A few thoughts on the afternoon after
No question last night's carnage will sting for a while. It should. In terms of product quality, what the Lakers trotted out Tuesday night in Boston was the basketball equivalent of expired olives and curdled milk. Inedible. Indigestible. Unfit for human consumption. It was a tough way to end what was a remarkable season, but on the bright side, the foul taste it leaves in the mouths of players and coaches should help push them through the summer and into next season. The Finals was a reminder that the Lakers still have work to do and holes to fill.
Obviously, we'll have a lot of thoughts on the season past and the one upcoming as the Lakers work through exit interviews, the draft (though on the surface, they won't have much to do there), and the NBA's free agency period. But here are a few quick thoughts on the series, the season, and looking forward (as they float through my head, in no particular order):
- I understand the disappointment with losing in the Finals, and certainly once a team gets to that point in the season, there is a reasonable expectation of a title, but overall people should be exceedingly pleased with the 2007-2008 season. It was a huge success, especially given the grim state of the franchise only one year ago. To go from there to losing in Game 6 of the championship series is remarkable. That the team is poised to compete on that level for the next half-decade or so should only make people more excited.
- The Lakers didn't put their best foot forward in the Finals, but it's important to give credit where it's due- the Celtics. Boston's defensive schemes brutalized the Lakers offense, and more than that, the Celtics offense was patient and exploited holes in LA's defense. Before the series, I looked at the way Boston struggled to score on their playoff opponents, and thought they'd be at a disadvantage against what I felt was an underrated Lakers D. Fair to say I was wrong, not just about that, but about the strength of the Celtics generally.
- They were the better team, made better by the matchups. LA wasn't a good fit with Boston.
- Boston's bench outplayed LA's, but not simply because they have better players, but a better variety. It was a great mix of experience (Brown, Cassell, Posey), muscle (Powe, Brown), and shooting (House, Posey), defense (Posey, Tony Allen, if you want to include him) and so on that helped Doc find the combinations he used so effectively. The Lakers bench isn't necessarily bad, but it lacks variety. This offseason, the Lakers should look to fill roles. A bruiser, a defensive specialist, and so on, until they have true balance up and down the active roster. As good as LA's bench was at times this season, at others, they really struggled. This experience, though, should help guys like Farmar and Vujacic.
- Along those lines, playing with the lesser team and therefore a smaller margin for error, the Lakers
needed Phil Jackson to be superior during the series, and he wasn't.
- The Celtics proved that when it comes to defense, the sum is often greater than the parts. The Lakers took positive steps defensively this season, but received six chances to see up close and personal how it well it can be done. It was too easy for Boston to pull LA out of their defensive rhythm, and the Lakers were prone to too many big, series shifting mistakes.
- I thought Pau Gasol had done a better job in the series than he had been given credit for, particularly on defense... until last night. He was bad from the start, and the misfortune he saw early only compounded his problems and that of his team. LO's play improved as the series went on, once he calmed down and figured out how to stay on the court. While he had trouble finishing around the rim- something we've seen before- I think the knock that he was soft or unaggressive isn't fair. He generally attacked the rack and was active on the glass over the final three games. Asked to do a variety of things defensively, Odom did a pretty good job. Could he have played better? Did the Lakers need more? Yes, to both. But while it's always easier to cast people in roles, to say "If that guy did more, the Lakers would have won," it's not that simple, and to pin the loss on Odom doesn't sit right with me.
- Kobe: Clearly had trouble shooting the ball, thanks to some extremely aggressive Boston defense. It wasn't a good series for him, but at the same time, I don't think we saw much of the "old Kobe." After Game 5, when asked if he needed to go for 40+ for the Lakers to have a chance against the Celtics in Boston, Kobe told the media that he could probably force his way to 45, but that's not the way they were going to win. He's right, and he didn't. Not that he didn't (or shouldn't- he is Kobe Bryant after all) try to look for his space. But despite what I'm sure was an overwhelming temptation to start jacking shots left and right, for the most part Kobe tried to continue moving the ball, recognizing that he couldn't shoot the Lakers to a win. Boston wouldn't let him.
- The Lakers needed to elevate their play as a team, and weren't able to do it. As a team, from Kobe on down.
- Regarding Odom, people should be careful when they demand he be moved. First, he's among the team's only rebounders. When Drew returns, they'll have another, but LO is as strong a force on the glass as the team has. That would have to be replaced. Second, with Odom the Lakers have a guy who is completely willing to play the role of "third or fourth guy." He doesn't need, or particularly want, to shoot the ball 18 times a game. Given that they'll have Kobe, Bynum, and Gasol next season, it might not be a good idea to bring in someone who "needs his." Yes, he can be frustrating, but it's a question of the devil you know vs. the devil you don't. The devil they have isn't so bad.
- I'd love to see if they can make the Bynum/Gasol/Odom frontcourt work, or perhaps see if Odom could be a kind of Super Sixth Man, rather than deciding it won't and moving LO in the offseason.
- The Lakers, and this could be solved naturally next year with LO at the three, need to improve that spot on the roster. Even if Odom moves there to start, they need help. Ariza is a good place to start, but if there's a focus in free agency this summer, small forward should be it.
- This team needs tweaks, not a sledgehammer.
- Few teams, including the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, win the whole thing so
soon after returning to potential championship form. The Celtics are
an exception to that rule, but then again, that roster is an exception
to the general laws of roster construction as well. What they did and
how they did it is a rare, rare thing.
There are plenty more things to kick around. Like I said, this is just a stream-of-consciousness list. It's not all inclusive, by any stretch.