Are the Lakers focused on repeating?
- Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImageOne of the keys for L.A.'s title defense is keeping Artest's off-the-court distractions to a minimum.
As the Los Angeles Lakers reconvene after that oh-so-short NBA victors' summer, they face the same question we wonder about every champion: "Did Lamar sign a prenup?"
Okay, so maybe Lamar Odom's decision to marry a Kardashian sister he'd known for less than a month isn't your typical topic to chew on at the start of basketball season. But it's standard operating procedure in Lakerland.
This doesn't even qualify for a full-scale alert based on media days past. There was the time the team fretted over the whereabouts of Kobe Bryant, who didn't make the team's flight to training camp in Hawaii after a summer in which he'd been accused of sexual assault (he showed up the next day).
Or there was the time Bryant arrived fashionably late to media day after an offseason of trade demands and a videotaped verbal takedown of teammate Andrew Bynum.
And it's not as if the franchise hasn't dealt with famous spouses before. The 1999 lockout season featured Vanessa Williams and Carmen Electra lingering outside the locker room, waiting on Rick Fox and Dennis Rodman, respectively. At least they didn't come with their own reality TV show cameras, though.
Not that the Lakers would even notice a few extra minicams and producers. There was a little production group following around Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss at one recent media day as she attempted to launch her own reality show (when that didn't happen she just resorted to filming her own behind-the-scenes interviews with boyfriend/coach Phil Jackson and posting them on the Web).
What does all this have to do with repeating as champions? Absolutely nothing. And, really, that's the strongest argument against the Lakers winning again. Those training camps with the tumultuous beginnings did not result in victory parades at the end of the season. Every team has its issues, but teams function best when the problems are strictly basketball-related, not contracts or personal lives. The prevailing theme at last year's Lakers media day was: "The Celtics kicked your butts in the Finals last year, what are you going to do about it?" What the Lakers did was hold on to that humiliating feeling, returning to it whenever their attention started to waver, using it to drive their return to the NBA Finals and to finish the job this time.
The week before this year's camp was dominated by the Odom-Khloe Kardashian nuptials. Before that the summer was filled with the eccentricities of Ron Artest -- from his travels to China with an aspiring singer named Shin Shin, to expanding his knowledge of Southern California factoids (such as San Diego has a baseball team called the Padres). Artest showed his priorities from the start of his first Lakers news conference, when he asked where the TMZ cameras were. It was at his party that Odom and Khloe Kardashian met. And that summarizes the Lakers' offseason in one sentence.
Their two biggest moves were re-signing Odom and acquiring Artest, yet both have shown more interest in expanding their worlds beyond the basketball sphere and stepping into the pop culture universe.
From a strictly basketball perspective, the Lakers are equipped to make another championship run. The only loss from last season's team is Trevor Ariza, and they replaced him with a better scorer and stronger defender in Artest. The only players over 30 are Derek Fisher (35) and Bryant (31).
Aging actually suits Bryant well. For a change, none of the Lakers' tabloid stuff centers on him. It's been that way for about a year now. He's gone from courting controversy to avoiding it, finally coming to the realization that it's best to let the basketball be enough. Wonder if his teammates will learn that lesson in time to make this season a success.
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