The New Year provides us with a chance to reflect back on the previous year: on what went wrong and what went right, successes, failures, and everything between.
This year, however, as we welcome in a new decade and the calendar flips to 2020, many are looking back on the previous 10 years and what they have brought.
For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s been a period filled with uncharacteristic instability. From the unfortunate passing of beloved owner Dr. Jerry Buss to the streak of missing the playoffs, the past decade has featured a number of moments that simply weren’t very Lakers-like.
And yet, a little greatness still fell the way of the purple and gold. Kobe Bryant gave fans a parting gift that will never be forgotten when he dropped 60 points in the final game of his career. Now, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in town, the Lakers look ready to contend for championships again.
Given the roller coaster of a decade it’s been, I’m going to take a look back at the best players to put on the purple and gold over the last 10 years. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of just how much talent has come through Los Angeles despite spending much of the time mired in a rebuild.
Derek Fisher (Point Guard): Great teams may be built around All-Star players, but they need great role players in order to get to the top of the NBA mountain. Fisher was just acting as the team’s point guard during multiple championship runs. Despite being a point guard, Fisher didn’t always act as the initiator on offense; instead he frequently played off-ball while Kobe Bryant controlled the action.
Known for playing pesky defense and hitting big shots when the team called upon him, the unflappable Fisher notched an impressive net rating of 9.8 in 2010-2011. While the 2019-20 Lakers have embraced the ‘star in your role’ mantra, it was Fisher who personified the sentiment years earlier.
Kobe Bryant (Shooting Guard): What can be said about Bryant that hasn’t already been said? With two decades spent in purple and gold, five championships, and a plethora of unforgettable moments, Bryant is the greatest Laker of all-time. During the cursed 2012-13 season, Bryant put the team on his back once more and willed them to the NBA playoffs while averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 38.6 minutes per game.
The strain of pulling the team into the playoffs ultimately led to a torn Achilles for Bryant, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Bryant would eventually return and while the Lakers went into a rebuilding period, he emptied the tank in the final game of his career in 2016, scoring 60 points and leading the Lakers to a win over the Utah Jazz.
LeBron James (Small Forward): The arrival of James in 2018 NBA free agency signaled the long rebuild was over and the team would prepare to contend for championships again. While the 2018-19 season didn’t go as planned as James missed 27 games due to injury, things have turned around this season.
Turning 35 years old, James has proven he still has plenty left in the tank, leading the league in assists (10.8) while positioning the team atop the Western Conference. He may not have as much time in purple and gold as many others on this list, but James’ impact on all aspects of the team has been massive.
Anthony Davis (Power Forward): While James brought championship aspirations back to Los Angeles, it wasn’t until Davis arrived via trade that the Lakers had the firepower to be considered serious contenders. A favorite for the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, Davis has been invaluable on both ends of the floor while pairing perfectly with James on a potent new-look Lakers team.
In a nod to the past, the James-Davis pairing has a similar feel to the dynamic duo of Bryant-Pau Gasol that opened the decade. Time will tell if they can reach the same level of success.
Pau Gasol (Center): The Spanish big man provided Bryant with a kindred basketball spirit, someone who thought the game on the same level, and the results were impressive. With a soft touch around the rim, keen passing sense, and the versatility to float between power forward and center, Gasol was an indispensable part of the team’s success.
While Bryant was the team’s engine, it was Gasol doing the work in the paint that pushed them towards contention. An All-Star in 2010-11, Gasol averaged 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.6 blocks as one of the league’s premier post players.
Lamar Odom (Power Forward): Moving to the second unit, Odom was simply ahead of his time. Oozing versatility before it became a necessity in today’s NBA, fans can only imagine how devastating Odom could have been had he come along one generation later. Still, he made a massive impact on the Lakers thanks to his ability to operate both in the post and on the perimeter while acting as an initiator on the offensive end. He’s one of the greatest sixth men ever and his 2010-11 averages of 14.4 points (38 percent shooting from the three-point line), 8.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists highlight just how multifaceted his game was.
Andrew Bynum (Center): While injuries would ultimately derail his promising career, there was a time where Bynum was considered to be one of the very best centers in the NBA. During the 2011-12 season, he posted an impressive stat line of 18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks, creating a terrifying trio with Gasol and Odom. Surprisingly athletic for a player his size, Bynum was ultimately traded by the Lakers before injuries took the game away from him, but his impact was nonetheless massive.
Lou Williams (Shooting Guard): Ultimately, the game comes down to putting the ball in the basket and Williams is an absolute expert at that. He’s one of the greatest bench scorers the league has ever seen, providing instant offense with his shooting ability (especially moving to his left), court vision, and uncanny knack for getting to the free-throw line. The Lakers traded Williams during their rebuilding phase, but his 18.6 points per game in just 24.2 minutes in 2016-17 was one of the most impressive displays fans have ever seen by a reserve.
Dwight Howard (Center): While this is certainly a controversial selection since Howard left the team in free agency after a single season, that wrong has been righted this season. Coming off an injury, Howard was still impressive in 2012-13, averaging 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks. While that season would ultimately go down in infamy, Howard mended fences with his return in 2019-20, impressing all involved by accepting a bench role that has proven to be extremely valuable.
Metta World Peace (Small Forward): Every team needs a player that can get under the skin of opponents and the defensive-minded Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) did just that. Known for his quirks, World Peace gave the Lakers a defender who could lock up some of the best swingmen in the league with his physical strength and quick hands. While his 2010-11 season doesn’t jump off the page as he averaged 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds, World Peace’s contributions become clearer when factoring in his net rating of 9.1 thanks to his defensive prowess.