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someone who's not ready to crown the Lakers just yet..

Discussion in 'NBA Dish' started by Jebus, Jul 18, 2003.

  1. Jebus

    Jebus Contributing Member

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    http://msn.espn.go.com/nba/columns/hughes_frank/1582058.html

    Lakers will be doomed if history repeats itself

    By Frank Hughes
    Special to ESPN.com


    In 1802, Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis to lead a party across then undiscovered America in order to, among many things, chart a route to the West. For four years, Lewis was literally king of his domain, which at the time consisted of the Western two-thirds of the United States. When he returned to civilization in 1806, Lewis was the toast of the town -- well, what there was of a town back then. He was hailed as a hero, a visionary, a pioneer.

    Soon thereafter, though, Lewis discovered what Dennis Rodman is now encountering: That fame is fleeting, that appreciation is short-lived, and that once you are out of the spotlight, nobody really cares. Lewis descended into depression, alcohol abuse, drug use and ultimately committed suicide in 1809, three short years after he was universally recognized as a history-maker.

    My point is this: Lewis's tragedy happened after he had become accustomed to being in charge and then praised for only four years. Karl Malone was Utah's Meriwether Lewis for 18 years; Gary Payton was Seattle's Meriwether Lewis for 12½ years; and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have been L.A's Lewis and Clark for seven years, and it admittedly took them some time to work on and work out their natural differences.

    That's almost 45 years worth of seriously intense ego. What's going to happen when they all come together?

    In a town where sycophantic adulation is in great abundance, there still is only so much that can be bestowed upon one basketball team. And so while the rest of the world is preparing the coronation parade for the Lakers for the fourth time in five years, I remain, well, somewhat skeptical.

    This is not to say that the Lakers can't or won't win yet another title. Their talent is vast.

    But it is to suggest that there are many, many, many, many, many issues on this team that will need to be addressed before we begin to consider the absurdity of an 82-0 season.

    First and foremost are the egos. It's easy to say that each player is going to subjugate his personality for the sake of the team, but we heard that before and saw the result in Portland. Just going by statistics, Shaq has averaged 27.6 points and 19 shots a game over his career; Kobe has averaged 21.5 points and 17 shots a game, though he averaged 24 shots a game last season when Shaq was injured; Malone has averaged 25.4 points and 18 shots a game; and Payton has averaged 18.3 points and 16 shots a game. That is a combined average of 92.8 points and 71 shots a game for a team that averaged 100 points and 83 shots a game last year. Somebody is going to have to decrease their production, but all four are accustomed to being the primary focus of their respective offenses. And this comes at a time that Shaq said the Lakers did not four-peat because they went away from going to him in the post, and at a time that Kobe has consistently increased his shot and scoring production in each season.


    It also comes at a time that Malone is in hot pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring title. Malone, with 36,374 points, is currently 2,013 points behind Kareem's total of 38,387, which means that to get the scoring title next season, he has to average 24.5 points a game. That, on this team, is not going to happen, so Malone basically is setting back his pursuit of the scoring title by perhaps a year, maybe more. How long will it take that fact to dawn on Malone?


    Phil Jackson is, of course, supposed to be the steadying hand in this. Jackson is successful because he is able to set a pecking order, of sorts, among his players, but is able to place a firm hand on his stars when it becomes necessary. Are Payton and Malone really going to respond to Jackson's head games? Let me paint a picture: I have a Gary Payton talking bobblehead in my home office, and when I press it a fourth time this is what it says: "Hey rookie, grab a notepad, cause you're about to get took to school." This is not so much to make fun of Payton's grammatically incorrect verbiage as it is to point out that there will be a stark dichotomy the first time that Jackson tries to hand Payton a book on the finer points of existentialism and how it relates to teamwork.


    How long will it take Malone to get irked that Kobe comes off the pick and shoots every time rather than hitting Malone on the roll?


    These players have histories, and not all of it is good. The most glaring problem is between Malone and Kobe. Let's not forget that in the 1997-98 All-Star Game, coached by George Karl, Malone was extremely miffed that Kobe waved Malone away in a pick-and-roll situation. Malone went so far as to say that he was considering boycotting future All-Star games because if he was getting sent away on one of the most basic plays in the game, then maybe the All-Star game had passed him by. It makes me wonder how Malone and Kobe are going to fit into a triangle offense that doesn't run a great deal of pick-and-rolls. And even if it does run more than it usually does, how long will it take Malone to get irked that Kobe comes off the pick and shoots every time rather than hitting Malone on the roll?


    Shaq and Malone admit that they didn't particularly like each other until the 1996 Olympics. As the story goes, both were the only Olympians who would lift weights every day. They each came into the weight room and lifted at opposite ends, never talking to one another. One day, Shaq opened a dialogue, and both said they have a better understanding of one another now. We'll see.


