Ted Green: Are the Lakers the new Celtics?
Please excuse the fact I watch an implausibly ridiculous TV show seemingly conceived by the writers of “Lost“ on acid, but I’m about to have a Flash Forward.
(Pause 2 minutes 17 seconds for the GBO, the Global Blackout.)
OK now, Flash Forward to Friday in Okie City, when the Lakers are sent home, having been impaled on their sword, knocked out of the playoffs by first-time playoff novices in the opening round.
Flash Forward to the first great column by name your favorite columnist, then others, on how a championship team grew suddenly old, and how they now have a bunch of over-30 guys with fat, untradeable contracts, and what in the name of Dr. Jerry Buss are we Lakers fans gonna do now?
Well, win or lose Game 5 Tuesday night, win or lose this series, escape the Thunder or not, I’m not waiting to put this idea out there.
Not even 137 seconds.
So here it is: The Lakers now have a bunch of over-30 guys with fat, untradeable contracts.
Take a quick, painful look at the Boston Celtics West, and replace the names Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, one-and-done winners, with…
- Kobe Bryant, 32 in August, but about to enter his 15th NBA season, his body broken and now betraying him. But his contract? Newly renewed for three more years at the going golden parachute rate of $83 million large ones. That’s almost LeBron James money. But unless Kobe spends the summer in a hyperbaric chamber, stays miles from a basketball and returns resembling at least something of himself, he’s nowhere near LeBron anymore. And he’s the Lakers’ franchise piece through 2014.
- Lamar Odom, 31 in November, entering his 12th year. Not broken physically yet, but with a long history of up-and-down performance. A great, long X-factor when focused and enthused, but just as apt to spend games, even weeks in his own personal Bermuda Triangle, now co-occupied with Khloe, nowhere to be found except on reality shows. Contract status: Two more years at $8.2 million and $8.9 million. Total encumbrance to the franchise: $17.1 mil.
- Ron Artest, 31 in November, entering his 12th year. Still a premier defender, but floor-bound now, no hops left, too willing to let his unpredictable triples fly, and a seeming poor fit for the disciplined structure of the Lakers’ triangle offense. Plus, he took a team that was growing slower and made it REALLY slow and lumbering. (Trevor Ariza, we hardly knew ya.) Artest just finished first year of new five-year Laker deal worth $32.25 million. Total dollars remaining: $26.7 mil.
- Oh, and Andrew Bynum. It’s true he’s just 22, but entering his sixth season and still owed $40 million, is the big kid brittle, and is he ever going to play close to a full season, much less average even 15 and eight? Was he, too, a $52-million dollar overpay?
You can throw in Luke Walton, 30, and Sasha Vujacic, Luke owed $12 million for two more years, Sasha $5 mil for one more, despite each making barely meager contributions.
So fair to ask: In locking almost everybody up, calculating (one of Dr. Buss’ favorite words) that the Lakers were about to repeat or even go back-to-back-to back, did our Dr. J make his first very serious miscalculation in personnel and finance since buying the Lakers 32 years ago?
Is the very quality we admire him for, generosity with his players and a genuine desire to win championships, which he has done splendidly en route to the Hall of Fame, going to turn out to be the very trait that will leave the Lakers stuck with fat contracts they can’t move, like Kobe’s, Lamar’s and Artest’s?
Are the Lakers also about to become a glitzier, more successful and entertaining version of the New York Knicks, with heavy, unmovable payroll issues?
Or, as he moves toward his late 70s, does the poker-playing good doctor have one more ace up his sleeve, like biting a big luxury tax bullet to take a run at LeBron James or Dwyane Wade?
If we’re staring the Lakers’ future in the face of the way they look today, they’re going to desperately need a big jolt of youth, along with an infusion of enthusiasm and athleticism to upgrade the aging group that seems to be falling apart right now.
Now I have to say, to balance the story, if Kobe comes back even almost like Kobe for the 2010-11 season, healed and healthy and the best fadeaway jump shooter on the planet, the beginning of his final career phase, the Late Michael Jordan Phase, then all bets are off. Meaning, the Lakers can still matter and compete for titles.
But if he can’t, if the brilliant thoroughbred named Twenty Four has run his last great race, then the Lake Show is in deep trouble, Phil Jackson could be gone and this little blog is going to require some serious re-reading later this week, even if it seems like little more than a Flash Forward right now.
-- Ted Green
Green formerly covered the Lakers for the L.A. Times and is currently Senior Sports Producer for KTLA Prime News.
Photo: Kobe Bryant reacts to a foul call during the Lakers' Game 3 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA