We’ll probably never know what a goon is to a goblin, but it’s clear what happens when goblin meets goon. It looks like Andrew Bynum going full Macho Man Savage on an undrafted Puerto Rican ex-boy scout named J.J.
Suddenly, the Lakers’ Three Mile meltdown was symbolized in a few frames, the footage as hideously memorable as a Craig Sager suit. Bynum’s crack up was one of those moments that crystallized every Lakers flaw: their lead-footed resistance to defensive rotations, their sour petulance, their inveterate ability to turn every middling point from Aaron Brooks to Goran Dragic into the second coming of A.I.
Somehow, J.J. Barea — whose greatest prior achievement had been landing this woman — smacked the taste out of the Lakers mouth and made Mark Cuban jizz … in his … pants. Apologies for the grotesque imagery, but there is no other way to explain those flushed Frankenstein victory faces.
No complaints. Two consecutive championships and the existence of “Khloe & Lamar” safeguard any sane thinker from offering sympathy. Not when Cleveland exists. Worst of all was watching this lethargic entitled squad get shot down like a Wasilla aerial wolf hunt — or the hoops equivalent of Tyler, the Creator’s “Goblin:” brutal, sluggish, and filled with unfunny figurative rape. No Eagle County.
In the aftermath, the press has feverishly dissected their failure. Rumors I have read: Kobe Bryant’s wife spiked Pau Gasol’s gazpacho with barbiturates. Lamar Odom had been taking basketball tips from Bruce Jenner and Turtle. Dwight Howard hired Vladimir Shpunt to create foul telepathic juju to make the Lakers trade for him. Naturally, no one blames Kobe Bryant.
After all, this is Los Angeles. Paradoxically, the city of Sunset Boulevard worships dried-up Lakers in a way that Norma Desmond (or Brittany Murphy) could only dream of. Magic Johnson owned part of the team until last year. Kareem taught Andrew Bynum everything but DOS C++. Big Game James could order hookers on game day and still end up with a plush Channel 9 hosting gig. Obviously, Kobe Bryant is the Third Rail of Purple and Gold politics: untouchable, inviolate, and mildly insane.
Insane is a strong word. Delusional narcissist is probably more fitting. After all, no right-minded soul would agree to that all-white photo shoot. No one would meet Michael Jordan and tell him that he could beat him one-on-one. No one with less rhythm would record this song, let alone one called “Thug Poet.”
Let’s wind that one back — Kobe Bryant, who thinks hardcore is making a lockjaw pelican face, once recorded a song called “Thug Poet.” And I am supposed to trust him? Kobe Bryant doesn’t have teammates, he has serfs. This inevitably explains why Luke Walton is on the team. He seems like a pretty chill bro.
Only a slightly deranged person wakes up one morning and decides to tell other grown men to call him “The Black Mamba.” But unlike George “T-Bone” Costanza, Kobe Bean actually got his wish. When you can drop 81 points in a game and win championships, people accept flaws as autistic eccentricity. There is no such thing as a bad shot if you make it.
But that streak is smoke. Granted, Kobe might acquire some stray plutonium and human growth hormone and eke another very good season or two out of his weary and surgically repaired frame. But for all practical purposes, his days as a number one option on a championship team are finished. Of course, this is no surprise to anyone who has been vaguely following the team. Last year’s Game 7 against the Celtics exposed the severity of the decline. Only a Kendrick Perkins injury, a Queensbridge miracle, and a total Celtics collapse allowed the Lakers to overcome Kobe’s 6-for-24 fiasco.
Saying the Lakers run a “Triangle Offense” is like saying that the Chinese are “Socialist.” No team takes more tough shots than the Lakers and it all begins with Bryant, whose limited offense slate involves hoisting 25-footers or jackknifing fadeaway jumpers over one or more defenders. Barring Bynum bullying around various big men in the low post, they never got an easy look at the rim. And even if they did, they couldn’t hit it.
Derek Fisher, the one-time 4th quarter savior turned into a torso of a Greek statue — immobile, overly muscled, and sans legs. Blame Kobe’s insistence on re-signing the only person that would watch ”Burn Notice” with him, Phil Jackson’s over-reliance on veterans, and Los Angeles’ inate inability to acknowledge the ravages of time. Even in his prime, Fisher couldn’t start regularly on Golden State, but somehow the Lakers had the hubris to think that at nearly 37, he could helm a championship team. Rather than start Shannon Brown, the team’s only raw athlete, they opted to let the Captain sink.
