A New Laker Dynasty?

Have you heard the news, my fellow basketball fans? It looks like we won't have to trouble ourselves with the 2009-10 NBA season after all. What a relief.

If you have been paying any attention to the sports world lately, you have surely heard that the indomitable Kobe Bryant and his Lakers are poised to begin a dynasty the likes of which we have seldom seen. Likewise, you have certainly been privy to the latest details on the inevitability of LeBron's Cavs doing their part — carried by James's newfound motivation to succeed in the wake of back-to-back disappointing Eastern Conference Championship losses in '08 and '09 — in setting up the dream Finals matchup we were all cheated out of this past season.

Thankfully, such young stars as Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Brandon Roy don't have to risk career-ending injury in trying to succeed next season and can just coast through the regular season. Vets like the Celtics' trio of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce or the Rockets' tandem of Ron Artest and Yao Ming don't have to wear themselves out trying to make another run at a title in 2009-10. All has already been decided in both leagues, so now it is just a matter of sitting back and letting destiny run its course.

The problem I have with this is that Kobe's Lakers are not Shaq's Lakers, Tim Duncan's Spurs, or Michael Jordan's Bulls. Furthermore, there is far too much parity for me to consider with any sort of reasonability the fact that a single win in a single championship series is anything other than a great season worth remembering.

Consider these facts:

1. The Celtics, last season's champs, came into the playoffs as a prohibitive favorite to make it to at least the Conference Finals. But then they lost star Kevin Garnett. Without K.G., the team lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to the upstart Orlando Magic, who went on to play in the Finals. It would stand to reason that a Celtics team with a clean bill of health would have likely defeated the Magic and would have beaten the Cavs, as the Magic did. This is the same team that beat the Lakers in the 2008 Finals. Would you bet against them to repeat if they had made it in '09? I know I wouldn't.

2. The champion Lakers team barely snuck by a Houston Rockets team many had left for dead in February. This is the same Rockets team that lost the only player capable of creating his own offense to season-ending injury in late January. This is also the same Rockets team that lost its most dominant player to a season-ending foot injury early in the Lakers series. It again stands to reason that these Lakers may not have made it past the Rockets had Yao Ming and/or Tracy McGrady had been healthy. While it may be a leap of faith, you can't dismiss it offhand. Does this make for a dynastic run? Methinks not.

The reality is that mere days after the Lakers' most recent title was locked up, the question on every media outlets mind became, "Can this team become the next dynasty?" It wasn't long ago — I'd estimate one or two months max — that Kobe was branded as the guy who could never succeed without Shaq. Now, since that proverbial monkey has been lifted off his back, we are to believe that he is the centerpiece to a group in L.A. that may be able to win championship-after-championship for years to come. This just doesn't align with common sense and while it may be human nature and perfectly normal to wonder aloud if a team is a long-term threat or a simple flash in the pan, the depth at which this subject has penetrated the sports world is alarming and unfounded.

Even more disgusting to me is the treatment King James has been afforded in the days and weeks since his unceremonious dismissal from the playoffs. Just after LeBron's surprising playoff dismissal, James made headlines by storming off the court without a congratulatory handshake offered to the victors and, more appalling, without making his required post-game press conference appearance. Some in the national media chastised James (albeit lightly), but the lion's share of pundits dismissed the actions as a case of the ultimate competitor internalizing the pain of failure so he could turn it into results next season. You know, kind of like he did the season before. It seems a simple analysis of recent events make it far more likely that LeBron will fall just short of a title than that he'll be hoisting the trophy next June. In any event, you cannot enshrine he or his team into the Hall of Fame yet, at least not in the case of winning titles.

In a previous article, I spoke to the impact one Michael Jeffrey Jordan has had on today's game, not just as a player but as a marketable entity. Prior to Jordan, the NBA and its leadership were very, very cautious in deliberately marketing teams over players. "The Showtime Lakers", "The Bad Boys," and "The Celtics" were the identifiable powerhouses of the sport in the 1980s and '90s. It wasn't until after the Jordan era that we, as fans, began to relate to those teams as "Magic's Lakers" and "Bird's Celtics." There was a good reason for this: there was little parity. Teams were marketed because teams were the draw. Individualism just didn't bring championships (see Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, et al). At this point in the history of the game and at most any time prior to it, you could predict with near certainty what would transpire each season well before the games actually began.

Once the '90s began in earnest — due almost entirely to the influence Jordan had on the sport, the fans and the universal appeal of his style to fans from all nations, races and social classes — the new generation of basketball players valued athleticism and personal achievement over reserved team play and overall group successes. This forced the NBA and David Stern to market to the individuals, sustaining the profitability and success of the league. The trade-off was the end of the "Team Ball Era," ushering in more parity, which has had significant impact, both positive and negative, on the league's fan base.

Since this new era of individualism, few teams have been able to successfully create a winning formula that would withstand the tests of new challenges from new and emerging stars. The Bulls did it, but they had Jordan. The Spurs did it, but they accomplished this feat by remaining true to the way things "used to be" and building a team around a system. Even these Lakers managed to form a bit of a dynasty, but they had an unstoppable machine named Shaq and a very watered down set of opponents on which to prey. So why are we to assume that winning a title portends a much more glorious run?

