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Category: 2009 Exit interviews

Lakers' 2008 Finals loss to Boston rekindles bitter memories

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The Lakers had largely stayed silent on their obvious desire to play the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, despite the excitement built apparently everywhere else. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said, "I have zero reaction to that," when a reporter relayed to him that fans at Staples Center chanted "We Want Boston" as early as when the Lakers held a 1-0 lead over Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. Bryant's teammates shrugged off the scenario, reiterating over and over that the only colors they're thinking about are purple and orange as they played the Phoenix Suns in the conference finals. The only exception belonged to Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who acknowledged during the Suns series on two separate occasions his high excitement level for the likelihood the Lakers would square off with the Celtics in the Finals.

The Lakers no longer have to play the diplomatic route anymore. In what will be the 12th Finals featuring the teams, the Lakers and Celtics matchup beginning Thursday will rekindle stories over the rivalry's history, including here at the L.A. Times Lakers blog where I plan to feature each day one of the Celtics-Lakers Finals matchups. That begins tonight where I'm highlighting the Lakers' most recent Finals loss to Boston in 2008, an outcome that remains fresh on the Lakers' minds.

The Lakers' makeup have changed since that loss. Bynum will actually play this series, with the torn cartilage in his right knee not enough to sideline him like the dislocated left knee cap did in the 2008 Finals. The team's defensive toughness improved, particularly with the off-season addition of Ron Artest worth $33 million over five years. And the team has a more consistent and aggressive post presence with Gasol and Odom, though Odom has been more prone to off nights than Gasol.

I plan to capture each series in chronological order, but since motivation from the 2008 Finals will have the most impact, I'll start there first. I detail after the jump why the Lakers fell apart two years ago in six games, an outcome that will surely serve as a teachable moment as the Lakers aim for a second consecutive championship and redeem themselves against Boston.

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Andrew Bynum and Sun Yue: Exit interviews

Not sure how it happened, but Andrew Bynum's exit interview got passed over.  May have been my fault.  May have been BK's fault.  I'm certainly blaming BK no matter who's at fault.  In any event, we didn't want to keep folks from watching, so check 'er out below the jump.  I didn't have time to chop it up like previous batches, but did touch on some highlights.

Also, neither of us were available to record Sun Yue's session, but courtesy of Lakers.com, here 'tis as well.   Poor lil' guy is trying to add weight.  He's already put on twenty pounds (I'd honestly couldn't tell), but the brass still wants more.  That means more weights and perhaps some fried food, the latter Sun doesn't seem to mind.  Dude loves him some chicken wings.  Also good to know that he wasn't chapped after receiving just 28 minutes of 2008-2009 run.  As Sun rightly notes, he ain't the first rook to get buried on a depth chart.  Instead, it just pushed him to work harder and he found this experience quite valuable.  "When you play with the best basketball team in the world and the best basketball player, you can definitely learn a lot."

Sun wasn't specific, but I'm fairly certain the top dog player in question was Kobe Bryant.

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Kobe Bryant: Exit interview

Orange County residents, be warned. Kobe Bryant may very well be driving around like a bat out of hell for the next couple weeks.  It's got nothing to do with a reckless disregard for public safety or trying to channel his inner "Vin Diesel," but rather a sudden surplus of idle time. "You kind of go through that phase of, you wake up in the morning and it feels like you're supposed to be doing something," smiled Bryant sheepishly. "It feels like you're late for something."

The Mamba might take up scuba diving as a means of killing time at 6 am (wake up habits die hard) or just play with his daughters, but either way, even this notorious workaholic is looking forward to relaxing with "no evil flashbacks."  And no matter how badly Bryant may jones for an activity, he won't burn an afternoon in the O.R.  His famously busted finger will remain as such. 

"I won a championship. I'm not changing a damn thing."

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Phil Jackson: Exit interview

When a coach's season adds a tenth ring to the collection and gooses an already gaudy winning percentage, his exit meeting tends to prompt little in the way of "What were you thinking when you did _____?"  Such was the case with Phil Jackson's.  No huge need to question coaching decisions, the rotation or approaches, because the end result is difficult to debate.  Instead, Phil was mostly asked to clarify certain issues (health, free agency) or simply reflect on the championship run.   So peaceful a mood that it wouldn't have weird for PJ to end the session by cranking up a Grateful Dead bootleg and "spinning" his way out of the room, rickety hips and all.  

