Big changes coming in L.A.? Lakers do not think they are needed
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Here's a crazy idea, Laker Nation.
Do nothing. Stand pat. Try again next season -- only try harder.
It's counterintuitive, to be sure. The Lakers' stunning exit in the Western Conference semifinals (and that was Pau Gasol's word choice, by the way) was so puzzling, so unimpressive, that the notion of leaving the roster of the two-time champions intact seems like basketball suicide. There will be a new coach, of course, with Phil Jackson on his way out and someone not named Phil Jackson on his way in.
But if there was any question about whether the players who had just been swept by Dallas still believed in the group as a whole, it appeared to be answered at the team's practice facility on Tuesday where the first of two days of exit interviews took place. All together now ...
"Yes," veteran point guard Derek Fisher answered quickly when asked if this team in its current state could return to a championship level. "I'll take the same exact group of guys and line them up and lace them up again. That's what I believe."
The embattled Gasol...
"I see this group as very capable of bouncing back, and we will no matter what."
His fellow frontcourt mate Andrew Bynum ...
"I one hundred percent believe that we can win a title [and that] this team is a contending team. We have the talent, and honestly it makes a bit easier to rein guys in and to be focused having the feeling of defeat for six months."
And small forward Ron Artest...
"Yeah, it's easy," he insisted. "We can do it. It's easy after you put in the hard work. We can do it. ... I don't think you've seen the last of the Lakers."
On the one hand, it could be argued that these are the most obvious of answers. On the other, would it really have surprised anyone if someone came out claiming there was a need for a change in light of the way the Lakers went down? There was talk of internal trust issues, off-court distractions, players being -- as Jackson said after Game 4 -- "daunted" by the moment at hand. There was a whole lot of purple and gold smoke, and perhaps a need to start a fire sale.
Unless you ask the ones who actually play the games, the men who know the state of the locker room and the intricacies of the relationships therein. The coast-to-coast Pau punking that had taken place as a result of his weak play and tales of his personal problems was not corroborated by his teammates, who played the kind of passionate defense in his honor that would have come in handy against the Mavericks.
It was a hugely relevant revelation of the day, the fact that no one in a Lakers uniform seemed to doubt Gasol's ability to return to his previous form. There was no hint of forced support or disingenuous positivity, this after Gasol had seemed to admit that personal problems played a part in his play.
"I support Pau, all right?" Artest began. "Let's say that first. I didn't speak to him yet, [but] I read some comments [in the media], so I don't know how true it was. Y'all can type and y'all can act like he said it, so I don't know if he actually said certain things. But certain things he said was true.
"He's disappointed in himself, clearly. But I would bet that he's going to come back strong. Whatever happened, however he played, I would bet that he's going to come back strong."
Gasol, who said he is leaning toward playing for Spain's national team this summer, called the reports of his relationship problems "absolutely false." The emotional challenges that were the most daunting, he insisted, were of the basketball variety.
"The season has been pretty crazy, and very emotional," Gasol said. "Lots of ups and downs -- as a team, as a group, as a unit. And I guess it took its toll at the very end, at the critical time. ... I've been really caught up into the moment, and I've been trying to focus as much as possible on what has been going on with our team and what can I do to help more. But it has been obviously hard.
"We had different losing streaks, where years before that it was crazy if we lost three games in a row. ... A team with our quality, our players, shouldn't have those four-game losing streaks. Lose a game, lose two games, but you've got to cut it off. It's meaningful, I think, when we had those. It's not about panicking at any time, but it's about, 'OK, now we have to fix this and we have to see what's going on and dig deep and let's talk about it, [have a] get-together.' And it's like, 'Let's not worry about it. We'll be all right.' "
There will certainly be changes of some kind, even if the Buss family and general manager Mitch Kupchak steer clear of a major shakeup. But the players who couldn't get it done this time claim this disappointment will be enough to inspire them next season.
"I think this sweep helped," Artest said. "It's humbling. I think it helped to move in the right direction, get that hunger back."