Chicago? I have no idea. But this much I do know: LeBron does NOT want to share credit for whatever championships he wins. Oh, he wants help... but not "first-tier" help. Chris Bosh? Amare Stoudamire? No problem there, because the
King Exiled Prince would get all the credit. Those guys would qualify simply as the "help" LeBron needed (and supposedly didn't get, per the revisionists). But Wade? The man has already led his team to a championship. If LeBron can't even get out of the East with a Cavs team that won 60+ games two years straight, but then goes on to win with Dwyane Wade, you know what they'll say. Couldn't win without Wade. In fact, some would even credit Wade for leading them to the championship. Worse yet — it could actually prove true. And what if Wade has an awesome playoffs and gets the Finals MVP? LeBron couldn't bear that. And it will be worse if he plays with Wade AND Bosh. No, LeBron couldn't bear that. Plus, he doesn't want to share the ball as much as he'd have to with Wade (I don't care what his assist numbers are, LeBron's game revolves around him dominating the ball). No, LeBron won't play with Wade, and he sure as hell won't play with Wade AND Bosh.
15. LeBron+Bosh Doesn't Bother Me
I disagree with some of what Kelly Dwyer says, especially when he goes off on his ridiculous nonsense about Pau Gasol being the best player in the playoffs and the Lakers' MVP. But I recall him recently talking about Bosh, and making the point that Bosh is Pau Gasol... except not as good. And that much I definitely agree with. So why, exactly, should LeBron+Bosh be so intimidating? Kobe is better than LeBron, and Gasol is better than Bosh — and the rest of the team is stronger than any supporting cast that another team could put together once LeBron and Bosh are on the payroll. Now, I'm not saying LeBron+Bosh, or LeBron+Amare, and whoever else will be easy to beat. Definitely not. They'll likely be the team that comes out of the East, if such a team does come to exist, and they'll be tough to beat. But a new team needs some time to mesh and meld, and like I said, it's about matchups, adjustments, and solving the problems the other team presents. Short of a LeBron+Wade+Bosh (or Amare), I still think we'd be favored to win that series.
16. Cleveland Is Still the Front-Runner for LeBron
All the experts seem to think Cleveland still has the best chance of bringing LeBron back, and though I have to admit it surprises me, I'm starting to think that might be true. Not smart for LeBron, if you ask me, but true. And if it does happen? They couldn't even get out of the East this year, and there's really not that much they can do to look very different next year. To be honest, re-signing in Cleveland is the best thing LeBron can do... if he wants to help Kobe widen the gap in rings. And if LeBron does re-sign in Cleveland, the East's only hope of assembling a team that might be favored to beat the Lakers (i.e., better than 50% chance) will be Miami's attempts to bring in a couple stars and some solid role players to suit up with Wade.
I like our chances in just about every realistic scenario, but LeBron signing with some other team that has the cap space to put a player like Bosh or Amare next to him (let alone one of those guys plus a Joe Johnson-level player) is still the biggest threat to the Lakers threepeating in 2011. If LeBron returns to the Cavs, the biggest challengers will be Orlando, Cleveland and Boston. And we know how that ends.
17. Did I Mention PJ's Back?
There you have it. 17 reasons the Lakers will win #17 in 2011. Phil Jackson's free agency was the biggest question mark surrounding the Lakers, and the biggest threat to their ability to defend their title, and he's back for one more run. Enjoy this, folks. The rest of the league can drive itself batty trying to piece things together, but we've already got what we need. Anything else is just gravy.
Not that I don't like gravy.