Dear Gomes: The Lakers' Hope
Issue   |   Tue, 02/18/2014 - 22:11

DEAR GOMES:
My beloved Lakers have had such a bad season! After making a late push in the playoffs last season, I had such high hopes for this year. When do you think Kobe is going to be back? What if he never recovers?! What’s going to happen to my Lakers? Will we ever win another championship?!
--LAKER LOVER

DEAR LAKER LOVER:
Sixteen NBA Championships. Four different NBA Most Valuable Player Honors. A celebrated owner in Jerry Buss. Hall of Famers in Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Gary Payton. Exceptional coaching staff previously led by Phil Jackson.

Throughout NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers have been considered one of the most iconic sports franchises. Until this season, it seems the franchise has consistently made the right decisions at the right times.

However, there is great concern regarding the team’s direction with new owner, Jim Buss, who is under tremendous pressure to continue the memorable legacy of his recently deceased father Jerry Buss.

“He’s got to quit trying to prove a point to everybody that he can do it on his own, and get his ego out of it,” stated former Laker great Magic Johnson.

As time passes, the organization has seemingly lost its aura as one of the greatest franchises in sports. Los Angeles was once the ideal destination for players who wanted to compete for the NBA Championship and bring home a ring. Today, it appears that the Los Angeles Clippers have assumed the dominant role in L.A., after being dubbed the Lakers’ “little brother” for many years.

We have seen superstar players like Dwight Howard leave the Lakers for better opportunities. Lakers’ fans are not used to seeing players with talent like Howard abandon their team like that.

As each game goes by, the losses continue to pile up. Currently, at the All-Star break, the Lakers have a dismal 18-35 record. They just lost their seventh consecutive home game at Staples Center, a new franchise record.

One of the oldest teams in the NBA, the Lakers have suffered injuries to key players such as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The team’s most recent game against the Cleveland Cavaliers best exemplified their ongoing struggle with injuries this year.

With only eight healthy players on the roster to start with, the team lost even more players during the game to injury; consequently, when their center Robert Sacre reached the foul limit, there was no one on the bench to substitute for him. Lucky for the Lakers, Sacre was permitted to stay on the court as the Lakers were given a technical foul, and the game went on.

Many fans are calling for the firing of Coach Mike D’Antoni, but to me that is an unfair decision. The Lakers performed very well last year when all their players were healthy and the team made a tremendous push to make the playoffs. D’Antoni must be given a fair chance to succeed, especially since last season was his first in L.A.

The Lakers’ star, Kobe Bryant, who has been with the team since 1996, has been saddled with injuries all season; thus, Bryant has played in a total of only six games. Although he successfully recovered from his Achilles’ heel injury that he suffered last season, some critics believe that Bryant’s early return was too hasty and resulted in his knee injury this season.

A five-time NBA champion, league MVP and two-time Olympic gold medalist, All-Star Bryant can only watch as his team continues their tumultuous year. However, he has been adamant about playing out his final contract and retiring once it expires.

The Lakers were loyal to Bryant and gave him a lucrative $48.5 million two year extension, but the ultimate question is what the Lakers will do with these final two years to help cement Bryant’s legacy as one of the greatest basketball players ever.

Will a string of devastating injuries define his fleeting moments in the NBA? Or will he be something more? Is there hope for another ring?

Undoubtedly, Bryant hopes to retire as a six-time NBA champion, tying basketball legend Michael Jordan. I believe that getting on Jordan’s level is ultimately what drives Kobe Bryant to battle back from his injuries.

Although he has always had a ferocious and determined relationship with basketball and his teammates, his intense attitude has created tensions with teammates, such as Shaquille O’Neal and Howard. However, in the end, no one can deny that Bryant has mastered the formula to bringing home NBA championships.

There is no doubt in my mind that Kobe Bryant will not only come back but also return in elite form. We can all envision his patented fade-away jump shot swishing through the net as the Staples center goes wild.

So what should the Lakers’ direction be as they move forward?

First off, the team must end their roller coaster relationship with Pau Gasol and trade him.

In 2011, Gasol was apart of a blockbuster trade for Chris Paul that was eventually vetoed by the league. The forward is in the final year of his contract, and it seems likely that he won’t be wearing purple and gold for the 2014-2015 season.

However, it is crucial that the Lakers don’t lose a great player for nothing in return. A trade would successfully get the Lakers below the luxury tax threshold, which would give the franchise the ability to acquire valuable assets for the future.

The 2014 free agent class includes iconic players, such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love, who all have the same goal: winning a championship. Moving Gasol to another team would provide the Lakers with both the flexibility and the spending money to acquire some talent during the off-season, though I am very skeptical about the Lakers’ ability to sign a star free agent in time. Their window for winning championships is closing with Bryant’s career nearing the end.

Jim Buss needs to bolster the front office by bringing in household names to attract notable free agents to the Lakers. I believe they must put personal issues aside and bring Phil Jackson back in some capacity in the front office. They also must reach out to former great Laker players, such as Magic Johnson, to be consultants to the team.

The Gasol trade would essentially end the Lakers’ season and direct their attention to the NBA Draft and the rebuilding process. This years draft class is one of the best in years, with potential superstars in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid of Kansas and Jabari Parker of Duke.

The talent in this year’s draft is reminiscent of the 2003 NBA draft class when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade were all welcomed to the league. There is a lot of potential, and the Lakers must retain a top pick in order to have a bright future for fans to look forward to.

The responsibility of putting Bryant in a position to succeed is a daunting task. As one of the most iconic athletes in the world, it is important he ends his career in typical Kobe Bryant fashion. On top of that, the team also has the responsibility to continue their legacy as one of the most celebrated and successful franchises in sports history. In order to reclaim their glory, changes must be made.

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