Immediately after the Los Angeles Lakers completed the four-team blockbuster deal that landed them superstar center Dwight Howard, the comparisons between the 2012-2013 team, and the 2003-2004 team, which lost in the NBA finals to the Detroit Pistons, began. But the inevitable comparisons, made by media outlets everywhere, are really just a sign of laziness on the part of those who do not want to actually research the background of the 2004 Lakers team. A team that was crumbling from within, withShaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant constantly bickering among each other, and Phil Jackson right in the middle of it.
This newly assembled Lakers core has barely had the time to get into practice together and already people are claiming that they will not be able to mesh. Stating something like that is really dumb as we really have no proof to back up either side. But, for all the negatives involved, one thing is not being made clear, Kobe will not let this opportunity slip away.
Kobe knows that this very well may be his last chance at an NBA title, the one thing that he has chased for his entire NBA career, even after he won five. For those saying that Kobe will complain about his shots, point production, etc., just stop it, because you sound foolish. But I digress. Anyways getting back to the comparisons to the ’04 catastrophe, I firmly do not believe that the two teams are the same, so I am going to give you five reasons to back up my opinion.
1. All Players, Including The Coaching Staff, Actually Like Each Other
In 2004 it was no secret at all that Kobe and Shaq did not like each other. On top of that, and what many people did not know at the time, was that Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and superstar Kobe Bryant were also bickering among each other. The relationships between player and player, player and coach, etc., was not good at all, and provided for a toxic locker room. Now, looking at this years team and their relationships, it is quite easy to see that every player on this team gets along well. Pau Gasol and Kobe are very good friends, as are Steve Nash, Howard, and Metta World Peace, well Metta is a little crazy so I don’t think he even knows what’s going on half the time.
It also doesn’t hurt that Kobe is a huge fan of Mike Brown, and his system. Kobe has bought into what Brown has brought to this Lakers team, offensively, and defensively, and now that management has surrounded him with such outstanding pieces it’s safe to say that Kobe will definitely enjoy the upcoming season.
2. Kobe Bryant Is Now A Man, Not A Child
For anyone who watched the Lakers of the early 2000′s it should not be hard for you to admit that Kobe was a childish, selfish brat, I watched each one of his games so I would know. Time after time Kobe would have something to complain about, even if the Lakers were winning, and when the Lakers were losing? Well, it was not a fun time in the locker room for the Lakers. Additionally the entirety of the 2003-2004 season was playedamidst Kobe’s legal situation in Colorado.
Kobe was required to fly back and forth to Colorado between games, and practices and has openly admitted that it did indeed have a significant toll on him emotionally, and physically. Fast forward to the present day, 2012, and Kobe is now a much more healthy, (as healthy as a 33 year old workout freak can be), calm, and wiser man, on the court that it is. Kobe knows when to save his body, as he did last year by choosing to sit out the Lakerslast game of the season vs. the Sacramento Kings, and knows that he can’t do everything on his own. Kobe constantly stated last season that he needed more help from Pau, and Andrew Bynum in order for the Lakers to make a deep playoff run, only problem is he never got that help. This year should be different.
3. The Future Of The Team, In Terms Of Contracts, Is Much More Clear
Alright the title for number three may have sounded confusing but just hear me out. In 2004 Kobe, a selfish, young kid was playing in a contract year and wanted to be paid, largely. On the other hand center ShaquilleO’Neal was demanding that he get a contract extension, and fast, as he also wanted to be paid. The only thing holding up each deal was the fact that 1) Kobe was seen as a huge problem to the team, and at the same time the future of the franchise, and 2) Kobe wanted Shaq out. The Lakers, knowing Kobe’s request, were not quick to signShaq up for a long-term deal. If they were to do just that they would have risked losing Kobe in free-agency, something they wanted to avoid.
With all of that going on it is easy to see how a player, or two could become so distracted, so it’s good to note that the Lakers current contract situation is not so hectic. Yes, Dwight Howard will be a free-agent at the end of the season, but all signs are pointing to him re-signing as he loves it in L.A. Dwight would literally have to walk away from $20 plus million dollars if he chose to sign elsewhere not to mention the amount of money it could cost hiin future endorsements. The rest of the Lakers core is signed through this season and should be fine.
4. This Team Is Hungry
The only players remaining from the Lakers 2010 NBA championship win over the Boston Celtics is Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace. This off-season the Lakers added Howard, Nash, and AntawnJamison veterans who have all been chasing that elusive ring their entire careers, although Howard’s career has not been as long as Nash and Jamison’s. Kobe, as always, wants to win another title, and Metta World Peace probably doesn’t even remember he won one in 2010 so he’s got the same feeling as Kobe.
The new arrivals of Jodie Meeks, Howard, Nash, and Jamison should also help to rejuvante the Lakers drive for title No. 17, something that has clearly been lacking these last few years. The Lakers got too comfortable with winning championships and saw themselves fall flat on their face against the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Jordan Hill, a key Lakers bench player, should also feed into that hunger as, throughout his short lived NBA career, he has never really been as important to a team as he is now with the Lakers. Lakers head coach Mike Brown is also excited to try and prove his doubters, the ones who believe that if he couldn’t win a title with LeBron James, there is no reason to believe he will win one now, wrong.
5. The 2004 Lakers Team Was Actually Pretty Close To Winning It All
Something that a lot of people really overlook in that 2004 NBA finals was that the Lakers were extremely close to winning it. Now I know getting beat 4-1 is not exactly close, but you have to think about what the Lakerswould of had to overcome to win that series. First off Karl Malone was already on the decline of his career, and he was heading into the finals injured, with a bum leg. The Lakers headed into game 5 with Malone and Horace Grant out, the Pistons size down low was just too much. People who have done no research on the 2004 team think that Malone was just signing with the Lakers hoping for a free ride to a title, well, if you didn’t know, Malone, as the fourth option, put up 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game.
Gary Payton was also producing at a very good rate, although he was also on the decline of his career. I believe that luck is a huge part of sports, and if the Lakers had been lucky enough to stay healthy the 2004 NBA finals definitely could have been a different result. For all the bad luck the Lakers had I also must give credit to a Pistons team that played absolutely astounding defense. The Pistons banked that series on the fact that they would be able to lock the Lakers down, and did just that.
Overall the 2004 team came close to winning an NBA title, they were the last team standing in the Western Conference, and to win it all you need to get their first. If this Lakers team does turn out to be the 2004 team all over again then a few breaks here or there and this time around they will be champions of the NBA.
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