    Payton and Bryant have had verbal confrontations during games. On Dec. 11, 2001, at the end of a Sonics' blowout victory in Los Angeles, Payton and Bryant stood at halfcourt. Payton, who scored 29 points in the game while holding Bryant to 7-for-23 shooting, approached Bryant and began chirping loudly into his ear. Bryant, never one to back down, got nose to nose with Payton and began talking back. Teammates and officials had to calm down both players before things escalated. "He is a little bigger," Payton said at the time, "but I am feisty." I also thought it was telling that while at the ESPYs Wednesday night, Payton said that he had not yet spoken to Kobe about joining the team -- though, to be sure, Kobe has had some other stuff to think about lately.


    And finally, while I know it's hard to believe, Payton and Malone have a contentious history. In a May 3, 2001 playoff game between the Sonics and Jazz, won by Seattle, here is an account of the completion of the game:


    By the end, what once was mutual respect had turned into disdain, with Karl Malone walking off the court after getting ejected, shouting at Seattle point guard Gary Payton, "See you in Utah."

    "Payton -- who recorded the first playoff triple-double of his career with 35 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and six steals -- continued to taunt Malone as only Payton can, mocking Malone by yelling, "I'm scared." It drew Malone out of the tunnel and back onto the court to confront Payton.

    Teammates from both sides intervened before a melee broke out, but the tone unquestionably has been set for Game 5, to be played in Utah.

    Payton stuck the knife in a little further, though, when he made an unnecessary shot at the buzzer to send the crowd into a frenzy and Utah home wondering how its lead, which once seemed insurmountable, has dissipated.

    "I don't want to talk about Karl," Payton said afterward. "Whatever. If it goes over to Game 5, let it go over to Game 5. But I don't want to talk about it. Whatever happens, happens."

    So, just to set the record straight, Shaq and Kobe have a well-documented contentious history, Shaq and Malone have a repaired history, Kobe and Malone have a history, Kobe and Payton have a history and Payton and Malone have a history. The only contention missing is Shaq and GP.


    Speaking of relationships, it makes me wonder how Kobe is going to be with his teammates and the organization at a time that he has promised to become a free agent. So let's say this thing spirals out of control, as it did in Portland, and Kobe becomes miserable. How quickly will this experiment be considered the worst of all time if the Lakers rent Malone and Payton for a year or two but lose Kobe forever? Not saying it's going to happen, but ... it could.


    And then, of course, we have history as a guide, just like Meriwether Lewis. In 1968-69, the Lakers had Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. No title. The next year, Chamberlain, Baylor, West and Happy Hairston. No title. The year after that, Wilt, Elgin, The Logo, Hairston and Gail Goodrich. Even without Bill Russell in the league, no title. The next year, after three seasons with Wilt, the Lakers finally win the title.


    Did we mention that Malone and Payton only signed two-year deals?

    Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
     
  2. wowming

    wowming Member

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    I didn't read the article but I also do not think the Lakers are going to win.
     
  3. GreenVegan76

    GreenVegan76 Contributing Member

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    I dunno. The article points to the many confrontations these guys had in games. But I think these confrontations just prove their fierce competitiveness. They wanted to win.

    Combine that competitiveness with experience, team loyalty, and desire to win a ring, and I see a relatively stable team. There will be bumps (which will be magnified in the LA media), but I think they're all at points in their careers to handle this.

    It's not like Malone and Payton signed thinking they were going to be The Man. They knew exactly what they're walking into: fewer personal glories in exchange for greater team glory.

    But who knows. Only time will tell.
     
  4. MrSpur

    MrSpur Member

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    Games are not won on paper. Payton will be a great fit for them but I expect Malone to struggle. They've improved, no doubt, but it's a bit early to coronate them as next year's champs.
     
  5. Jebus

    Jebus Contributing Member

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    I think that the weak link on the team, attitude wise, would have to be Kobe. I think the point the author makes about Kobe waving Malone off or always shooting off the pick is valid. The others, I agree, may point more to competitiveness than anything else.

    I think Shaq, Malone, and Payton are at the point where they're ready to fit themselves in to win, but I think maybe Kobe is heading in the opposite direction, thinking he's ready to take over and be "the man". That would be very bad for that team.

    Malone and Payton just want a title. Shaq just wants to go out on top. Kobe's already won titles, all he has left to win is individual awards, like the MVP, scoring title, etc... For all his public posturing, I just can't shake the feeling that he just says what he thinks makes him look best to the majority. Like his actions are not exactly in step with his words. I just feel like he's a fake.

    just an opinion without specific facts to back it up.
     

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