The Los Angeles Lakers might not have a current coaching manual to refer to; they don't after all have a coach. Their drills in lateral movement are no longer limited to figuring out how to unlock Brian Grant's $15,000,000 creaky knees to defend the pick and roll. Instead the brass over there at Staples Center has invited the ghost of Edward De Bono into the executive suite, dusting down their lateral thinking credentials, as they begin their 30-month guerilla campaign to sign Houston Rockets Superstar Center Yao Ming.
They're taking the long way round. But they've taken the long way round before. In 1996, they traded popular, dependable, passing center Vlade Divacs to the then Charlotte Hornets, for a school kid named Kobe Bryant, who signed for the newly center less team, oh hours before Shquille O'Neal arrived. Of course, the legendary Jerry West engineered those moves; current GM Mitch Kupchak has never looked nearly as adroit. But here's the gist of the get me the head of Yao Ming... First, get rid of the Fat Shaq. Fat Shaq compares favorably as an entertainer to a fat Elvis, but not to the skinny Shaq on now on show in Miami. Shaq might not have looked like that in L.A. He hadn't for a long time. He didn't have to; he had nothing to prove to the LA fans. Although those fans whom he rained championships down onto, suspected that he'd started coming to Staples purely to pick up his $30,000,000 a season paycheck, and at to complain that there weren't enough guaranteed paydays left in LA. He wanted a two-year extension and although he'd actually missed fewer games through injury in 3 of the past 5 seasons than the recently injured again, Kobe Bryant, the perception was, he might kick it up a notch in the play-offs; then again, he might not. Recently, he described this premonition about leaving the Lakers, "I was dog-meat. Luckily though, I am high-priced dog meat. The Alpo of dog meats." His loss could be construed by some as the Lakers' pigs'ears of dog meat.
Next up: Get rid of Phil Jackson. Temporarily at least. That's because Kobe is still the next Jordan, but Yao is the new Shaq and we're going the long way round to get Mr. Ming. So, get Phil to go, ostensibly because he wants too much money. More likely because he'd rather be spending his winter in the South Pacific with Luc Longley than at Staples relying on Grant's creaky knees, each of which would be making more cash than Phil anyhow. And the boss's daughter is on hand to keep the seat (and hers we most sincerely hope) warm for him too.
So, in comes, for a contract almost as large as the one Phil didn't get, (ever wonder about that?) new coach Rudy Tomjanovich. Rudy T. the 'never underestimate the heart of a champion' from Houston Rockets won two championships in the mid 90s. Critically, he won them with the dominant big man in the league each time, he's a big man's man. Jackson, never had the benefit of a dominant big man in Chicago, where he won six titles, of course he had Jordan, which is as big an of course as the NBA has ever seen. But Jackson never had a big man until Shaq, and he put him to pretty good use.
So, here comes this season. Vlade Divac, the Lakers center before Shaq, returns to the fold from Sacramento and effectively ends his career with a spin move made on the way to his first Lakers training camp.
Of course Kobe and Shaq were the Lennon and McCartney of the NBA. Which makes it so much easier to depict Mrs. Bryant as Yoko Ono. First of all, bustin' the boys up, and then upsetting Karl Malone when she thought he was coming on to her. But ahh, couldn't that just have been Karl's Clinton-esque bumpkin niceness - he'd spent 20 years summering in Arkansas. Spend 20 years simmering in Orange County, Ca, that'll help your entitlement perspective. So, Karl Malone, the much-needed veteran leader of the team decides against signing on for this. No one blamed him.
So, Shaq is gone, Phil is gone, Karl isn't coming back. The Lakers give Kobe 135,000,000 reasons to stay. Over seven years. But they haven't given him one consistently good player to play with and still manage to land 21 million over the salary cap. That's okay for now, except for the fans watching the team shame the city and the history of the organization, and any one with a commercial interest riding on the clubs' good fortunes, Channel 9 and ABc-TV, to name two, are constantly keeping the bathwater warm - they're going to be needing it well before May. I spoke with an unlicensed t-shirt vendor who claimed he could sell more shit at a Sparks game.
In the middle of a middling season (by Clipper standards) Laker coach Rudy T quits, 40 games into a five-year contract. Reminded me somehow of Cloughie at Leeds. Well not much. Just the 44 days of Clough is not unlike the 40 games of Rudy T. Now I don't know about you, but if I walk out of outsideleft after 6 months, no one is giving me $9,000,000 to lick my wounds with. No 30-month exorbitantly paid consultancy position either. Except. Hold on, wasn't there a reason Rudy T was hired in the first place? Isn't there a very good reason Tomjanovich is being kept on the payroll for another 30 months, coincidentally until the summer of 2007, until probably precisely the day after 7'6" Houston Center Yao Ming becomes a free agent and signs with the Lakers? Oh yeah, because Yao Ming calls Rudy T. "Daddy."