A Lesson the Current Lakers Roster Can Learn From the 2003-04 Season

Regardless of the current lockout situation occurring in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers still have major work to do. However, this does not necessarily mean they need to make drastic changes to their roster. Yet, the Lakers definitely need to add new blood to their team in order to remain a threat in the Western Conference and in the NBA. Preferably, this new blood will be young and athletic.

Adding superstars to the roster doesn’t guarantee a championship or even a trip to the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan summed up this sentiment perfectly by saying, “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” This past season’s NBA Finals proved that Jordan’s sentiment is correct when the James-Wade-Bosh-led Miami Heat were easily beaten by the “team effort” Dallas Mavericks.

The same could be said of the 2003-2004 Lakers. The team was coming off their three-peat championship dynasty. Injuries led to the Lakers adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton to an already superstar-filled team featuring Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Once this team was formed in 2003, critics, analysts and fans named the Lakers as the heavy favorites to win the Finals. It was hard to argue against this theory because of the amazing talent on the team.

The Lakers went on to win the Pacific Division with a 56-26 record, yet ended up two games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference. The offensive juggernaut, aka the Lakers, beat the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves to meet the defensive-minded Detroit Pistons in the Finals. Once again, the Lakers were named the favorites over the Pistons.

Yet, as we all know, the Pistons had a defensive answer to every offensive move that the Lakers tried to play. When the Pistons beat the Lakers four games to one, the NBA community and the Lakers fans were stunned. However, Phil Jackson was not shocked and saw this coming. When discussing the 2003-2004 Lakers’ team and season, Jackson wrote in his book Sacred Hoops, “we made it to the Finals, but lacked the unity that had defined the Laker squads who won three straight titles.”*

The current Lakers roster saw disappointment in the postseason that came close to the shock of the result of the 2004 Finals. Major roster changes came as a consequence of the 2004 Finals failure since the primary problem was team chemistry and unity. This will be the major difference between these two Lakers teams. Yes, chemistry and unity problems did seem apparent during the postseason, but in a lesser degree than it was in 2004.

Instead of focusing on what, who and how the Lakers can change their current roster, the team should be focusing on how to improve and strengthen who makes up the current team. Of course, there will be changes in some positions in order to make the team stronger and more youthful. However, a complete roster overhaul like what happened after the 2003-2004 season is rather unlikely.

The current Lakers roster has some of the best talent in the league. It may be a bigger mistake to get rid of this type of talent in order to build a team of superstars. As Jordan said, teamwork trumps talent. Especially with possible future salary cap limitations and restrictions, the Lakers will benefit most by building a team based on chemistry.

*Source: Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior

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