This appears on philstar.com
Looking at Aldridge Spurning LA
by rick olivares
One team celebrates while another gnashes its teeth and asks, “How has it come to this?”
One of the prized free agents this summer, LaMarcus Aldridge, late of the Portland Trailblazers, has announced via Twitter, that he is going to join Greg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili over at San Antonio to try and win another NBA championship.
Aldridge isn’t the only one to spurn the Lakers, Detroit power forward Greg Monroe opted to go to the Milwaukee instead of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers! Remember when the Bucks’ Lew Alcindor left Milwaukee and Oscar Robertson for the Lakers? Now Monroe chooses the Bucks who he believes to be a better fit for him and that has a bigger chance of competing for a NBA title!
The Lakers were able to avoid a strike three when they landed the Indiana Pacers’ troubled center Roy Hibbert.
A long time ago, I read about how the Lakers was one of the more desirable NBA destinations (this was in the mid-1990s) if not the preferred destination.
Why not? The celebrities came out to watch championship-caliber teams with Magic Johnson running the point guard position. There too was the great weather, the allure of Hollywood, a great location with good golf facilities and business opportunities.
Remember how Mychal Thompson proved to be a huge addition to LA in the mid-1980s as the Lakers won the first back-to-back NBA titles since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics?
How about when they landed Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol, and even Dwight Howard?
Of course, people conveniently forget that this was a different time. The purple and gold were perennial NBA contenders. But if you look at the Lakers, the one time they looked like a fun bunch was the 1980s. When they won their lone title with Wilt Chamberlain, they were mostly an underachieving bunch. In the 90s after Johnson hung up his sneakers for good, they were dysfunctional -- good teams that never seemed to put it together.
When they won in the new millennium, they nabbed an incredible three-peat in spite of being a nightmarish soap opera. It all coalesced in 2004 when they were defeated by Detroit, 4-1, in the NBA Finals despite starting four Hall-of-Famers in O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton.
Head coach Phil Jackson wrote a book about that trying season titled, “The Last Season: A Team in Search of its Soul that detailed the problems that plagued the team that season. More recently, in the wake of allegations by Robert Horry that he couldn’t wait to get out of there, you wonder if that the family atmosphere only pertains to the Busses and nothing else. Remember too how they tried to trade Gasol on numerous occasions? Howard wanted no part of the feuding with Bryant that he skipped town after one season in purple and gold.
Like everything else, the worms turns for everyone. Since their last NBA title during the 2009-10 season, the Lakers have hit rock bottom. They finished 21-61 and 27-55 the past two seasons. They have an ageing star in Bryant – albeit one of the best of all-time – who still commands the volume of touches and will continue to do so upon his return – some young and exciting talent. But not much.
Since the San Antonio Spurs brought in Popovich and Duncan, the team has been remarkably consistent in its contender status as well as culture. When you see players who could opt out and move to another team for max money and for the status of being the Man but stay put that has to say something about the organization.
Jerry Krause used to contradict Michael Jordan by saying that organizations not teams win championships. The answer is in between. In the years post-Jordan the Chicago Bulls struggled to attract top free agents. The thinking is, “If the Bulls could low-ball Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson, then how much more them considering they haven’t won anything?” Since then the Bulls, of course, have become a better organization by bringing in solid people but they just can’t seem to find themselves out of controversies and infighting.
When Aldridge spurned Los Angeles for San Antonio, it was a clear signal that history and Hollywood isn’t everything. Sure, Aldridge is going home to Texas, his home state but there’s more to that as well. The reality is he is also going to another team with some glittering history itself. Furthermore, you get none of those barbs and tirades between players, front office types, and whatnot as for close to two decades now, the Spurs have run an efficient ship.
You hear stories of how Steve Kerr (backed with Golden State’s owners) have also created a great atmosphere and I couldn’t help but think that playing for a sound team isn’t so bad. If Andre Igoudala didn’t make a fuss about coming off the bench then that was a major factor. Think of Manu Ginobili sometimes starting and sometimes coming off the bench. How many NBA titles does he have?
The old model doesn’t work. Welcome to the new NBA.