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The Fall of The Staples Empire
The Lakers’ series against Dallas was a disaster, a full-out semi-implosion. But more than just one series is the complexity and irony in the season overall that exacerbates Dallas’ sweep.
So what exactly happened to Staples Empire? What happened to King Kobe and his brethren in the midst of a hopeful three-peat and their figurehead’s last reign? Not to take a leaf out of Lebron James’ book, but Bryant was the reigning superstar for many years in the league. And though it was not a massive fall from grace for the shooting guard that made this Texas-sized annihilation possible, it doesn’t help Bryant can’t carry the team when they are down quite like he used to.
No one would have said it then, but looking back throughout this regular season, something like this was bound to happen for the Lakers. They were not playing like they were on a run for a championship. No one saw it because the Lakers aren’t new at this. They don’t have the firepower and self-sacrifice Derrick Rose brings to the Bulls’ playoffs series or the urgency the Miami Heat would bring to theirs. But this is not the Lightbulb Lakers anymore. Everyone kept waiting for them to just turn it on and it never happened.
What makes this fall not only predictable but ironic are Jeanie Buss’ comments on the Dan Patrick Show back in January.
“This will be [coach Phil Jackson’s] last year with the Lakers,” Buss told Patrick. “It was important for him to let the players know that this would be his last year because what he doesn’t want is he doesn’t want them to regret anything because they have a really good opportunity to repeat as champions. But if you don’t focus and give it your all, then you have what you don’t want, which is ‘What if we had done better?’ and ‘We left something out there’ because these chances are so few and far between.”
Buss is right, these chances are few and far between, and I doubt any of the Lakers don’t regret how the Dallas series ended. There were some blatant structural problems with the team as well as what seemed like mental weariness, especially on the part of Pau Gasol.
Media have both lauded and slammed Jackson’s unconventional yet effective style of coaching, but no one would have expected the coach to chest tap Gasol into action during Game 3 of the Dallas series. But certainly no one said it was unwarranted. Gasol’s defense was sloppy. He looked lethargic, not getting under the ball fast enough and missing opportunities to block shots, which in turn made him a downright horrible matchup with Dirk Nowitzki. Well, maybe not for Mavs fans.
The only problem is the better matchup of a Lamar Odom or Ron Artest didn’t have any room to catch steam. Artest was suspended for Game 3 after throwing an elbow at JJ Barea in Game 2, which put Odom in his place. But Game 4 didn’t pan out much better when Odom hit Nowitzki on a screen for a flagrant.
Barea got beat up during this series. Andrew Bynum blatantly threw an elbow into Barea as he went up to take a shot, a cheap shot that earned him an ejection. Bynum did not take it well. His lack of class and respect was not what Jackson’s last game should have looked like.
Buss’ comments have to embarrass the Lakers should they go back and listen. If telling the players was really important to Jackson, the Lakers’ showcase in the Dallas series was disrespectful and embarrassing to all Jackson built and achieved in Los Angeles. It was clear something was off with this team because they didn’t play like one. Whether it was the lack of a cohesive practice or a lack of trust as some players attested, or just plain dog-tired, it was not a surprise the Lakers didn’t make it, but that doesn’t make closing the chapter on Jackson any easier.