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Kobe says these Lakers better off than 2002 three-peat team

Jan 5, 2011, 1:04 PM EDT

Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

Doesn’t it seem like every January we need to have some discussion about how the Lakers are struggling, and this time it’s serious, that the omens are bad, that they can’t win a title playing like this, yada yada yada…

It’s true, even after last night’s Lakers thumping of the hapless Pistons, if Los Angeles does not at some point start playing better than they are now they will not make the finals, let alone get Phil Jackson ring number 12. But we had this discussion last season and the Lakers figured it out. Same with the year before that and for a long stretch back to the early 2000s.

After Tuesday’s Lakers game, Kobe compared these Lakers to the last Lakers three-peat team of the 2001-02 season.

“We were awful,” Bryant said. “People here forget about that stuff. We were awful and dysfunctional. Here, right now, we’re just awful. It’s much better now than it was. People forget that three-peat that we had to get to, we were [expletive]. We had to go on the road in San Antonio and thank God the Eastern Conference was terrible. We winded up having home court advantage in the Finals but we were awful.”

Just to be clear, the Lakers did have home court over the Spurs that season, they did not over the Kings in the Western Conference finals. And the Nets would like you to remember them as something other than terrible that year.

But the point about dysfunction is dead on.

Those Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Lakers were a genuine soap opera. Not manufactured drama. Back then the tension in the locker room was palpable. Jackson struggled to keep his two stars on the same page long enough to win games (and he sided more with Shaq because he was the dominant locker room personality at the time).

Derek Fisher said that those teams helped today because he and Kobe learned and matured from those experiences. They now don’t get too high or too low during the season — or listen to the talk around them — something Jackson has helped teach them.

Which is why the news about a Ron Artest/Jackson tiff or rumors of problems between Kobe and Pau Gasol are overblown — this is a really professional locker room. A veteran team. Talk to them and it’s clear this stuff doesn’t really bother them. And it doesn’t seep on to the court like it did in 2002.

That’s not to say these Lakers are three-peat bound — the Eastern Conference is anything but terrible this year at the top, plus the Spurs are serious. But a little history helps us remember that things are just not so dire now, no matter how some try to paint them.

  1. passerby23 - Jan 5, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    I think Kobe’s point about the 2002 team being “awful” is a tad overblown. Dysfunctional? Maybe. Don’t forget they won 58 games that year. Their longest losing streak that year was three games (one time). They tied for the second best record in the conference. Kobe and Shaq and Kobe and Phil had their little squabbles along the way, but it was still a dangerous team all along.

    They weren’t losing games to mediocre teams by an average of 17 points like they are now. The Lakers lost 7 home games all year that year (they already have 5 now). They’ve already had a 4-game losing streak (worse than any that year). On top of that, Shaq and Kobe and the Lakers core was still relatively young, unlike now. I’m not saying they can’t or won’t turn it around, but the teams are completely different.

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