What at first looked like a great off-season for the Lakers, with the signings of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, has turned into a nightmare because of Kobe Bryant’s rape case. Kobe has been accused of raping an employee at a spa in Eagle County, Colorado on June 30. If convicted of the charges, he faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Kobe said that he did not rape the woman accusing him and that the two had consensual sex. He said that his only mistake was cheating on his wife.
Kobe’s sexual assault case is not the only problem this season. The Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal feud has started up again, with Shaq telling Kobe that he needs to be more of a team player and that the Lakers are Shaq’s team. Kobe responded by calling Shaq "selfish," "childlike," "unprofessional," "fat" and "jealous." The good news about this problem is that both players have downplayed the incident. They have insisted that it’s over and blamed the media for fueling the controversy.
But some still say this season could be lost. But not me, not with Shaq, Malone and Payton in the lineup. Of course there will be media distractions that come with a high-profile rape case against Kobe, but Shaq, Malone and Payton are veterans and have been through a lot. Ignoring distractions will not be anything new for them.
Also worth noting: Malone signed for one year at $1.5 million with a second-year option, and Payton signed a multi-year contract for just $4.9 million. Both could have signed for much more somewhere else. This shows that the two tested veterans are more interested in winning a championship than making money. The starting lineup has four all-stars and likely Hall of Famers and a blossoming small forward in Devean George.
The starting lineup:
Shaq — No matter what anyone says about his heart or toe or whatever, the Lakers will have to run their offense through him to win. Nobody can stop him. He’s big. He’s agile. And he can run and dunk and rebound. He is still the most dominant player ever. Shaq took a lot of heat from the media last season for waiting so long to get toe surgery, so look forward to having him back at full speed, ’cause Shaq don’t take no crap from nobody.
Karl "The Mailman" Malone — OK, so this guy is what … 40 years old? But coming into his 19th year in the league, he can still hold his own against the top forwards in the league, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki, etc. The offense won’t run through him this season and he has to accept that, but if you were Karl, and you already were the only player to reach 35,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists and 2,000 steals, would you rather break a scoring record or have a ring? Malone’s 36,374 points trail only former Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387. The record is still within range, but sharing the offense with Kobe, Shaq and Payton will cut into his 25.4 career scoring average.
Devean George — So he might be a no-name to numerous fans in the league, but they’ll hear about him really soon. During the past season or so, he has shown what he can do. We saw flashes of it every so often last season, and he’s still young (26). His stats show it, too. He averaged 6.9 points per game last year with 4 rebounds, all in just 22 minutes. Not bad at all. He’s a budding young small forward, and it will be great for him to learn a few things from what may be the Dream Team of the NBA.
Kobe — Just his name gives defenders nightmares. He can drive, shoot that 15-footer and the three-pointer, then come right back with some crazy dunk that defies gravity. You know what’s scary? The man is getting better every stinkin’ year! Just take a look at his stats: from 25 points per game in 2001-2002 to 30 last year, and from 5.5 rebounds in 2001-02 to 6.9 last year, plus he shot three-pointers 13 percent better. He also increased from 5.5 assists a game to 5.9 last year. Even with his legal problems, it shouldn’t make a difference on the court. Basketball is what he breathes.
Gary "The Glove" Payton — One of the game’s best defenders, and one of the best point guards. He provides stability at the point and has a career scoring average of 20 points per game. Although he never averaged more than 9 assists per game, it’s not out of the question to see him beat that mark this year since his points will probably go down.
With all these great players on one court, there is need for a great coach on the bench and who else would you pick but the "Zen master," Phil Jackson? He has been around all the toughest personalities in the league, and has experience. I mean he molded Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman into a championship caliber team! If he can make those three players work together and swallow their egos, he can most certainly make Kobe, Shaq, Malone and Payton work together as a team. I’m sure that Jackson’s experience with coaching will help limit the distractions from the rape case. Although Jackson has not been through something like this, he will most likely brush it off and still keep the team in order.