Editor’s Note: If the league awarded the “Jack Nicholson Memorial Award for Most Tolerable Lakers Fan,” Joe Bernardo would certainly be a finalist. Joe has been a Lakers fan his entire life, enjoying dynasties anchored by Kareem, Magic, Shaq and Kobe. Despite a lifelong commitment to the Lakers, Joe is no homer. His critiques of the Lake Show are smart and informed, and often controversial. Joe’s articles, which focus on history and organizational practices, observed chiefly through the Los Angeles Lakers, are a welcome contribution to The Diss.
The latest trade I’ve heard suggested in the Laker rumor mill is Pau Gasol for Kevin Love and the Wolves’ #2 pick. And many fans are quick to give this ludicrous trade a go simply due to the effort the 7’ all-star forward/center gave in this past playoff run. Or, lack thereof.
Yes, he was pathetic. I, myself, was one of those die-hard Laker fans who yelled at the TV, flabbergasted by the pathetic performance of the Big Spaniard. Was he feuding with other Laker players because of what Andrew Bynum called “trust issues”? Was he just tired after playing the bulk of the frontcourt minutes when Bynum was hurt in the beginning of the season? Or, was he distracted because his hot GF dumped him like Kelly dumped Zack for that douchebag Jeff, Kelly’s manager from the Max? It may be none of these, it may be all of these. But to place all the blame of the Lakers’ demise this season on Pau is just unfair, and to “ship his ass back to Spain” is simply short-sighted.
Without Pau, this great Laker championship run would never have happened. Kobe would have peaced out, pulled a LeBron, and joined a contender back in 2008. But then, in comes Pau like a gift from God. Kobe quits pouting, stays, and gives Lakerland two more rings. Storybook.
Or was it? Seemingly, with all that success comes an unexpected downside. Since the Lakers got Pau, they made three straight NBA Finals appearances. That’s like playing an additional season on top of the three regular seasons they played. Not to mention that playoff games require an exponentially larger amount of energy and focus compared regular season ones.
Looking back on NBA history since the NBA/ABA merger (which Bill Simmons suggests is the proper temporal marker of when you can compare eras since the only 8 teams played in the Bill Russell-dominated 1960s era), three teams went to the Finals three or more times in a row (the Lakers did it four times 1982-1985, 1987-1989, 2000-2002, and 2008-2010; the Celtics 1984-1987, and of course, the Michael Jordan-led Bulls, 1991-1993 & 1996-1998). At the tail end of these incredible runs, these teams ran out of gas and were usually beaten by more or less inferior teams. For those who three-peated, the teams at the tail end of the run were never as good as their first championship team (e.g. 1991 Bulls > 1993 Bulls, 1996 Bulls > 1998 Bulls, 2000 Lakers > 2002 Lakers). All those extra minutes of going to the Finals year after year takes a toll on even the greatest championship teams. Clearly, this Lakers team is no exception.
This was glaringly evident during the Mavericks' painful four-game-sweep of the Lake Show a few weeks ago. By the time Los Angeles faced Dallas, I personally believe this Lakers team—and especially Pau, given that he logged in more minutes than anyone on the team—was simply mentally and physically exhausted by their fourth go at a Finals appearance. But after every horrible playoff loss in Laker history (1986, 1990, 2003) and despite speculation that management would unceremoniously blow up the team, they always regrouped, kicked ass, and found a way to get back into the Finals the following year (1987, 1991, 2004). While all things must end, the end need not be permanent.
So for those who are up in arms over the play of Pau and think that he’s washed up, I say: Don’t fall into the “grass is greener” mentality, and wait for cooler heads to prevail. Pau is still an all-star, the best skilled post player in the league, and most importantly, the PERFECT #2 to ego-driven Kobe. He simply fatigued and had 10 lousy games in May after 350+ good ones over the span of four years. Cut the guy some slack!
If anything, Bynum should be traded. He has higher trade value and he’s slowly becoming a team chemistry killer…but that’s another column waiting to be written.