Monday, May 9, 2011

Issues of corporate succession in the purple and gold

Any business has to deal with issues of corporate succession. When do you kick the old guard out, and when do you let the new guard run the show? This is a prime concern at a number of companies, Apple being one of them.

And it is also a concern with sports teams, such as the Los Angeles Lakers.

In the case of the Lakers, I'm not talking about the ownership, or about the front office, or about the coaching staff - and yes, there is a coaching issue that the Lakers must address.

In this case, I'm talking about the players.

You'll recall that the Lakers went through this issue a few years ago, when things neatly boiled down to the question of whether the Lakers should keep Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant. The Lakers chose to move away from experience and chose the younger player, the immature player who had just fought off a rape allegation. Initially, it appeared that the Lakers had made the wrong decision, as O'Neal helped a team (interestingly, the Miami Heat) win a title, while the Lakers were mired in mediocrity. But in the long term, the situation changed. O'Neal left the Heat, and then left the Phoenix Suns, and then he left the Cleveland Cavaliers and took his talents to Boston. Meanwhile, the Lakers racked up two titles and were challenging for a third.

Today, Kobe is the experienced old guard player, and the young guard is represented by Andrew Bynum, who was recently ejected for a flagrant foul - on the Minnesota Timberwolves' Michael Beasley. Stop me if you've heard this one after:

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum was assessed a flagrant foul 2 on Friday for striking Minnesota Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley in the chest with his right elbow and bringing Beasley to the floor.

The foul came with 6:16 remaining in the fourth quarter....

That was in March. Of course, today everyone is talking about another flagrant foul:

[W]e know Bynum will be wearing street clothes to start next season after he was ejected for knocking J.J. Barea to the ground during yet another drive to the hoop by the guard, shortly after Lamar Odom was ejected for cracking Dirk Nowitzki to begin the Lakers meltdown. Bynum said he was frustrated that Barea kept coming down the lane. That's no excuse. It's a suspendable offense, and a lesson he hasn't learned from the time he had to sit for a similar hit on Michael Beasley.

And the reaction has been mostly negative. Some more negative than others. Chris Richardson quotes the messages that have been placed on Bynum's Facebook page, including one from a clueless person who proposes an inappropriate response to Bynum's violent act:

Bynum your the definition of a ghetto loser!! Why don’t you back to the hood where you belong, you no class loser!!! I would gladly spit in your face you ain’t nothing but a CHUMP!!!

I found a classic one myself. Keep Kobe Bryant's recent league fine in mind while reading:

Melvin Pagan Del Monte

Hi Andrew. Just passed to say you are the biggest crap and loser on the earth. Grow balls and learn to lose. You are a faggot. Yes, a faggot. I liked the Lakers but after that shit attitude by you, [Intercourse] them. If they don't trade you away, Lakers are dead for me. JJ Barea killed you and the Lakers. The smallest guy on the court show heart, passion and desire for the game. Something that you will never have. Bye Injury Prone and I Hope next season, you turn your ACL and get a Season ending injury. Sincerely. [Intercourse] You Bynum! Piece of crap.

However, it should be noted that both commenters knew how to spell "loser" correctly. Sadly, many of the commenters don't.

In such an environment, Monday morning quarterbacks (if I may mix my sports terms) are all calling for Andrew Bynum to be jettisoned. These fouls, plus his tendency toward injury, are causing people to call for Bynum's removal and for the Lakers to bring in someone else. (Incidentally, it's interesting when people argue that player X is damaged goods, but then naturally assume that some other team would love to take the player, while you'd get some other player for a song. I'm sorry, but Pau Gasol-type deals only happen once in a lifetime, and even that trade is being re-examined - and will definitely be re-examined if Marc Gasol heads to the NBA Western Conference Finals and Pau doesn't.)

But what if the Lakers went the other way? Here's what I tweeted Sunday night:

@VivianVivisect I'll grant that I didn't see the game (or the ejection), but I believe Bynum should be the nucleus of the new Lakers.

What if history repeated itself and the Lakers kept young player Andrew Bynum and got rid of the old player Kobe Bryant?

The same article that criticized Bynum's play against the Mavericks noted that Bryant is past his prime:

[Potential future coach Brian] Shaw is a familiar and respected voice for Kobe Bryant, and that's a big factor, especially since the next coach will have to say "no" to Bryant with increasing frequency. These were the first playoffs in more than a decade in which Bryant wasn't able to take over or close out games. He was 12-for-37 in the playoff fourth quarters that mattered; we won't include the two shots he missed in 4 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter Sunday, when the Lakers were hopelessly behind on their way to a shameful 122-86 sweeptastic loss to the Mavericks.

The truth is that while Bryant remains the Lakers' best and most consistent player, the team's fortunes aren't directly tied only to him anymore. The Lakers were at their best at the beginning of the season when Pau Gasol was playing like an MVP, and immediately after the All-Star break when Andrew Bynum became a defensive monster.

And Bryant may have been disruptive in some areas:

[Pau Gasol's] sudden and odd postseason disappearance was the most obvious reason for the Lakers' troubles, his fall completed Sunday when he scored 10 points while being pushed around by everyone but his coach, who thankfully refrained from hitting him for a second consecutive game.

"I have to learn from this," Gasol said. ''I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court."

He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant's wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.

Whatever was happening, Bryant and Gasol haven't connected on the court in a month, and the Lakers have been lost without the strength of their fusion.

Now the Lakers players aren't publicly going through the same level of acrimony that they did the last time Phil Jackson left, but what if the Lakers were rebuilt around Andrew Bynum? Now admittedly teams wouldn't trade for the likes of a well-paid Luke Walton, but perhaps someone would be willing to pay for a Kobe Bryant.

Well, we'll see what Mitch Kupchak will do next. A few year ago, he was a goat. Then he suddenly became a genius. Now he's not a genius any more, but we'll see what happens (although we should give his moves a couple of years before we evaluate them.)

Presumably the decision on a new head coash will come first, and there's this whole work stoppage looming, but Kupchak will be the center of attention in the near future. Let's see what he does with his corporation.
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