Lakers cruising along — quietly

Team with knack for drama strangely silent as Heat take spotlight

November 08, 2010|By Mark Heisler

It's a hard world to get a break in when two-time defending champions don't have their own ESPN "microsite," like Some People.

If no one else cares, the Lakers are excited about the coming 2010-11 season.

Oh, it already started?

Those last six games were real?

It's quiet around the Lakers, now in no-drama mode, just as I foresaw. Too quiet.

Of course, I foresaw it three seasons ago, when the arrival of Pau Gasol, an effortless fit with Kobe Bryant, seemed to herald a new harmonious age.

Instead, after strolling through the 2008 postseason — at least until the Finals, where the Celtics smoked them — the Lakers took back-to-back roller-coaster rides to win their 2009 and 2010 titles.

After starting 48-10 in 2008-09, they coasted to a 65-17 finish ... then coasted on in the playoffs.

Andrew Bynum was benched and boycotted the media, which didn't realize it until he left without talking after a rare good outing. Making up for it, agent David Lee lamented to Lakers officials and media alike that Bynum didn't know if he could play for Jackson.

Then they mailed in Game 4 in the second round at Houston as ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy ranted: "What are they thinking about? What do they care about?"

Acknowledging a new level of cluelessness after beating the Rockets in seven games, Trevor Ariza said: "We were stubborn. We thought we could beat them on sheer talent."

After the Lakers escaped the Nuggets in the Western Conference finals and overwhelmed the Magic in the NBA Finals, Lee, who also represented Ariza, took his client to Houston for the same money the Lakers offered.

Last season, they could only wish the problem was a failure of the spirit.

Bynum was lost to another knee injury. Bryant played hurt starting in December, when he broke his right index finger. By spring, he was playing on a sore knee that almost broke down in the harrowing first-round series against the Thunder.

The press pushed stories, grounded in fact or utterly without basis: Jackson had to take a pay cut to get a new deal. Phil wouldn't go for it. LeBron James wanted to be a Laker. Phil wanted LeBron in and Kobe out.

They prevailed at the end in storybook fashion, coming from 13 points behind the Celtics in the second half of Game 7.

Bryant, who gagged in that game, waited until fall to note his knee was "very, very painful" all postseason.

It's too early to conclude the Lakers are smarter or more patient, but they look better interpersonally.

A year ago, Jordan Farmar was still confused about his role and Bynum worried about his involvement in the offense.

Bynum is chilling out as he recovers from surgery. With professional, pass-first guard Steve Blake replacing the impetuous Farmar, the second unit has a new grown-up look.

Bryant's knee issue lasted one week, with Kobe insulted that anyone would doubt anything about him. Noting Kobe's offense is ahead of his defense, Jackson summed up the situation, and Bryant, in six words: "Whatever he is, he's 100 percent."

Instead of two point guards playing for contracts, the Lakers have two newly signed ones.

At 36, Derek Fisher got three seasons — happily for the Lakers, who'd be hard-pressed to identify a leader otherwise and had to beg him not to go to Miami.

"We're champions now, so when guys return to the team or come here for the first time, that carries weight," Fisher said. "That's the subtle difference over the last few years. We have become what we want to be."

Time will tell what they've become. In their case, it's a lot of time.

mheisler@tribune.com

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