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Lakers embark on a new era of harmony, but will sour notes emerge later?

Unlike their title runs the previous two seasons, the old drama and angst are noticeably absent during their smooth start to this season. But are things TOO quiet in Laker-land?

November 06, 2010|Mark Heisler

It's a hard world to get a break in when two-time defending champions don't have their own ESPN "microsite," like Some People.

If no one else cares, the Lakers are excited about the coming 2010-11 season, too.

Oh, it has already started?

Those last six games were real?

It's quiet around the Lakers, now in no-drama mode, just as I foresaw. Too quiet.

Of course, I foresaw it three seasons ago or two seasons early, when the arrival of Pau Gasol, an effortless fit with Kobe Bryant, seemed to herald a new harmonious age.

Instead, after strolling through the 2008 postseason — at least, until the Finals where the Celtics smoked them — the Lakers took back-to-back roller-coaster rides to win their 2009 and 2010 titles.

After starting the 2008-09 season 48-10, they coasted to a 65-17 finish . . . then, incredibly, coasted on in the playoffs.

In a desultory 4-1 first-round victory, Coach Phil Jackson actually rejoiced at the return of injured Utah center Mehmet Okur.

"We need to have a lineup out there that challenges us and makes us play the way we should play," said Jackson, having apparently given up on other motivations.

Andrew Bynum was benched and boycotted the press, which didn't realize it until he left without talking after a rare good outing.

Making up for it, his agent, David Lee, lamented to Lakers officials and media people alike that Andrew doesn't know if he can play for Phil.

Then they mailed in Game 4 in the second round, at Houston as ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy ranted:

"What are they thinking about? What do they care about?"

Acknowledging a new level of cluelessness after winning in seven, Trevor Ariza said, "We were stubborn. We thought we could beat them on sheer talent."

After the Lakers escaped Denver in the West finals and overwhelmed Orlando in the 2009 NBA Finals, Lee, who also represented Ariza, took Trevor, a perfect fit, to Houston for the same money his hometown Lakers offered.

Last season, they could only wish the problem was a failure of the spirit.

Bynum was lost to another knee injury.

Bryant played hurt from December when he broke his right index finger. By spring, he was playing on a sore knee, which almost broke down in the harrowing first-round series against Oklahoma City.

The press pushed stories, grounded in fact or utterly without basis: Jackson had to take a pay cut to get a new deal, Phil wouldn't go for it, LeBron James wanted to be a Laker, Phil wanted LeBron in and Kobe out.

They prevailed at the end in storybook fashion, coming from 13 points behind Boston in the second half of Game 7 in the Finals.

Bryant, who gagged in that game, waited until fall to note his knee was "very, very painful" all postseason.

Now no one asks what can go wrong with the Lakers, since everyone knows.

If issues arise, it won't be because of expectations or hysteria.

The national media, which invented Lakers conspiracies, is in Miami, inventing James- Dwyane Wade- Chris Bosh conspiracies.

Local talk radio is quiet. AM 570's Steve Mason, who said the Lakers would win 73 in 2008-09 when they got off to a good start — or won their opener — knows better.

"I think the Lakers are too smart to have 70 wins as an objective," Mason said. "Opening night, Kobe Bryant said the theme of this season is 'intellect and patience.' "

It's too early to conclude the Lakers are smarter or more patient, but they look better interpersonally.

A year ago, Jordan Farmar was still confused about his role and Bynum worried about his involvement in the offense.

Bynum is chilling out as he recovers from surgery. With professional, pass-first guard Steve Blake replacing the impetuous, coach-tuning-out Farmar, the second unit has a new grown-up look.

Bryant's knee issue lasted one week, with Kobe insulted that anyone would doubt anything about him.

Noting his offense is ahead of his defense, Jackson summed up the situation, and Bryant, in five words:

"Whatever he is, he's 100%."

Instead of two point guards playing for contracts, the Lakers have two newly signed ones.

At 36, Derek Fisher got three seasons — happily for the Lakers, who'd be hard-pressed to identify a leader otherwise and had to beg him not to go to Miami.

"We're champions now so when guys return to the team or come here for the first time, that carries weight," Fisher said.

"You take the guys who have been here the last several years and worked to build a championship team and appreciate how special that is, with the new guys that have been around the league and can appreciate being in this type of situation. . . .

"That's the subtle difference over the last few years. We have become what we want to be."

Time will tell what they've become. In their case, it's a lot of time.

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