Heisler: Still the Lakers after all these years

LOS ANGELES – Still crazy after all these years….

There was a time when the Lakers were just a good NBA team, like their romantic underdogs in the ‘60s with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, and the Showtime teams that threw off the Celtics’ dominance in the ‘80s.

Then came Shaq, Kobe and, a few years later, Phil, and nothing was the same for years….

Besides the feud that broke up their dynasty with three titles when Shaq was shipped to Miami as Kobe turned 26, the Lakers had Phil, who could whip up a firestorm on a whim, like calling Sacramento fans “semi-civilized red-neck barbarians”–before going there to play the Kings–or zinging Shaq the year he vowed to come in at 300 and arrived closer to 400.

Then, of course, there were Kobe’s Days of Rage in 2007, going off on Jerry Buss, trying to get himself traded all summer, followed by….

Peace?

From the summer of 2007 to April 22, 2012, nothing bad happened except some unexplained phenomena, like Kobe being accused by three local columnists of “pouting” in a playoff loss, or Kwame Brown hitting a fan in the face with a birthday cake.

(The last wasn’t really a big deal. Kwame and teammates were celebrating Ronny Turiaf’s birthday when they ran into a fan carrying his own cake. As a joke, Kwame swiped at it, and wound up batting it into the fan’s face. As bad as Kwame’s hands were, it shouldn’t have even been a surprise.)

Welcome to the good/bad old days with the Drew-Metta Lakers.

Drew is Andrew Bynum, who became an All-Star starter at 24, but eclipsed even that with enough antics to become the Javale McGee of the star players.

Metta World Peace, of course, needs no introduction.

Both had already had their moments this season, with Metta pointing out Coach Mike Brown’s “video coordinator” background, and Drew not only expressing surprise at being yanked for shooting a three, but vowing to launch more.

It looked like part of a bumpy transition to the new coach by more players than them, including Derek Fisher and Bryant, pushing discreetly for a return to the triangle offense, even as they kept teammates in line behind Brown.

By April 22, the last home game, the Lakers were feeling good about themselves… so Metta was just being Metta when he elbowed James Harden, who got in his way as he celebrated his emergence after a slow start (or whatever you call it when a starting player averages 4.9 at the break).

This was nothing. As Ron Artest, he started the 2004 Auburn Hill riots, one of the worst moments in NBA history, charging into the stands after a fan threw a drink at him and punching the wrong one.

Hey, he’s Metta, nice as can be with a big, charitable heart off the floor, not only loco on it but strong enough to finish riots as well as start them.

Why he’s here in the first place is for the Lakers to explain.

With Trevor Ariza a perfect fit, it wasn’t a great idea to give him a deadline to sign in 2009, then give Artest, who wouldn’t fit at all, five years at $33 million, thinking it was a coup.

They wound up getting their money’s worth in one game—No. 7 of the 2010 Finals against Boston, Artest scoring 20 points to bail the Lakers out with Bryant going 6-for-24.

Click here for Heisler video commenting on the sensationalized media coverage of this year’s NBA playoffs.

Not that a 6-7, 260-pound small forward was a perfect fit as they got older and creakier, and with the adoption of an amnesty rule, Metta was favored to go on the Laker cut list, until they found they had no one else who could start there.

They’re getting along OK without him against the Nuggets. The Lakers went up 3-1 by pulling out a tight Game 4 in Denver, where Bynum, who had just been torched in the L.A. press for acknowledging he was “maybe not ready to play” in Game 3, was asked the usual question about the last, er, next game.

“Close-out games are actually kinda easy,” said Bynum, continuing to err on the brash, or dumb, side.

“Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard.”

It’s true. I can say it. You can say it. Charles Barkley says it before every closeout game and some that aren’t.

But with Bynum saying it, the Nuggets came out on fire. It was the Lakers who folded, trailing by 15 in the last 6:15, so even Kobe’s four 3s in 3:46 couldn’t bring them all the way back.

So the not-as-old-as-they-were-but-not-young-either Lakers have to win Thursday in Denver… or Saturday in Los Angeles… and hope the Thunder gets rusty with eight days off, or forget how to play altogether in 10 days.

Well, it’s OK, or at least not a total disaster if Drew learns his lesson, isn’t it?

Well, in theory.

Rather than announce, “I’ll never do anything like that again,” Bynum noted his statement might have been correct but the team failed to play hard.

Possibly because it was distracted, with so many players who wanted to choke him.

(With a lethargic-looking 16 and 11, Drew was overshadowed by none other than JaVale McGee, who had been ranked ahead of Drew among knuckleheads.)

I’ve been Bynum’s biggest booster in the L.A. press corps since the days when fans and more Lakers than Kobe wanted to trade him for Jason Kidd.

If Drew did dumb things—parking in a handicapped zone, carrying a Playboy hostess on his shoulders at a party while supposedly rehabbing his injured knee, elbowing J.J. Barea—he kept getting better by leaps and bounds.

Wilt couldn’t make up for stuff like this. I saw Wilt, and Drew is no Wilt.

Of course, if there’s a Game 7, Metta can play in it!

He hasn’t exactly recanted either, telling Conan O’Brien, “I felt something, but I didn’t know it was an actual head. It could’ve been a shoulder. I knew somebody suffered something at that point but I didn’t know it was Harden until I got in the locker room.

“Actually, he does that a lot, not to me, he runs into people’s elbows and puts his chin out there.”

Metta may have been kidding, which would make it merely bad taste, but with him, how can you tell?

It remains to be seen if his return is good or bad news for the Lakers, who are still the Lakers after all these years.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops, LakersNation and the Old Gray Lady. His power rankings appear Wednesday and his columns appear Thursday. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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  1. Kevin Matthews says

    Your recollection of the Wilt-West-Baylor and Showtime Lakers is more than a little off. You don’t remember the clashes between Wilt and coach? The (self)benching in Game 7 against the Celtics? How about Magic Johnson requesting a trade? Those years were anything but the idyllic nostalgia you are presenting.

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