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J.A. Adande

It's Now a Whole New Blah Game for Lakers

August 07, 2004|J.A. Adande

Sorry, can't think of any good adjectives to describe this latest Laker trade.

Perhaps the best word for it was my friend's reaction when I told him the Lakers sent Gary Payton and Rick Fox to the Boston Celtics for Chucky Atkins, Marcus Banks and Chris Mihm: "Hmmm."

No excitement, no outrage. Not much of a reaction, which says as much about Payton's year in L.A. as it does the current and future state of the Lakers. They have yet to make the trip from compelling to uninteresting, but the motor's running.

Get ready for the days when hype and drama don't surround their every move, the days when they seem like just another team. Days like Friday.

What happened to the Lakers? They're turning into a mixture of Eastern Conference teams. It was bad enough that they traded Shaquille O'Neal for three members of the Miami Heat, a pleasantly surprising team that made it to the second round of the playoffs last season. Now another 25% of the Laker roster consists of former Celtics, a "playoff team" that finished 36-46 and was swept out of the first round by the Indiana Pacers.

As a point guard, Chucky's no Chauncey. Banks is an athletic player with potential ... and we've seen how far that took the teams that acquired Darius Miles. Mihm is underwhelming, a player who has been traded twice within four years of entering the league. And those are your newest Lakers. There, doesn't that make the ticket price hike more palatable?

As for the outgoing guys, I'll miss Payton's constant high-decibel commentary and Fox's calm, insightful analysis, but otherwise their departure from Lakerland won't stir many emotions.

Their primary appeal to Boston is the expiration date of their contracts next summer.

Fox -- a starter on their last two championship teams -- contributed little this season while recovering from injuries. Payton was in town for only a year and displayed mere fragments of his Hall of Fame form. He couldn't find a place in Phil Jackson's triangle offense, couldn't contain opposing point guards on defense and, even with a new offensive scheme from Rudy Tomjanovich, he didn't figure to get the ball away from Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom long enough to impose his will next season.

At least Payton's expressive face gave the Lakers yet another character on their personality parade, back when they had a personality. And now that Fox has followed Jackson and O'Neal out of town, who's left to goad the Sacramento Kings?

That was the old Laker way. The new method is to acquire Kings, such as Vlade Divac. Hey, Peja Stojakovic wants out of Sac-town too. Maybe the Lakers can get him.

After all, now that they're making trades with the Celtics, anything is fair game.

Do you really think Celtic General Manager Danny Ainge, a veteran of those Laker-Celtic battles in the '80s, would have made this move if he believed it would help the Lakers win a championship? The thought would have made his green-tinted blood boil.

But obviously he doesn't see the Lakers as a threat -- in fact, he's counting on their dropping down into the pack because he acquired a first-round draft pick from them as well.

Strange that as the Lakers supposedly build for the future, Mitch Kupchak decides to trade a No. 1 pick just when they might actually start to be worth something.

Even when the Lakers were loaded with stars, it always came back to Kobe. Now he's the only reason to watch them. The single story line of the season is how far Bryant can take the Lakers without O'Neal.

I doubt we'll see the Spectacular Kobe now that he has been "liberated" from O'Neal. I think it will be the Steady Kobe, the Wise Kobe, the one who plays the type of ball that produces more W's than oohs and ahhs.

Quite simply, now that he's gotten the type of team he wanted, he has to produce or else all the blame ends up in front of his locker. Traditionally, whenever he had to play the right way, he did. That's why the Lakers won championships their first three years in Staples Center.

Last year, for the first time in the playoffs, he didn't. And it cost them.

Perhaps he tried to do it all his way this once because of the possibility that it could be his last chance to do it at all.

If he's playing at all next season, it means he will not be going to prison because he will have been acquitted, or at the very least be on probation, in the pending felony sexual assault case against him. And with his accuser reportedly questioning her desire to testify against him, his legal prospects appear brighter.

Still, it's a bad week for the franchise when the developments are more favorable in a court case than in the transactions column.

And the Laker schedule is starting to look like the markings on an early present: Do not open until Christmas.


J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address:

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