You can play the blame game all day. Kobe never practiced. Pau Gasol showed the toughness of a Swiss sommelier. Ron Artest developed a caveman touch as though he’d been tutored by Mike Smrek. Steve Blake and Matt Barnes were such poor free agent signings that you’d think Frank McCourt had been a special advisor. Lamar Odom invited a reality camera crew into practices and spent the rest of his days hanging out with a guy who I’m pretty sure is Bobby Bottle Service. Yes, distractions.
But any New York or LA team will always suffer from the same stigmatisms. Shaq spent his off season’s hanging out with Biggie, Mobb Deep, and Jay, and he was usually good for 30 and 12. It wasn’t that they didn’t give a fuck, it was that they didn’t give a fuck about each other. Two straight championships had left them lazy and exhausted, unable and unwilling to play defense, and running an offense that would seem disorganized at Venice Beach.
Until Phil writes his next tell-all, our only glance into the disarray was one telling quote from Andrew Bynum, the only one who didn’t play like he couldn’t wait to go butterfly hunting in the offseason. “The Lakers had trust issues.” Trust issues. We were supposed to believe that a three-peat and $91 million in salaries were going up in smoke thanks a plot point from “I Love You, Man.” The franchise tried to spin the Biden-worthy gaffe by making it a veiled reference to their lack of help D, but it’s pretty clear what Andrew Bynum meant — they hated each other.
It was evident every time they ran their constipated offense. Kobe gunning as many shots as Gasol and Bynum combined. A team of scorers, but no spot-up shooters. Without ball movement or easy baskets, they could never catch fire. Couple that with five exhausted players suiting up for all 82 games (Kobe, Artest, Lamar, Pau, and Fisher) and you have the worst outside shooting team in the playoffs.
And then there was Kobe, quietly seething at the deterioration of his abilities, but unwilling to face reality. Even his most impressive performance, his 36-point paroxysm in Game 1 vs. Dallas was tempered by his inability to get a single assist. He seemingly only comes in two modes, The Terminator who takes every (bad) shot, or the smug pass-first facilitator who plays like his primary goal is to prove that he’s not selfish.
These are grown professionals getting paid obscene sums of money, but sometimes, human emotions trump all. There are trust issues because Kobe remains the cold, cruelly intelligent magician no longer able to wriggle out of handcuffs. His teammates’ eyes roll, they tune out his time out sermons, his unasked-for suggestions. You don’t need to hire Khloe Kardashian’s personal body language guru to spot it. It was tumorous and it metasized with every loss.
It leaves the Lakers in an untenable position. There is the toxic Barry Bonds of basketball — child of a pro, blessed with superior advantages since birth, unable to relate to a single soul in the locker room. You have a roster built to beat Boston, suddenly forced to compete in a volcanic, freakishly athletic era. Miami, Oklahoma City and Chicago could all ransack the Lakers. To say nothing of Dallas, whose crafty star is the same age as Kobe, yet continues to evolve and thrive.
Magic Johnson called for the Lakers to be blown up, but no one wants these contracts. This is a franchise that has to pay Luke Walton and Derek Fisher $20 million over the next two years, let alone the eight figure sums owed almost every starter. Phil Jackson’s gone and Chris Paul and Dwight Howard don’t come on the market for another year. They need to get younger, quicker, deeper, and learn how to shoot straight. And at the core, they need the Thug Poet to come to grips with his own mortality. Give Bynum 20 shots a game, look for Gasol’s shot before his own, and stop making that fucking lockjaw caveman face. It’s really weird.
When Bynum hacksawed Barea, it was a manifestation of a deeper unrest within their psyche. Their decade-long reign of terror was expiring as rapidly as a bad Bin Laden joke. A team built for seven brutal games of trench warfare got swept by one whose best player played so little D that he was once called “Irk.” Bynum was the only goon and suddenly, footnotes like J.J. Barea could destroy them. It’s not that the Lakers need to be blown up. It’s that they need to start living on planet earth.
Jeff Weiss is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He edits the Passion of the Weiss and regularly contributes to the LA Times, LA Weekly, and the NME. On his best days, he has been mistaken on the basketball court for Luis Scola. He can be found lying on Twitter here.