Despite winning Tuesday's contest against the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to have reached Jersey Shore levels of epic dysfunction. Just one game after Mike Brown decided to bench Kobe Bryant for losing his head, Andrew Bynum decided to bench himself by taking a ridiculous three pointer and then failing to even attempt to get back on defense in transition. Two games, two different All-Stars riding the pine for deciding moments .And that's not even the problem.
The problem was seen in the locker room, where the nonsense that led Bynum to think attempting an off-balance three pointer and the subsequent benching somehow received mixed reviews in the locker room. As in, some of the Lakers, most notably Kobe Bryant, saw fit to support Andrew Bynum's actions, at the same time that other teammates, most notably Pau Gasol, were saying the politically correct version of "That shit ain't cool, and we'll take care of it". Kobe even went so far as to say the coaches overreacted by benching Bynum as long as they did. Not 48 hours after Kobe made a big deal about needing to have Mike Brown's back in the face of Brown deciding to wield the "benching" weapon on the Mamba himself. Seriously, WTF?
Erratic behavior on the part of the team's stars, erratic support of the team's coach, erratic performances and results on the court ... it all gives off the look of a team that is coming apart at the seams. That doesn't mean the Lakers can't right the ship, get things in order, and go on a tear in the postseason. This could easily just be a blip on the road to an otherwise successful season. But if the Lakers are not able to keep it together, if they do come apart at the seams, it will be an outcome that makes perfect sense.
Because the Lakers don't have any glue.
Lamar Odom is gone. Derek Fisher is gone. Hell, even Luke Walton is gone. Three guys who have been with the Lakers through thick and thin for many, many seasons are no longer in the locker room. Three guys who were all known as amazing teammates are no longer available to put out fires. Lamar Odom's light-hearted nature is gone. Derek Fisher's inspirational presence is gone. Luke Walton's weed is gone. And since they've left, all the visions of the locker room we've been privy to have portrayed it as an uncomfortable place to be.
This was always the risk associated with trading these guys away. Luke Walton remains a no-brainer ... his assistance as a locker room presence was hardly vital, no matter how good of a teammate he was, and his salary as compared to his production is probably the worst in the league. Lamar Odom was a no-brainer of a different variety, the type of move that happens because nobody was thinking clearly when it occurred. Lamar caused his own problems by demanding a trade without realizing that would mean he didn't get to play for the one team that made him happy. The front office over-reacted to his request by trading him away for nothing.
Derek Fisher is the middle ground. When the Lakers traded Fish away to make way for Ramon Sessions, I agreed with the move. I didn't think Fisher's on court production (along with the requirement for on court minutes that seems to have come with it) justified all the tremendous leadership qualities that he brings to the table. I'm still not convinced that Fisher could have remained on the team without any issue, ceding his minutes to Sessions and maintaining the fragile peace in the Lakers locker room. But this was always the risk associated with trading him.
So far, we have seen the best case scenario for the reward (a dynamic point guard who changes the way the team plays when he's on the court) and the worst case scenario for the risk (a fractured locker room that is showing signs that the head coach might have lost them) play out at the exact same time. If the Lakers are to be successful, someone has to step into the void Fisher left behind, and I don't think that's a role Kobe Bryant can fill. Pau Gasol might have been able to fill it. Andrew Bynum would have been the leading candidate if he weren't busy being such an idiot. Metta World Peace ... Matt Barnes ... Steve Blake? There is nobody who stands out as being suited for the role.
The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of veteran players. Until recently, they had a surplus. They deemed Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and Luke Walton expendable, with varying degrees of justification for each, but there was always going to be risk associated with these moves, the risk that the remaining players wouldn't fill the void and police themselves. They decided the reward (a lower payroll, more room for new acquisitions to spread their wings) was worth the risk. So far, they have been wrong.
Glue doesn't seem like a very valuable commodity until you don't have any of it.