Friday, October 15, 2004

The Lakers' Triangle

The 2004-2005 season is almost here. Yet, we still got to listen to crap that was left over from the 2003-2004 campaign.

Let it rest.

“The Triangle” to us Laker fans used to mean the type of offense we ran. Now the term means the triumvirate of egotistical superstars who seemed to not be able to get along with each other….yet have to complain about why they all broke up. It’s sort of childish.

The Miami Herald is closely starting to resemble the Sports National Enquirer. If they don’t have a Ricky Williams sound bite….then Shaquille O’Neal isn’t too far away to chime in on something. The day after the Finals ended, Shaq demanded to be traded. Anywhere but LA. Or Indianapolis. Or anywhere that could get cold.

So, he got dealt to Miami. They were a playoff team last year. A nice hotbed of action. A young rising star at the guard position [heard that one before?]. The thing was that Miami really didn’t trade everything to get him. Lamar Odom is really good….and the other guys have their moments. Dwayne Wade, arguably their top player, is still in a Heat uni. It wasn’t the Super Star-for-Shaq trade that the fans, the media or Shaq wanted. For a man that demanded to “pay me” the $30M per season he was wanting, the Lakers were willing to part with Shaq for a guy who’s a level below All Star [Odom], young athletic kid [Caron Butler] and an old cagey veteran big man [Brian Grant].

Shaq got what he wanted. But he still wasn’t happy. He started throwing barbs at the Lakers brass for….gasp…foolishly trading him. I mean, why would they trade a guy who demanded to get traded, demanded $30M a year after his 33rd birthday, hasn’t bothered to care about getting in shape for the season, and could opt out at the end of the season….guaranteeing the Lakers nothing in return. Shaq also had the tell everyone that he didn’t like Kobe….like we didn’t know. Kobe is this, Kobe is that. And to prepare for the upcoming season of revenge….he’s slimmed down and is focused on his game. Wow. So trading you is the way to get you to perform at your highest level?? Why couldn’t you do that in LA? While it shows many people his determination…it shows me his reluctance to prepare himself for the grinds of an 82-game season and 28-game postseason during his last few years in Los Angeles.

The difference with Kobe Bryant and Shaq….is that you find out things about Kobe. It isn’t so obvious. Yeah, it’s obvious how he gets selfish on the court and tries to do too much. None of that surprises us. But, everything that happened after the 4th of July week on 2003 has. The “sexual assault”. The infidelity. How he kept his teammates at a distance. How he and Phil just couldn’t coexist. How he and Shaq really felt about each other. How Kobe felt about anyone that wasn’t Kobe. Aside from the extra-marital activities….none of this is too ground breaking. But the assault on his character since then has.

The one person who’s always been in Kobe’s corner is Lakers owner Rip Taylor….errrr…Dr. Jerry Buss. It is his team…and when the question finally had to be answered, Kobe or Shaq…Buss easily picked Kobe. Which, of course, angered Shaq and set this whole thing off. When this was known, Kobe jumped on his sudden power [which, who wouldn’t]. In order to keep Kobe, Phil wasn’t welcomed back and Shaq was dealt. The Lakers did everything in their power to get Kobe to his court hearings and back to LA with no hassles. This was his team…and he knew it. Now, he gets his wish….a team where he is unequivocally THE star.

He is the most loved and hated player in the NBA. The “lightning rod”. I don’t remember a player so hated by fans. The fuel to the fire was the whole sex assault case. It knocked him off his pedestal, put a huge smear on his spotless image, made him the butt of jokes and put him under a huge microscope. Since then, the case has been dropped….but his chat with the fuzz came out. In there, he drops Shaq’s name as giving “hush money” to women in order to keep his secrets…..secret. Well, that broke the “guy code”. Whether or not you put any value in the “guy code”, the problem lies in the fact that not only he ratted someone out….but that he ratted out Shaq. And Shaq, who apparently has known about this before last season began, chose not to talk to officials about a little incident at his Orlando home a few Thanksgivings ago. Shaq shut his mouth to protect Kobe [and probably himself]….yet Kobe opened his on Shaq. And for no reason. It’s hard to justify Kobe’s position here. Whether it was “off the record”, slip of the tongue or a direct attempt to get Shaq….it was unnecessary.

He’s a prick. I’m a huge Laker fan…he’s the star…and I will root for him all season….but he’s a prick. But, I don’t have to deal with him off the court. I watch him for 2 and a half hours of playing ball…and then on to the next game. And, it is okay to root for the prick, right Barry Bonds’ fans??

Here is my favorite right now. Phil Jackson. He stated that the Shaq-Kobe feud was “juvenile”. So, Phil decides to throw his hat in the ring. He’s wrote a book. And, basically, the book is about how much he couldn’t get along with Kobe. Well, at least that’s what the press release has running. Phil and Kobe were having a “psychological war”….and Phil states he lost. In fact, he says he was seeing a shrink. Classic. This is a guy that had Michael Jordan…one of the kings of mind controlling his teammates. He had Shaquille O’Neal….one of the biggest kids and egos in all of sports. He has Dennis Rodman….who was a basket case before he was in Chicago and after he left Chicago [and sometimes in Chicago]. Yet, Kobe Bryant punked him. A 25-year old broke down the sensei. Not the greatest player in the game, Jordan. Not the dominant player in the game, Shaq. Not the free spirit of the game, Rodman. But a 25-year old. Classic.

Of the three, I’ve been most critical of Phil over the past season. Yeah, Shaq was out of shape…and Kobe was pre-occupied with himself….but Phil just let this all go on. He just did his best coaching move….do nothing…and it backfired on him. The Lakers lucked into getting past the Spurs in the playoffs and somehow slid past the Wolves. But he decided to coach in the Finals against the Pistons. And if it wasn’t for Kobe hitting some big shots in Game 2.…the Pistons would have swept LA. Phil’s substitution patterns were both flawed and obviously guessed. He didn’t play Luke Walton in Game 1...yet played him in Game 2 and rode with him the rest of the series. He put guys out on the floor that had no idea what was going on. Larry Brown out coached Phil by letting Phil do what he was basing his whole theory on….letting Shaq go off. They shut down everyone else…and the Pistons easily handled LA. Don’t blame Kobe or Shaq for that.

So, Phil basically didn’t do his job....not well anyway. He pretty much got paid $6M to mess around with the boss’s daughter…and run Jerry West off to Memphis. He’s slinked up to Montana, wrote a book to keep his name relevant, and is waiting for the Knicks job to open up. And don’t be surprised if he goes after Shaq, who can opt out after this season. And together, they can relive old times and tell some Kobe Bryant jokes.

So, the chips are thrown on the table. Kobe’s got his team. Shaq’s got his. Phil may have a team in the near future. Kobe has the pressure of the Lakers moving the heavens to get him what he wanted. Shaq has the pressure of the Heat needing a short term payoff in their investment. And Phil has the pressure of proving he didn’t piggyback his way into nine championships. Let the games begin.

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