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#pounditSunday, May 26, 2024

Lakers have improved, but championships aren’t won in August

There is something to be said about being a cockeyed optimist. So, I will say it: It’s not a good practice to which to adhere. Keep in mind, that sentence was written by someone who is the nonfiction equivalent of Chicken Little.

I, like everyone else, tend to get wrapped up in what’s popular, or “trending” as the zeitgeist would have it. The only problem is I’m usually about a decade behind these folks. (Please see recent tweet about lawn bowling.) Sports are no different.

Having been born and raised on Lakers basketball and a flavorless mash made out of certain tubers and root vegetables, I was delighted to hear about the team’s big moves this offseason, including the most prominent one: Jodie Meeks. Imagine how many jokes I can now make about how Meeks shall inherit the Earth. Actually, that might be the only one…

While the Meeks signing might have gone undetected by many — how $3 million over two years goes undetected is beyond me — the biggest acquisitions were Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, a tandem that, combined with Kobe Bryant, ensures the Lakers will be ready for 2005 should the year ever decide to come back around again.

This trio certainly is an upgrade, especially when you consider the Lakers have had a knack for floundering in the postseason the last two seasons against younger, better teams. The Lakers calling on the services of Nash and Jamison, who are on the wrong side of 35, and aching Howard should do wonders to that end. Well, all things considered, it is a much better trio than the Kobe/Chris Mihm/Smush Parker triumvirate of yesteryear.

Now comes the devil’s advocate part of my weekly (weakly?) jaded analysis.

Regardless of what you think of Nash’s age, Jamison’s dyslexic spelling of his first name, or the fortitude of Howard’s erector spinae, these additions represent something of a coup for a franchise that seemingly was locked into a pattern of piecing together tall Irish nebbishes named Murphy and McRoberts in order to fill out a roster after overspending their salary cap allotment and having “basketball reasons” used as an excuse to perhaps deny the franchise a legitimate shot at a title last year.

When you consider Lamar Odom was essentially traded for Steve Nash — Dallas fans will emphasize the letter “O” in Lamar’s name — troublesome Andrew Bynum was unloaded for Howard, Chris Duhon, and a couple of Philly cheesesteaks, and Jamison was bought at a garage sale, someone needs to start knighting Mitch Kupchak, or heck, give him the closest thing to royalty in America: Cast him in a reality show.

Keep in mind if it weren’t for the “evildoers” in the league office, the Lakers would have had Chris Paul last season. Dating from February 1, 2008, when Kupchak pulled one of the greatest grifts in history, bringing in Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, the NBA’s version of a broken parking meter, the L.A. general manager seemingly can do little wrong.

The NBA is big on threesomes these days, an attempt to move away from its past of glorifying superstars who purportedly slept with 10,000 women or characters who paraded around in wedding dresses. A nationally televised game these days usually includes the now-clichéd expression “Big Three.” There once was a point in history when the only time a trio attained such significance was if you were talking about French guys with swords and capes, Stooges, or the Pep Boys. Now, it seems everyone needs three players on which to heap the praise and the blame.

The Lakers now have what they hope is a triad that will help get them back to the NBA Finals, with Gasol ostensibly relegated to the role of Shemp. The Los Angeles media, in their infinite wisdom, has taken liberties to posit Howard among the other great centers — back when “center” meant something completely different — to wear the team’s uniform: Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, O’Neal, and Howard. One story in the L.A. Times already had the team winning the title, because nothing spells ominous like handing out championships in August. All this despite the three having not yet logged a minute of playing time together in Los Angeles.

Factoring in Kobe Bryant’s knee and ankle, Nash and Howard’s back, the 2012-2013 edition of the Lakers might very well be dubbed the “Dream Team” by the American Chiropractic Association. Kobe will be 34 tomorrow and has logged over 50,000 career minutes. Pheidippides was felled by much less. Nash hasn’t averaged 35 minutes a game during the regular season since 2006-2007, with Alvin Gentry having the ability to limit his playing time based on the Suns’ inability to win a title with a guy named Gortat. He was given some back-to-back nights off. It’s doubtful that he will have such a luxury in L.A., given the fact that Chris Duhon and Steve Blake are waiting in reserve: A fate similar to hand over the keys to your Maserati to a teen wielding a learner’s permit.

Dwight Howard is the veritable whippersnapper of the young group, only 26 years old. However, coming off back surgery and not having a contract beyond next season is a rather disconcerting series of facts. In the past, Howard has been overly concerned about taking the title of “Superman” from Shaq, when his focus should be getting his Clark Kent persona to consult a qualified orthopedist.

As it is, his free throw shooting will draw plenty of comparisons to O’Neal, not a flattering assessment considering that California building codes prevent building structures with bricks. Also, there’s that thing about the whole staff in Orlando being axed to accommodate the star, only for him to flee town, leaving Orlando magically suspicious.

Certainly, August basketball prognostications are nothing more than a chance to fill up column space on a lazy Wednesday afternoon which otherwise would have been spent doting on inevitable fantasy football foibles. Either way, come June Laker fans, if you hear a pop coming from one of the Lakers’ aging superstars, you’d better hope that’s the champagne bottle.


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