The answer is simple, really. We've been conditioned to want to see the best. We want our time to be the "Golden Age" of any given sport. The sooner we realize that this is very rarely the case, the sooner we get to enjoy what we see in front of us, which is real talent and real skill.

The irony is the league and its media machine created this parity, and now that very same media machine is desperate to dispel the reality they brought upon us. None of us know what is going to happen next season. This is not to say that the Cavs and Lakers aren't great teams, they absolutely are and should be for the foreseeable future. The greater truth is that there are many superb teams, many of which we don't even see coming, that will stand in the way of any team's chances of repeating or forming any sort of dynastic reign. In our haste to find the next Jordan, this generation's Bad Boys and the new Celtics-Lakers rivalry, we're missing the evolution of something far more exciting, interesting and revolutionary: true parity.

This age of the unknown should be embraced. Not only will it create excitement over a far greater fanbase (thus increasing NBA market share), but it will help develop a core of young superstars that rival any other era's in terms of raw numbers.

As for this "Next Jordan" business, it is worth noting that in the two seasons preceding the most recent, both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have each done something that Jordan was never able to accomplish. They each lost an NBA Finals series.

Never mind. After further contemplation, I may check out the 2009-10 NBA season after all.

Comments and Conversation

June 24, 2009

gus rios:

Two straight trips to the finals by the lakers. Me thinks so

The real issue here is that you are bias to the cavaliers which have proved nothing.

Gus

June 24, 2009

Matt:

Yikes! I clearly did a bad job of conveying my point…I am even MORE disillusioned with the Cavs and their implied greatness than I am the Lakers. I agree…Cleveland has proven nothing.

As for the Lakers…I don’t doubt or question their “goodness”…I just don’t consider them “great” nor do I think two straight finals appearances warrants dynasty discussion. Maybe I’m old school, but it just seems that a couple of real good seasons and suddenly we want to bestow legendary status on everyone. Feeds into my point that we are in an era where we desparately want to be part of history…we are far to eager to rush to judgment for this purpose.

Thanks for reading and for the comments!

June 24, 2009

Eric Engberg:

Yeah, I don’t get the dyansty stuff either. There is the very real possibility that one of, if not both, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza will not be around next year. God knows where Andrew Bynum’s head is at and how healthy he will be come the 2010 playoffs. Kobe has probably peaked, he played his fewest minutes per game since becoming a full time starter. Then there is the very real possibility that Kurt Rambis or Brian Shaw are running the team next season and not Phil Jackson.

The Pistons had a better run than the Lakers have the past few seasons and nobody was clamoring for them to be dubbed a dynasty.

June 24, 2009

Woody:

Having trouble deciding which side of the fence to sit on?
“This is not to say that the Cavs and Lakers aren’t great teams, they absolutely are and should be for the foreseeable future.”
or
“As for the Lakers…I don’t doubt or question their ‘goodness’…I just don’t consider them ‘great’ “
Your abrupt flip-flop is no better than the pundits you criticize.

June 24, 2009

Zsd:

While a Laker a fan, I’m not so quick to jump on the dynasty bandwagon. You made some valid points about the difficulties the Lakers had in their most recent playoff run. But you ignore some other points.

The ‘08 Celtics were a great and the better team back then. But they are getting older and I have my doubts that ‘10 Cs will be as dominant. While the Lakers are long, athletic and a better defensive team with Ariza having a breakout post-season.

The ‘09 Lakers were a better team than their ‘08 version. And they still have a lot of room for improvement depending on how things go with Bynum.

Can the Lakers repeat? Yes, I think most people will agree that if they keep Odom and Ariza, they will be favored to repeat. But will it be easy? No.

As for the “King.” Couldn’t agree more.

June 24, 2009

Sam91:

The Lakers beat the Cavs both times this year. They beat a fully healthy Celtics team both times this year. They lost to the Magic both games this year but obviously just beat them 4 - 1. You don’t need to speculate on how this year’s Lakers team would have done against the Cavs or the Celtics had they made the finals.

June 24, 2009

notenoughpayne:

It’s PARITY you bambling idiot. PA-RI-TEE.

June 25, 2009

Matt:

Sam - I am not speculating on how the Lakers would have done, per se, I am simply stating that you can’t dismiss those other teams as being fodder for the LA championship machine moving forward. Again, the point here is not to discredit their championship in 2009, but rather to point out that this season’s title - even when paired with last season’s Finals appearance - doesn’t portend the onset of a dynastic reign, so all those talking about that should spend their energy talking about how good a season it was for LA instead of puzzling over if this marks the start of a dynasty.

Eric’s post has it dead on…Detroit was far more dominant and a far surer “safe bet” and few were raising the Pistons dynasty flag…the difference is the Kobe figure who the media can “sell” to the public…which again, is the point of my article to begin with.

Great comments all around!!!

June 25, 2009

Christian:

Eric- no one was talking about the pistons being a dynasty cuz they play in the east. that conference is a joke especially, 5 years ago when detroit made their run.

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