So it’s 100 percent official – Dwight Howard will be taking his dominant post game to the Los Angeles Lakers via four-way trade. And all the Lakers had to give up were talented, yet increasingly problematic (and injury-prone) center Andrew Bynum and reserves Josh McRoberts and Christian Eyenga. Yes, it looks like the Lakers will be prime contenders for a seventeenth championship, possibly tying them with their bitter rivals, the Boston Celtics. And why not? Their recent additions include a future Hall of Fame point guard (Steve Nash) and a veteran forward who can still put the ball in the hole (Antawn Jamison). Kobe Bryant is coming off one of his best seasons, and the Lakers got to keep Pau Gasol. With the exception of small forward, the Lakers have All-Star talent at every position.
The Lakers may be loaded, but there is such a thing as being too loaded for your own good. That isn’t saying they aren’t a favorite to win a 17th championship, but it won’t be surprising if they don’t. Here are threerecent examples of NBA teams that were expected to win it all convincingly, only to fall short for one reason or another.
1996-1997 Houston Rockets – The Rockets were able to win a championship in 1994 with one true superstar (Hakeem Olajuwon) and another in 1995 with two (Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler). While the Dream and the Glide-led Rockets were less successful in 1996, mostly due to the latter’s injuries, 1997 was supposed to be the year the NBA title was returned to Houston, thanks to the acquisition of probably the best way-undersized power forward of all time, Charles Barkley. This was supposed to be the Best in the West, a team good enough to beat Da Bulls – the newly-unretired Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and everyone else. Sadly, the Big Three of Hakeem, Clyde and Sir Charles didn’t even make the Finals, getting beat out by the Utah Jazz 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals. Then the Mailman failed to deliver on a Sunday…but that’s a different story altogether.
1999-2000 Portland Trail Blazers – This was a team stocked with All-Star caliber veterans, solid role players and promising youngsters, at least nine of them capable of starting for any team in the league. Consider this – ArvydasSabonis, Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith and Damon Stoudamire as starters, Detlef Schrempf, Shawn Kemp and Brian Grant off the bench. Greg Anthony had once been a starting point guard, and the Blazers were high on second-year wingman Bonzi Wells. Also, Jermaine O’Neal was still in the lineup at that point, in his fourth year in the league and raring to get off the bench more often. These Blazers had a great chance of winning it all, but as the season went on, so did the team’s problems. Players griped about not getting enough touches and/or playing time. And to top it all off, Kemp was suddenly a fat shadow of his former “Reign Man” self. After underachieving their way to a 59-23 regular season (third in the West), the Blazers blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Western Conference Finals, losing to the Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers in that deciding Game 7.
Instead of being a team good enough to start a dynasty, this was a team disorganized enough to start Portland’s unfortunate “Jail Blazers” era.
2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers – It should have been a no-brainer. You’ve got Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, two of the most talented and productive (if contentious with one another) players in the league at their respective positions. You’ve got the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, master of the triangle offense and a cinch to break Red Auerbach’s record for most NBA championships as head coach. With the addition of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, who were both coming off productive campaigns with Utah and Seattle respectively, many league observers were expecting these Lakers from nearly a decade back to own the NBA again and win a fourth title in five years. And the rest of the lineup wasn’t bad either – small forward was the only weak link. (Sounds familiar?)
After a flying 18-3 start, the 2003-04 Lakers finished at 56-26, just one game ahead of their bitter rivals, the Sacramento Kings, to top the Pacific Division and get the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The usual Shaq-Kobe soap opera was further complicated by Payton, who still played very well but wasn’t comfortable playing the triangle. And Malone, after years of double-double consistency, was unhappy and/or injured for most of the year and very far away from putting up All-Star numbers. We all know what happened next – the Lakers persevered and made it to the Finals, only to be routed 4-1 by Larry Brown’s defensive-oriented “Play the Right Way” Detroit Pistons.
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