The Lakers Are the Team of the Decade

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Team of the decade.

    It would be great to start an argument here about the NBA Team of the Decade, bringing out all that Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich ammunition (then we could even use one of those Tony/Eva bathing suit pictures), about the wonderful consistency and championship model that was built and sustained in San Antonio.

    The Spurs have, after all, won more games than anyone else since 2000. They also have been the picture of class.

    But it is too much of a stretch now.

    When this season began, there still was real debate over which NBA franchise could claim this first decade of the 21st century. While the Lakers captured the '80s after getting through the smoky haze of Red Auerbach cigars, and the Chicago Bulls owned the '90s, a war was being waged right to the end for the '00s.

    Kobe Bryant made it official on Sunday. The Los Angeles Lakers didn't just win another championship. They won the decade.
    They started by winning three consecutive titles ('00, '01 and '02), and they finished by winning another one, positioning themselves to start all the talk of a repeat if they are bold enough to keep this fragile mix together through a summer of free agency.

    "This team could be in position to be playing here (in the Finals) the next three, four, five years,'' said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak from the sweaty and victorious post-game locker room. "That doesn't mean it's going to be here, or mean it's going to win here, but the talent is young enough and good enough to do it."

    If the Lakers don't mind staying in the luxury-tax territory for a few more years - and they shouldn't because their profit margin is as high as any in the league -- they can re-sign both free agents Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza.

    If he stays healthy, center Andrew Bynum should be considerably better than he was through this postseason, when the Lakers sometimes won despite his foul-plagued presence. With Kobe and Pau Gasol serving as the 1-2 punch, and the same supporting cast, the Lakers will move into the next decade as the team to beat, with or without Phil Jackson sitting on his throne.

    In between their four titles to San Antonio's three, the Lakers also reached the Finals and lost two other times. The Spurs never finished second. San Antonio owns a 576 to 530 regular season edge in regular season victories, but the Lakers led 98 to 83 in playoff victories.

    The Spurs never needed to rebuild, winning at least 53 games all 10 seasons, while the Lakers took the rollercoaster route, falling to 34 wins after they dealt Shaquille O'Neal to Miami before rising again.

    The Shaq/Kobe era in Los Angeles was a glamorous but tumultuous one, By contrast, the Spurs were so even keel it was scary. Yet their run faded the last two years. Duncan is wearing down. Popovich is wearing out. Kobe is in his prime, better now than he ever was. Everyone else in the decade was a one-year wonder.

    It was Kupchak who rebuilt this team to last, enduring plenty of criticism and second guessing along the way. He was the one who orchestrated the steal of Pau Gasol last season from Memphis. He saw the potential of Ariza in Orlando while everyone else wavered. He refused to trade Bryant, even when Kobe pouted.

    The Lakers proved that you don't need a No. 1 pick in the draft from which to build. They originally got O'Neal as a free agent, then traded him after he had worn out his welcome, getting pieces to fit around Bryant.

    "We proved that the rebuilding phase had a beginning, and an end, and that it just took a little patience,'' Kupchak said. "It doesn't take 15 years to rebuild. It takes some time, but it doesn't take forever to do it.''