Comparing the Lakers - Past and Present
So how does this year's team compare to the Lakers teams of the past? The common thread among all Lakers championship teams is a dominant center (Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar), and the 1999 squad has the NBA's most dominant in Shaquille O'Neal. All Lakers championship teams also featured high-powered scorers (Mikan, West, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy, Johnson); O'Neal, Glen Rice, and Kobe Bryant all fit that bill.
The potential weaknesses of this year's team are inconsistent point guard play and the intangibles. Derek Fisher and Derek Harper are both quality contributors at the point, and the triangle doesn't rely heavily on the position. But the Lakers could face some difficulty come playoff time against a strong defensive team. As for the intangibles, the Lakers teams of the '80s got stingy defense from Michael Cooper, tough rebounds from Kurt Rambis, and clutch points from Byron Scott. Players like Rick Fox and Robert Horry may need to step up their play even more if one of the big three are having a rough night. The Lakers also aren't significantly deep. If one of their key players suffers an injury, or if they play against a team like the Portland Trail Blazers that includes enough quality players for two starting lineups, the Lakers lack of depth may be exploited.
From a collecting standpoint, a championship trophy would have an immediate impact on card values. David Robinson cards were extremely cold until the San Antonio Spurs won the 1999 title. O'Neal's cards were very hot when he first joined the NBA in 1992, but an inability to lead his teams to a title diminished his hobby standing. As this season has worn on, and the Lakers have dominated the competition, collectors have begun to wake up to O'Neal collectibles. Back in November, a PSA 10 1992-93 Upper Deck Shaquille O'Neal rookie card (SP, #1) had an Sportscard Market Report (SMR) value of $425. In April, that value had jumped to $550.
Although Bryant cards are already very expensive, a championship may boost his hobby standing even more. A PSA 10 1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant rookie (#138) is valued at $1,000 in the April 2000 SMR. Collectors have always unjustly ignored Glen Rice, but a title may energize his hobby standing. Most fans don't realize that Rice has averaged over 20 points-per-game during his 10-year career.
The Lakers are the favorite to win this year's title. After putting together two long winning streaks earlier this year, L.A. showed that they had the mettle to maintain consistent play over long periods of time. The Lakers truest tests are likely to come in the Western conference playoff race. Teams like Portland and the San Antonio Spurs will probably be a tougher test than any foe the Lakers would face from the Eastern conference. As long as the triangle offense is working, the Lakers are the team to beat. And this particular triangle may be the foundation for the next Lakers dynasty.
Note: For a look at the Los Angeles Lakers of the past, click on Watching the Los Angeles Lakers - Then and Now, Part 1.