Lakers fans believe offseason plans will largely determine championship chances next season
The Lakers finished their series of exit interviews this week, allowing players to say their farewells to Phil Jackson, receive performance feedback and give Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak morsels of information that will help him understand what exactly led to the team's unraveling in a Western Conference semifinal sweep by the Dallas Mavericks.
There's still plenty of work ahead with Kupchak planning to meet with owner Jerry Buss and executive Jim Buss to finalize their coaching search, discuss whether they want to keep the triangle and what changes they need to make to the current Lakers' roster. Clearly, the Lakers will have no problem staying busy during a time when they're usually playing basketball and then holding a championship parade.
"One thing I learned in L.A., every offseason is pretty wild here," said Lakers forward Luke Walton, who's been with the team for eight seasons. "There's never really any dead offseasons as a Laker. I've been lucky enough to make it through all of them. It's crazy around here. And I think this summer is building up to be the craziest."
It sure will be. If you ask Lakers fans, at least based on an informal survey, 59.13% of them believe the Lakers' chances to return to the championship level will largely hinge on what the team does this offseason. Obviously, the Lakers are always accustomed to changing their roster even after title runs, but it's telling how different the optimism is regarding the team's future as opposed to fan expectations entering the 2010-2011 season. Fresh off back-to-back title runs, the Lakers kept their main lineup, secured Hall of Fame coaching (Phil Jackson), kept veteran leadership (Derek Fisher) and attracted reserve spark plugs (Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Shannon Brown, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter). It wasn't exactly unrealistic of 57% of fans to expect the Lakers to three-peat.
Instead, the Lakers lost in embarrassing fashion by losing in a four-game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks, an effort 38.3% of fans grade a C. There are plenty of reasons for this unraveling, according to Lakers fans. The plurality of voters (26.7%) blame this all on the Lakers' complacency, but there are more reasons than just the team simply not trying. The whole "trust issue" that Lakers center Andrew Bynum brought up remained prevalent with the team's failure to help each other on rotations and inconsistency in running the offense, ranking as the second-biggest reason for the Lakers' struggles (19%). The Lakers continually reminded the media that they appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals and that basketball mileage eventually caught up to them. But only 11.7% of fans subscribed to this theory, putting more blame on Pau Gasol's post-season disappearing act (14.6%) and the bench's continual inconsistency (12.49%).
The Lakers and their fans may be in agreement that Magic Johnson's argument that Dr. Buss needs to "blow up this team" may be unrealistic, considering only 35.4% of fans agree with these sentiments. But 45.3% of fans argue the Lakers need to make tweaks to their lineup to ensure the team remains competitive. That's because what disturbed 40.4% of fans the most was the fact that the Lakers couldn't three-peat despite all the talent, coaching and experience they had, with 73.4% arguing Gasol was the most disappointing starter and 60.73% saying they weren't impressed with Blake's first year.
So where do the Lakers go from here? Well, even if it's questionable that 38.3% are wishing that Jordan Farmar had stayed and 35% are lamenting the Sasha Vujacic trade, Lakers fans clearly agree with Jackson's contention that the team needs to acquire more speed to complement their main cast. But it remains unclear how the Lakers can go about getting those pieces. Of all the assets the Lakers have, 36.2% of fans would be OK with trading Bynum and 33.8% would be fine with shipping off Gasol, but only if it's part of a trade package for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard or another blockbuster player.
It remains unclear what will happen. Kupchak sounded noncommittal about how many changes he would make, expressing optimism that the Lakers could still contend for a title with their current roster and then acknowledging the possibility that he would need to make moves. But Kupchak and Lakers fans agree on at least one thing, the need for patience and refraining from overreacting will be critical in making sure the Lakers construct the best roster possible without giving up the talent they already have.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant collides with Mavericks guard DeShawn Stevenson during Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday . Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011