NBA lockout: Would a shortened season benefit the Lakers?
Almost nothing positive can come out of a prolonged NBA lockout.
The longer it lasts, the more likely the league will lose more and more customers. Even if we are talking about million-dollar athletes, a work stoppage will surely affect their lifestyle. Even if we are talking about billion-dollar owners, a work stoppage will surely affect their organizations' bottom line. And more importantly, the basketball fan will be unjustly denied the chance to watch the NBA just as it ended an epic 2010-2011 season.
Those on both sides may tout that the hold-off may be worth it in the long run because the negotiations will eventually change the league's financial structure to their liking. But it's hard for a fan to really think in those terms. They only compare the product itself on the floor. But that part surely will bear plenty of significance for all teams should there be a shortened 2011-2012 season, if at all. Should the NBA lockout bleed into training camp and eat into the early part of the regular season, the Lakers would face plenty of positive and negative ramifications with that scenario.
Why a shortened season would benefit the Lakers: The common theories to explain the Lakers' early playoff exit in a four-game sweep by the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals point to two reasons: complacency and fatigue. The Lakers will surely take care of the first part, considering they have added motivation from a season fallen short. The Lakers will be better served addressing the second part with a shortened season. Even if Kobe Bryant may be part of a barnstorming tour in China, he's already had time to get what The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner considered to be an "innovative procedure" involving platelet-rich plasma therapy on his right knee. Lakers forward Matt Barnes has more time to fully rehab from his surgically repaired right knee. And the players that most need the rest -- Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher -- can further pace themselves.
While Bryant surely needs time to heal his assorted damaged body parts, a lengthier time off will enable him to keep a gradual rhythm because of his belief that it's harder to regenerate energy after completely shutting down his body. While Gasol feels taxed from a season filled with plenty of minutes, adversity and inconsistent performances, his participation in the European Championships in late August will ensure the proper spacing. And even if Odom managed to balance his heightened off-court workload, he can take care of most of those projects during the off-season so they're at not as burdensome once the season starts.
Just imagine how the Lakers' fortunes in the 2009-2010 season would've turned out had they been healthier and more rested. Bryant may not have had to sit out as many practices. Bynum's rehab wouldn't have eaten into the season. And Gasol wouldn't have burned out from all the heavy minutes in absorbing Bynum's absence. Surely, part of the Lakers' unraveling also pointed to the reality that other teams have improved. But one significant advantage they had over the Lakers pointed to their decreased basketball mileage the last three years. While teams such as the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks just made significant playoff pushes, the Lakers entered the 2011 postseason fresh off three consecutive NBA Finals appearances. Had they been more rested, it's conceivable Bryant and Fisher would've proved more clutch in the postseason, Gasol wouldn't have unraveled as easily and the Lakers would've enjoyed another championship run.
Why a shortened season would hurt the Lakers: Sure, the Lakers will benefit from the rest, but a shortened season only means that the games will be more compacted in a shortened period of time. That's hardly the schedule a veteran-laden team wants to follow. Should the Lakers suffer more injuries next season, the magnitude will only widen, considering each game will provide greater significance.
That also means that any transition period with Mike Brown overseeing the program will only yield higher consequences. Regardless of what you may think of the Brown hire, the possibility that he experiences setbacks his first season as a Lakers head coach increase with a shortened season. He and his coaching staff can't have any contact with the players during the lockout and the players don't have access to any of the facilities. So it's on the players to organize themselves, but with a new system in place there's only so much the players can independently work on on their own.
Besides, it's unclear if the Lakers actually properly use the time off to get fully ready. Even with players feeling more incentive to work on their product lines and commercial shoots during this time, I expect they'll put in the proper work because of the motivation they have from last season. But the roster itself will be very disjointed because of differing agendas. Bryant plans to spend part of his summer in Asia. Gasol plans to play in the European championships. Fisher will be mostly consumed with negotiations since he's the president of the National Basketball Players Assn. And Artest, well he'll be a part of a comedy tour and all other sorts of randomness throughout the off-season.
Verdict: I've already stated in detail why I don't think the Lakers will win the 2011-2012 championship assuming there's a season. The Lakers will start off fairly strong because of their increased hunger and rest, two areas that will help them overcome the learning curve and transition period involving a new coaching staff. But that adrenaline rush can only last for so long. About a month into the season, the Lakers' vulnerabilities with grasping a new system will reveal itself. With fewer games providing less margin of error, the struggles will prove stronger to climb out of than in previous season.
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Photos, from top: Kobe Bryant and teammates listen to the national anthem before the start of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center in April (credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times); from left, veterans Derek Fisher, Bryant and Pau Gasol won two NBA championships together but could not pull off the three-peat last season (credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times).