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Redemption songs

June 16, 2009 |  4:22 pm

Bob Marley wrote a pretty good one and as the Washington Post's Mike Wise points out, there were Lakers win the title more than a few Lakers singing one of their own after LA took home the title Sunday night. 

"These were the I-Told-You-So Lakers who overwhelmed Orlando for their 15th franchise title, and they were led by a coach and a player whose fourth championship together in 10 seasons killed old, tired perceptions about them. Their 99-86 clinching victory in Game 5 was as an exercise in close-out execution as much as an act of defiance against their detractors... "

It goes well beyond Kobe getting Shaq off his baq or Phil Jackson passing Red Auerbach.  Pau Gasol was soft, Lamar Odom inconsistent as the weather in south Florida.  Derek Fisher, it was said, should be in a suit holding a clipboard, while Phil Jackson may just want to put his down after two straight Finals losses.  That sort of thing. 

Call those sentiments "point."  Call the title "counterpoint."

Gasol registered double-doubles in 16 of LA's final 20 playoff games (with one of the "off" games being a 30/9 effort against the Rockets).  More importantly, at least insofar as it relates to shedding the "soft" tag, Gasol played excellent defense against Dwight Howard in the post and was a force in the lane in the title clincher with four blocks.  He heard the criticisms of last season, some fair, some overblown, and did something about it, getting stronger over the summer. 

Forget how his floor stats say Odom was monumentally valuable throughout the season or that he rebounded like a maniac while Andrew Bynum was out, the question was still out there: Would Odom ever step up when it mattered? Not my contention (as readers of this space know) but now the talk after the playoffs is how the Lakers can't afford to let him go.  Fair to say he turned that discussion on its ear. 

Criticisms extended as well to the team, generally.  After a 21-3 start and the Christmas day win over the  Celtics, LA's juggernaut status was carved into the tablets.  As the season went along and obstacles popped up, the narrative didn't change.

That the November/December Lakers were a different and lesser entity than the April/May/June version- Andrew Bynum's knee wasn't fully recovered, Sasha Vujacic became a place where shots went to die (he finished the playoffs with 24 FGs vs. 34 personal fouls), Fish's shot seemed to disappear overnight, and all of this contributed to instability on the bench- wasn't the point. The gap between the Lakers and the rest of the league wasn't nearly so vast.  Stilll, they weren't blowing teams out, or dominating in ways people felt they should.  Lakers hold the Larry O'Brien

But big picture, it's fair to say the Lakers really did exert incredible influence over the league this year.  They won the Western Conference by 11 games, swept Boston and Cleveland, cruised past Utah in five (with all four wins by 10 or more), knocked off a white-hot Denver team in six, then dispatched the similarly momentum heavy Magic in five.  Save two horrible games against the Rockets, they weren't seriously threatened in the playoffs.  (Yes, many games were close, but whenever the  Lakers were called upon to win and maintain control of a series, they did.  The 15-1 rampage through the playoffs for the '01 squad is the exception, not the rule.) 

This team was very good, played as such, and deserved to win a title.  From my end, that made this year's Lakers much more interesting.  There's nothing wrong with dominance, but it doesn't have the same amount of character or nuance.   

Now it's on to the interesting juxtaposition of events that represents how basketball operates in LA, a city in which the most important title quickly becomes the next one to be won.  Tomorrow's parade, a celebration of this year's accomplishments, will be sandwiched between two days of exit interviews in which much time and energy will be devoted to how the Lakers come back next season.  If there's a drawback to the incredible success the Lakers have had as a franchise, it's that the glow of a championship may not last quite as long as it might in another city.  We're a greedy town where the "lately" that caps "What have you done for me?" represents a shorter time frame than it might somewhere else. 

This is why we encourage fans to enjoy the journey and build memories along the way, because there isn't much time to bask in the glow.  The Lakers, as a team and individuals, redeemed themselves in big ways this season, and Wednesday the city will come together to celebrate (hopefully without the looting, this time). 

After that, it's about making sure next year doesn't end in a story requiring redemption for the one that will follow.

BK


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