Usually when an NBA franchise holds a players only meeting, it is a signal that the end maybe near for the team’s head coach, as was the case earlier this season when the Washington Wizards held one and a short time later bench boss Flip Saunders was shown the gate. That scenario will not play out with the Los Angeles Lakers who signed their head coach Mike Brown to a multi-year pact last summer, however it is a sign of a frustrating campaign for the former NBA Champions.
Squad leaders Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher gathered the rest of their roster together after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers by a final score of 103-92, to talk about the cloud that has settled over the club in recent weeks according to a report that “ESPN.com” has published. The website’s sources stated that the players talked about trade speculation that has taken place all season, as well as philosophical differences that players had with management.
The Lakers have a record of 19-13 after their win on Monday night and are in second place in the Pacific Division, trailing the Clippers by one game for the lead in the division; they are now the fifth seed in the Western Conference with their arena-mates in fourth. This year of transition did not start out very smoothly for the team when they signed former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Brown to replace Phil Jackson without talking about the hiring with Bryant; a move team Vice President Jim Buss later admitted regretting.
Controversy rocked the franchise just before the beginning of the season by the aborted Chris Paul trade, a deal that would have sent the Hornets point guard to the team while shipping Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets. After the Association vetoed the trade which would result in New Orléans sending the All-Star guard to the Clippers, the fallout on the Lakers was pretty severe. Odom was so ticked off that he demanded the team trade him to the Dallas Mavericks; Gasol has been talking like a man on his way to the chair over the last few weeks.
Bryant and team General Manager Mitch Kupchak are in a spitting match over the Gasol situation with the Lakers guard saying either trade him, or announce he his not going anywhere. Kupchak refuses to show his hand as he considers that would be a position of weakness for the team. Bryant said “It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I’d rather them not trade him at all. If they’re going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they’re not going to do it, come out and say you’re not going to do it.”
Kupchak replied in a statement “To say publicly that we would not do this would serve no purpose and put us at a competitive disadvantage. Taking such a course of action at this time would be a disservice to ownership, the team and our many fans.”
Lakers veteran forward Metta World Peace and Brown had a well publicized clearing of the air last week after each had made disparaging comments about the other that were picked up by the media. Peace went through a similar situation last season with Jackson, after behaving like a boy scout his first year with the team that resulted in the Lakers second consecutive Championship.
There has also been rampant speculation that the team will sign veteran Free Agent guard Gilbert Arenas to a deal for the rest of the season. Little is known about how much he has left in the tank, or how his unique personality would play with the rest of the roster. There has also been talk about a possible deal that would bring the club Magic center Dwight Howard in exchange for Lakers center Bynum and the deal could include Gasol as well.
It is incredibly tough to follow a legend of such stature as Brown is doing sitting on the bench where Jackson sat last season. Brown knew however what was ahead of him and he had plenty of experience in the glare of the spotlight during the LeBron era in Cleveland. During his tenure with the Cavaliers he also proved that he knows the game and is one of the best young coaches in the Association. He demonstrated as well that he is capable of getting through the pothole filled highway of his first season with very little damage to his team.