Friday, July 31, 2009

Part Eight: Stagnant Additions

And I can’t lie; we actually flipped some nice pieces. After jumping ship on the expired Clippers, we signed our first kinda high profile free agent in Vladimir Radmanovic. The last couple of seasons he’d been lighting it up, albeit purposelessly, in Seattle before being traded as an expiring contract. But we booked him on a full midlevel exception contract (over $5 million a season), even though we had an all-too-similar player at the same position in Brian Cook. Oh well. Then we got the uber-athletic wingman Maurice Evans for a second round pick which was used on one of those 7-foot, 180 pound prospects from like Malaysia or Zimbabwe who is never heard from or mispronounced ever again. While those were at least psyche updates for the fans as we were desperate for any kind of visible on-court difference makers, the city of Los Angeles got a hometown boost in the form of drafting the diminutive and ethnically confusing (plus super-eared) UCLA legend Jordan Farmar. While tons of teams passed him off with little regard, the Lakers saw in him an underrated athlete who could play at the right pace for a triangle offense team with an improving jump shot. Moreover, he was a born winner who nearly led the Bruins back to another championship even though the shadow of John Wooden has left them irrelevant to the rest of the basketball world since the ‘70s. Sorry L.A., I’m a diehard Laker fan but the lures of the city aren’t even a fraction of what it would it would take for me to avert my gaze away from the innately better Kentucky Wildcats. That’s just not happening. No dice.

A sucky, yet somewhat convincing, plea had erupted out of the Laker faithful after the unfortunate loss to the Suns this past offseason. People retroactively were disgruntled that Caron Butler was well on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star contender while we were stuck with “Butterfingers” Brown (the least profane nickname I could think of) and the seemingly inconsistent and underachieving Lamar Odom. Everyone appreciated LO’s insane skill set, but it was almost unbelievable that he’d never accomplished a single All-Star bid. It downright pissed some people off. Lamar could literally do anything on the basketball court (besides hit his free throws). His handles were something of legend, probably better than any player ever given a 6’ 10” body frame to work with. He was the most willing and deftest passer of any forward the league had seen since Chris Webber in his prime. His three-pointing shooting (even if only to me) had become a statistical victory cigar as a hit from long range was darn near a guarantee on a “W”. He had even become the most underrated dominant rebounder in the game. Even if it were simply out of necessity because of the lack of any other frontcourt presence, Lamar would regularly record rebounding stretches of 16 to 19 boards a game. He could lead a fast break, he could take nearly any defender off the dribble, he was deceptively strong, he was beyond agile, he was no longer a troublesome locker room presence, and people genuinely liked him. Yet somehow he managed to attain such a level of inconsistency and passiveness that he had no individual accolades to show for it and people were willing to trade him.

The common names that came up in trade discussions were the then hot-commodities Peja Stojakovic and Ron Artest. Dreams of Kobe drawing countless defenders and kicking it out to Peja every other possession for an always-swishing three ball ruled fan’s fantasies. Just as soon as the doomed 2004 season, Peja was in the MVP discussion due to his visually dominating floor game, something Lamar was never envisioned to fill out and attain. And then there was the case of Ron Ron. The regularly crowned Defensive Player of the year was cementing his reputation as an uncontrollable head case just coming off of his season-long suspension for inciting and street fighting in the brawl at the Palace. But basketball fans have short memories and are very forgiving when it comes to adding potential assets to their team. Dreams were equally filled with visions of Kobe & Ron creating the strongest defensive presence on the wing since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen or even the tandem of Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars when they were called on to frustrate the opposition beyond recognition. Even an alternate trading candidate was mentioned in Andrei Kirilenko, but the equally versatile Utah swingman was held in such high regard at the time that it was seen as impossible to ever pry him from the Jazz’s fingers. In the end, even though rumors were never quelled and new scenarios were concocted on the regular, the Lakers wound up sticking with Kobe’s current sidekick. No one knows if it was because of the front office’s never-ending faith in the curious forward or if trade partners never accepted a deal or even if there was a super secret snag in ongoing negotiations, but regardless, Lamar was retained. Stojakovich and Artest were indeed later traded (for each other, in fact) and subsequently left both of their respective new teams after free agency once dealt anyways, so the respective pairings are forever to be relegated to “what ifs” and dream scenarios. [Insert from the future: *wink wink*]

[to be continued]

... but do take my word for it.

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