The Empire Strikes Back

By Eric D. Graham
Updated: June 6, 2008

Los Angeles LakersNORTH CAROLINA — It has been almost four years since the Shaq and Kobe dynasty was divided by internal conflict in Los Angeles. As a result, Shaq was traded to Miami, where he eventually won his fourth NBA title in 2006 with the help of Dwayne Wade.

With Shaq’s somewhat instant success, everybody jumped on the Miami Heat’s bandwagon and started promoting Dwayne Wade as the new “poster-child” over Kobe Bryant.

But the pendulum is swinging back into Kobe’s favor.

With Shaq being traded to the Phoenix Suns and the Miami Heat sporting the worst record in the NBA this season at 15-67 while Wade missed half of the season talking with Charles Barkley on the cell phone, everybody is recognizing Kobe’s greatest once again.

Even though Bryant had to scream and threw a terrible tantrum after the Lakers finished 42-40 last season, L.A. seems to have rebuilt its fallen empire in one year after trading Kwame Brown and rookie Javaris Grittenton to Memphis for 7-footer Pau Gasol.

“I talked with Kobe and assured him that I shared his frustration and more importantly, assured him that we will continue to pursue every avenue possible to improve our team with him as the cornerstone.” stated Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Since Gasol arrived in Los Angeles, the Lakers have won 44 of 56 games. This includes regular season victories as well as the playoff wins that have them playing the Boston Celtics for the NBA Championship.

In effect, Mitch Kupchak should receive a bonus for recognizing Gasol’s potential to make an impact in LA so quickly.

Gasol and Bryant look as if they have played with each other before. Let’s not forget, Gasol joined this team at mid-season so he had to learn the triangle-offensive as well as how to play with Bryant.

Gasol’s soft-hands and somewhat orthodox’s low-post game gives Kobe an option when drives down the lane. His addition has also alleviated some of the pressure off of Lamar Odom to be the Lakers’ number two scorer.

Odom, now can relax on offense by not forcing bad shots from the perimiter and rely more on his ability to drive toward the basket for easy lay-ups. In my opinion, he’s become Kobe’s Scottie Pippen or maybe his Toni Kukoc.

Bryant’s supporting cast, however goes beyond Odom and Gasol. The biggest addition to the Lakers starting line, in my opinion has been the signing of former point guard and seasoned veteran Derek Fisher.

Fisher provides leadership and guidance to a young team whom had a tendency to watch Kobe perform rather than play with him. He knows his role on the team plus his basketball savvy will be helpful during the closing moments of the fourth quarter against Boston.

Assistant coach, Kareem Abdul Jabber, who is often overlooked, should also be rewarded for his outstanding job in molding 18-year-old Andrew Bynum into a potential superstar before he injured his knee.

The Lakers’ bench runs deep with talented players. It may, in fact, maybe the best in the NBA. Players like Vladimir Radmanovic and Sasha Vujacic, allow Bryant to pass out of the double team with confidence which usually ends in a three point play.

Ronny Turiaf, Luke Walton, and Jordan Farmer, on the other hand provide bursts of energy that is needed while Kobe’s is resting on the bench. But in the end, when the game is on the line the ball will still be in the hands of Kobe Bryant!!!

So Boston, beware!! It’s my pick. LA in six, four games to two.

Sorry, Kevin Garnett. Maybe, next year.