Ask almost any fan about the NBA off-season and he or she will vividly remember two things: the Celtics’ acquisitions and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant drama. While the Celtics are off to one of the best starts in NBA history, the Lakers are, unexpectedly, not far behind.
Bryant expressed his frustrations with the higher offices of the organization in the off-season by demanding a trade. Bryant has been in the middle of the drama with the organization since Shaq left the team. Many blamed him for the trade that sent Shaq to Miami, and did not feel that it was in his place to demand a trade involving himself. With the Colorado rape scandal still fresh in the public’s minds, the drama was only intensified.
Many feel that Kobe got what he wanted when Shaq was traded. He responded by signing a record-breaking contract with the Lakers for seven years at $136.4 million and openly expressing that he only wanted to wear the purple and gold. However, the trade demands before the start of the season left many fans feeling confused and betrayed.
Though we do not know Kobe’s true motives for a trade demand, he could have been disgusted with the team or been pressuring the front office to make significant moves to improve the team, like bringing in Kevin Garnett. Kobe’s Lakers were eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Suns in last year’s playoffs and, obviously, did not field a team that could compete with the best. It was evident that the Lakers needed to do something to take this team to the next level. Not even Kobe Bryant, the best player in the NBA, could do it all on his own.
Despite Kobe’s best efforts, which put a scare throughout Lakerland, General Manager Mitch Kupchak did not make any significant moves.
Instead, Kupchak’s decisions following the O’Neil trade have proved him to be almost genius. He drafted Jordan Famer, Ronny Turiaf and Andrew Bynum. Jordan Farmar was the leader of a well-coached UCLA basketball team that made the Final Four in 2006 as a freshman. Ronny Turiaf is the second coming of Mark Madsen. He is a man who contributes on and off the bench. When he is not hustling all over the court, you can see him screaming, dancing, jumping around and on the bench, in support of his teammates.
Andrew Bynum is looking like the Lakers’ best draft pick in ages. He was the youngest player ever drafted; like most young players, he looked lost on the court during his first two seasons. His inability to show much improvement, and an immediate answer to Shaq’s departure forced everyone to deem him a bust. However, with the guidance of Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bynum is quickly moving into the elite class of centers in the NBA. He is attacking the basket with confidence and has even developed the spin lob, the shot that Shaq perfected. In addition, Kupchak has complemented these flourishing draft picks with key role players.
The biggest steal for the Lakers in the off-season was the signing of Derek Fisher. Fisher has always been solid, but never did one think he could make an impact on a team, as he has done on the Lakers. He has returned as a veteran and as a leader. His inspired play and knowledge of the triangle offense has made the offense deadly and helped players, like Lamar Odom, find their place in the system. I have always been the biggest advocate of the belief that Odom and Bryant could not play on the same team because both were players who needed the ball in their hands. They have proved me wrong.
Kupchak’s patience has proved to be his greatest quality as a general manager. His faith in head coach Phil Jackson, whom he signed for a two-year contract extension, and failure to succumb to his franchise players’ threats have proved that he actually knows what he is doing.
While teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves have taken to rebuilding and yielded no positive results, the Lakers have embraced the reconstructing process and still managed to be successful. The Lakers are 24-11, the first-place Suns are 26-11. Kobe Byrant is no longer complaining and has even recently stated that he was glad that he was not traded. The team is gelling well, the bench is deep and the Lakers are looking like a playoff threat. Mitch Kupchak fixed everything by doing nothing.