Plots keep on thickening in L.A. Lakers, the drama
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
LOS ANGELES -- The 2003 Dream Team, also known as the Los Angeles Lakers, has been good but not great.
And in the West, good sometimes isn't good enough.
"The formula in the NBA is to win three out of four at home and 50% on the road," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose team played host to the Raptors last night at the Staples Center. "But it's not good enough for us."
That kind of math -- which would result in a 51-win season -- would have a team like the Raptors dancing in the streets. Then again, the Raptors would be dancing in the streets if they could find anyone other than Vince Carter to make a damn basket, so that isn't the most telling gauge.
Anyway, since the Lakers roster features Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton, 51 wins also would mean an entirely unacceptable 31 losses.
Few would suggest the Lakers are going to lose 31 games. But obviously a lot is expected of this club, notwithstanding the question of Bryant's mental and physical availability stemming from his rape trial.
It's probably good that Bryant didn't exert himself too much in the Lakers' 94-79 win over the Raptors last night, since he has to fly to Colorado today for a court appearance. He officially will be advised of the charges against him and he may have the option to enter a plea. Anyway, the legal process and the season will proceed concurrently for the next several months.
So what do we know about the Lakers now that we didn't know 2 1/2 weeks ago, when the season began?
- The Bryant situation is not as big a distraction as you might think. These guys are playing in L.A., for heaven's sake. Just driving around and looking at the people makes it unlikely you'll be rattled by anything.
- Bryant could be with another team next season (if he isn't in jail) and the most trendy rumour is he wants to be reunited in Memphis with former Lakers mastermind and current Grizzlies boss Jerry West.
But for now Kobe and Shaq are willing to play together, despite Kobe's tendency to try to win games by himself and a public spat that was the source of much comic fodder.
- It's going to take awhile for Payton and Malone to fit into Jackson's modified triangle offence. Payton was annoyed when he was benched late in the Lakers' loss to the Grizzlies on Monday, but here's a bold prediction: As Shaq and Kobe argue about whose team the Lakers are, it could wind up being Payton's team by the end of the season. He's the most driven of the fab four.
- The Lakers don't play great defence yet, especially on the perimeter against teams that can score. The Raptors obviously are not included in that group.
- What killed the Lakers last season in their quest for a fourth consecutive championship was a lack of depth, and that remains a concern. Canadian Rick Fox will help when he returns from foot surgery, but his effectiveness has decreased during the past couple of years.
The good news for the Lakers is their biggest rivals in the West have issues, too. The defending-champion San Antonio Spurs are working in a lot of new guys. So are the Dallas Mavericks. And the Sacramento Kings remain without their top player, Chris Webber, because of injury. It could take all four of those teams till the all-star break to sort out their true identities.
"It's not like this is a dramatic point in the season," Bryant said.
No, not yet. But there's plenty of drama on the horizon, both for the Lakers as a unit and for Bryant personally.