Lakers reach another crossroads
The Lakers have already crossed the path where they began embarking on an uncertain future.
It happened when the Lakers seemingly rid themselves of everything associated with the Phil Jackson era and brought in Mike Brown. It happened again when the NBA rejected a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, and, days later, when the Lakers traded Lamar Odom and a second-round pick to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round pick and an $8.9-million trade exception. It's happening again as the Lakers, as first reported by ESPN the Magazine's Chris Broussard, met for a players-only meeting following the Lakers' 103-92 victory Monday over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Of course, all these events are interwoven. The players, led by Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, addressed numerous frustrations. The ones involving Mike Brown: his extended practices, thick playbook and shuffling rotations. The ones involving the front office: General Manager Mitch Kupchak maintained in a statement that the roster will remain uncertain leading into the March 15 trade deadline, and executive Jim Buss has kept the organization's hands tied. The performances: The Lakers (19-13) remain fifth in the Western Conference, have a 5-11 road record and an inconsistent identity.
But it remains to be seen whether the Lakers can truly live up to the approach Fisher outlined to reporters afterward.
"Our success and what we're going to do and accomplish as a group lies on the players," Fisher said. "We can't put it off on our coaches. We can't put it off on management. We can't put it off on the condensed schedule. We'll have to continue to hold ourselves accountable."
But this meeting also proved necessary and could largely dictate whether the Lakers have the proper attitude in maximizing an aging roster, particularly if the front office fails to make any moves. The Lakers have a right to feel upset with the coaching staff and management. It's hard to exactly buy into whatever they're preaching when the entire roster outside of Bryant remains disposable. But they hardly helped themselves by allowing that cloud to consume them.
The Lakers hardly showed those signs in their win Monday against Portland. Nearly every made basket came off ball movement and concluded with a high-five, finger point and smile. In other games, the Lakers physically showed effort, but mentally lacked the resilience and energy to show they're having fun. It's way too presumptuous to think the Lakers have turned a corner. Portland scored only seven first-quarter points and has a 5-11 road record. The Lakers have a back-to-back Wednesday at Dallas and Thursday at Oklahoma City, where their 5-11 road record hardly suggests they're comfortable outside of Staples Center.
Hence the importance on how the Lakers react to their players-only meeting. Will they come out united and worry-free of all the outside distractions? Or will this just embolden their frustrations? Only time will tell.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant works in the post against Blazers forward Nicolas Batum in the first half Monday night at Staples Center. Credit: Harry How / Getty Images / February 20, 2012