Actually, that would have been totally weird, but still pretty cool. 

First, Phil addressed questions about his health, which appears to be the only potential road block in a return next season. He's feeling good, but issues flared up during road trips that require evaluations. No decisions has been made yet, to the best of my knowledge.   Assuming PJ is in the pink and returns, he'd certainly like Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom in the mix. Ever the optimist, Jackson sees this scenario as feasible, if not necessarily pain-free.

"I'm convinced we can get both of these guys back to play. Obviously, it's going to take sacrifice on many parts. Dr. Buss is not going to be able to do without having to make sacrifices at some level. We have to make sacrifices in other places in our organization to make room for their salaries. (Ariza and Odom) probably have to sacrifice something in the process if they want to come back. Nobody can eat their cake and have it both, in their situation. But it's possible to do it."

By the way, I've never heard that particular phrasing of "Have your cake and eat it, too."  Zen Master needs to call the trademark folks ASAP just in case it sweeps the nation, ala Riles and "Threepeat."

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Sasha Vujacic: Exit Interview

First things first!  Check out who's donning the green again!  With a title in the books and a beatdown from Boston now a distant memory, Sasha Vujacic finally gets to bust out his ropa verde.   Before the cameras rolled, The Machine also said a haircut will also commence, but more "trim" than "jar head."  For the time being, the mane appears tracked to retain its flowing glory. 

Unfortunately, sharing that info represented one of the few light points during Sasha's Q & A.  Phil Jackson mentioned how certain meetings invoked less of a "pat on the back, have a great summer" tone than others.  I'll go out on a limb and predict Sasha's was among them.  For a dude that just won a title, he seemed pretty glum.   While pleased with the outcome, he expressed a lot of unhappiness over his decreased role, especially down the playoff stretch.  He was also unhappy that- by his own admission- his play wasn't up to snuff, but from Sasha's "cause and effect" perspective, one hand clearly washed the other.  From the interview's outset, Sasha expressed mixed feelings over his championship season.  The proverbial "right things" were said, but "sentiments" and "tone" were anything but a match.

"From a personal point of view, the season didn't go the way I planned or expected," nodded Vujacic.  "I obviously have a different role. At times, it was different. Sometimes you have to give up something in order for a team to succeed. You gotta put individual goals to the side, and that's what I learned from this season."

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Lamar Odom: Exit Interview

For better or worse, I've been on the Lamar Odom bandwagon for a while, firm in the belief that what he does for the Lakers in on-court role and productivity and locker room ballast to Kobe Bryant far outweighs that which he doesn't in terms of consistency or scoring.  This year, I think more people developed an appreciation for Odom's contributions to LA's success.  His versatility on both ends is a major reason the Lakers are able to play in so many styles with a variety of lineups. 

The long and short of it: When Odom was on the floor this year, good things tended to happen.

Throughout the season, Odom openly spoke about his desire to stay in LA, and while his exit interview was filled with boilerplate free-agent-to-be talk of the business of basketball, he also noted the importance of winning and his willingness to keep coming off the bench. I think the Lakers will have an easier time signing Odom than Trevor Ariza, because of changes in the market.  Odom will undoubtedly make less than the $11.4 million he earned this year no matter where he lands, and with the possible exception of Detroit the teams with cap space seem unlikely to use it on Odom, who is less a guy who can make a bad team good and more one that can help a good team be great.  Ariza, younger and likely cheaper, is an easier play in an environment where the cap is heading down.

Still, to remain a Laker there's a good chance Odom will have to pass up more money from another team.  Assuming it's not the proverbial offer he can't refuse, I think he'd choose LA.  Here, Odom talks about the emotion of winning a title, and the reception fans have given since the clincher:

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Josh Powell: Exit Interview

With interviews from Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga already posted, Josh Powell completes the trio of "nice, hardworking journeymen I'm extremely happy to see win a ring as a reward for fighting to remain in the NBA."  Not that I'm "meh" towards Kobe or Fish getting sized for their fourth piece of bling, but it's especially rewarding when dudes who bust their butts just as hard to little fanfare (and even less job security) get a moment in history.  As Powell made perfectly clear, he doesn't take these blessings for granted.   

