First the Lakers go out and sign a Hall of Fame point guard. Next, they acquire a dominant big man. Sound familiar, Lakers fans? That’s because it not only happened this year with the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, it also happened in the summer of 2003.
Flashback to that summer. Lakers signed not only Sonics superstar point guard Gary Payton, but went to field first ballot Hall of Famer Karl Malone. With a nucleus already with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers were primed with a date with Larry O’Brien Trophy right?
Well, not exactly. Does the same fate await the latest incarnation of the Lakers? If you look at both teams closely, it doesn’t seem that way.
Let’s start at the point guard position.
Gary Payton was an extremely gifted player. He was nicknamed “The Glove” because of his suffocating defense, and could dish out the ball like any great guard could. However, in Phil Jackson’s Triangle, Payton wasn’t able to play his style of basketball on the offensive end, which limited him greatly.
On this year’s team, Steve Nash is the floor general, no questions asked. He is free to run the offense as he pleases. It is okay he is no defensive monster like Payton. The Lakers didn’t trade for the best big man in the league for ticket sales.
On to the power forward and center positions. Karl Malone is one of the greatest power forwards in the history of the Association. He was nicknamed “The Mailman” because well…he delivered. In fact, he delivered for a good 18 years. 18 years is hard on the body, and it showed when he arrived in L.A. Malone averaged 20 points a game in Utah, but when he came to Los Angeles he only averaged 13.2 points per game.
He was way past his physical prime as well. He had a bad leg almost the entire season, and was held to only 42 games. While Dwight Howard is coming off his major surgery, it is just that: his first. He will rehab quickly and be able to play sooner and more often. Also, Howard is a towering defensive presence, averaging 2 blocks a game over his career. The most impressive fact had almost been left out as a whole. Malone was 40 when he signed with Lakers. Dwight is only 27.
Looking at both teams as a whole, the Lakers of this year are more poised for success. There is actual veteran leadership on this team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. Even in 2004, the Lakers stars were not ready to lead.
The Lakers might actually have a bench this year too with Hill, Jamison, and Meeks anchoring the second unit. Sounds better than Pargo, Walton, and Udoka, don’t you think? The Lakers have also imported the Princeton offense into their playbook, in order to have all five positions on the floor play toward their strengths. That allows for more offensive flow between all parts of the team.
Now, a championship is never guaranteed. The games still have to be played, and the challenge is still ahead. The team is still getting used to each other. Chemistry still has to be developed between players, and every player has to find their niche within the team. If nothing crazy happens and all the players stay healthy and focused, we could have another golden summer next year.