Roundtable: Are Lakers focused?
The Lakers' habit of blowing big leads to Utah has called their focus into question
Joe Dumars likely to deal away a number of Pistons stars after playoff loss
Age, playoff games of past may have closed championship window for Spurs
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week.
1. The Lakers made a habit of blowing big leads late in their first-round series with the Jazz. Is this cause for concern or merely a talented team growing bored with an opponent?
Ian Thomsen: Neither! The standard now isn't holding on to big leads; all that matters is winning the night regardless of how it's done. A five-game win is a series blowout, and a strong opening step for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant came up big when they needed him and they began the slog of working Andrew Bynum back into the lineup, with the goal of having him fully operational by the NBA Finals.
Jack McCallum: Can I be wishy-washy here and say a little bit of both? The Lakers' identity is not that of a lockdown defensive team, like, say, the Spurs of yesteryear or even the Celtics of last season. So they don't pride themselves on 48 minutes of D. I think they understand that they are not so far ahead of the rest of the league (like, say, the three-peat Lakers of the beginning of the century), that they can take a lot of time off during games. But they are somewhat vulnerable to that mind-set for two reasons: Phil Jackson has been known to take his foot off the accelerator, and the thought that Kobe will always bail them out of every jam is on everyone's collective back burner. When the Lakers reach the Finals, they will be ready to step it up.
Chris Mannix: I don't think the Lakers should be overly concerned about blowing those late leads to Utah because the culprit was more the bench than the starters. Of greater concern is the health and abilities of Bynum. He had an awful series against Utah and probably needs to be a big factor against the imposing front lines of either Portland or Houston if the Lakers hope to have the same type of success in the second round.
Steve Aschburner: Blowing big leads at least is a lesser problem than allowing big leads. So, nah, it's not a cause for worry, not until you start losing games. Right now, it's a matter of focus and follow-through, because it isn't as if the Lakers' second unit has some fatal flaw. I expect that they will get better at preserving leads as the stakes get higher, the opponents get tougher, the rotation gets tighter and the Larry O'Brien trophy gets closer. Big leads get harder to come by, too, so your opportunities to blow them go down.
Scott Howard-Cooper: It is cause for concern because it's not just about the series against the Jazz. The Lakers' inability to show the mental toughness of a champion has been a prominent issue since the 2008 Finals loss to the Celtics. The first round of '09 merely pointed out, again, the difference between being the most-talented team and the most-dominant team.
The Lakers had no reason to be bored with the opponent after the third quarter of Game 1, the first of what became a series of Jazz comebacks to turn one-time blowouts into tense victories. That second half should have been the alarm clock going off in their ear. It wasn't. There should be a concern. Still.
2. The Pistons enter their offseason with a lot of salary-cap space and a big rebuilding job to do. What do you expect president Joe Dumars to do in the months ahead?
Ian Thomsen: The outcome of this season guarantees that Dumars will move ASAP to remodel his team. You'd never know it from the way they played this year, but the Pistons will be working from a position of strength. They can use their payroll space to fill in around Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey, or even include one of them to pull off a blockbuster. While other teams will be looking to reduce budgets, the Pistons will be ambitious spenders. When that cash is spent, they'll go into next season as one of the league's most interesting teams while attempting to launch a new era.
Jack McCallum: Get rid of Rasheed Wallace, Allen Iverson and Kwame Brown. Build the team around point guard Stuckey, which is what they should've done this season, and convey to Hamilton in no uncertain terms that that is the direction. Tell Prince to get more involved on offense. There will be enough money for a major move, which means they should go after Carlos Boozer or Lamar Odom. But wait a minute: Isn't it in Dumars' aggressive character to go after Odom's teammate, that better-known Laker? Sure, Kobe will probably stay in L.A., but Dumars will be making that phone call.
Chris Mannix: I don't expect Dumars to blow all of his cap space this summer, if that's what you are asking. Certainly the Pistons are in a position to be buyers in a market with only a few of them. But word around the league is that Dumars might have cooled a little on Boozer, and at this point, there is no guarantee Boozer will opt out at all. I'd expect Dumars to try to swing a deal with a team looking to slash an established star off the payroll without taking back much in return -- a Marcus Camby-type of deal. If I'm Bryan Colangelo in Toronto, I would count on seeing that Detroit area code pop up frequently.
Steve Aschburner: First thing we'll get is the beep-beep-beep of the truck being backed up to The Palace. Dumars might wish he were in a neighborhood poker game right now, where he could discard five and draw a whole new hand. The Pistons really were a half-empty, half-full team, heading south with old heroes while trying to head north with young hopefuls. Seeing the future gets easier when you move out the clutter. Gotta figure both Iverson and Wallace are gone, and Prince and Hamilton seem like tradable pieces (Prince has the more movable contract). McDyess, meanwhile, needs a better place for his next last-chance-to-win push, like, hmm, Denver? Boozer seems like a natural free-agent fit -- all his fans from Cleveland can drive back up to Auburn Hills to cheer him on -- and a wing player able to create scoring would fill a real need.
Scott Howard-Cooper: He will be very aggressive, because that's Dumars. Just not necessarily this offseason. The Pistons can be major players in the '10 free-agent bonanza and will have a legitimate shot at adding two stars, but that means being patient in the summer of '09. If there's a chance to swing a blockbuster in the next few months, even if it hurts Detroit's chances a year later, Dumars does it. But he's not going to make a move just to make a move. As unhappy as Dumars may be with a lot of his players, he is not going blow the long term for the appearance of doing something to address the backslide.
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