Powell first shared what he was told to work on over the summer.  Pick and pop prowess.  Improving an already solid jumper.  Improving his ability to attack the rim after snagging an offensive board.  JP expressed confidence that the organization wants to keep the squad intact, but admitted he doesn't know if that includes exercising a team option on him.  If he's not back, however, it won't be the result of an attitude problem.  

"They didn't give any promises or guarantees. They did say they appreciated my efforts this year. They thought that I came and worked hard every day, and that was a good thing. That was a plus.  And I was consistent as far as that aspect."

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DJ Mbenga: Exit Interview

As BK mentioned while posting Shannon Brown's exit interview, it's natural to feel especially happy when a ring graces the finger of a player enduring a bumpy NBA path.  DJ Mbenga fits this particular bill.  A career 12th man often surviving on non-guaranteed short term deals, every season bears a degree of mystery for DJ.  A midseason free agent pick up in 2008, DJ impressed enough to remain in the fold, and now waits to find out if the team will pick up next season's option.  I'm guessing they will, and if the fans get a vote, Tacos definitely ain't going no place. 

Mbenga described what appeared to be a pleasant sitdown with the brass. "They're really happy the way I progressed," said DJ. "They believe and hope if I keep working, I can make more happen."  As Mbenga acknowledged, sweat is a necessary part of the equation, which is why he'll play for the Belgian National team this summer in an effort to keep improving.  It's also indicative of how winning a title has inspired Mbenga to crank his skills up a notch.

"Last year, I didn't do it. I wanted to take a little vacation. I was hurt that we lost the Finals, so I didn't want to do nothing. But this year, I really want to do it. I really want to improve myself and my game. Inside. Outside.  Because I'm a big man, I don't want to just be an inside guy. I want to be an outside guy, too."

Not sure what type of range DJ is thinking, but should a surprise player nab the three point shooting crown at next season's All-Star Game, remember, you read it here first. 

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Shannon Brown: Exit Interview

It is impossible to watch the footage below and not be a fan of Shannon Brown.  You probably were before, but this stuff will make you want to pass the hat on Brown's behalf at Sunday services if it means keeping him around. 

Writers and fans alike often make jokes at the expense of the guys at the end of the bench (myself included), but it's always important to appreciate and respect the work that guys like Brown- and as you'll see in their exit interviews, true grinders like Josh Powell or DJ Mbenga- put into finding a space at the table. To put things in perspective, when Brown was asked if he thought he'd finish the season in a parade, obviously he said no.  He did, after all, arrive in LA from the Bobcats. Except Brown wasn't just talking about that.  He wasn't sure he'd be in the NBA this year.

With that in mind, it's easy to see why Brown was so appreciative of the ovation he received at the Coliseum earlier in the week, and how he understands not only how his good play helped contribute to a title, but probably earned him a little stability as well.  

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Adam Morrison: Exit Interview

Similar to Adam Morrison's postseason presence, this was a pretty low key Q and A. But that doesn't mean it was dull.  Morrison's back story is nothing if not interesting.  One of the best scorers in recent college history, injury and lack of opportunity have undone a solid if unspectacular rookie season in Charlotte.  A trade to L.A. may have given Morrison a ring, but that doesn't leave him any less in career limbo, and he acknowledged how much uncertainty hangs heavily over his 2009-2010 season.   His role in the rotation.  If he can even crack the rotation.  If he'll even be on the Lakers, what with his highly flippable deal (5.2 mil) set to expire next season.  Carving out a spot to help a title defense won't be easy for Morrison, particularly while so far behind the eight ball. 

I consider it a good sign, however, that Ammo is humble enough to take whatever steps necessary, including a stint in the Summer Pro League, to turn things around.  He obviously should do whatever the organization is asking of him, but that doesn't necessarily mean he would.  Many a player of his pedigree (2006's # 3 pick) and years in the league (three) might chafe at a request to run with a bunch NBA wannabe's, particularly while knowing that it might not do a damn thing to alter his "DNP-CD" status with the Lakers when the season starts.  Glad to see Morrison not allowing ego to get in the way.

Also, if you enjoyed seeing Trevor Ariza, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton bottle up Ron Artest, Carmelo Anthony and Hedo Turoglu, give Morrison a shout of thanks, since he "played" those dudes in practice.  Smiled Ammo, "It was fun, because when you're those guys, you get free reign to do whatever you want."

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