Purple Woes: Vlads and the Lukester

--Long Beach Press

It ended ignobly after weeks of brightness, a season that seemed destined to conclude with a world championship instead concluding in the abyss of a 131-92 impalement on the floor of their eternal tormentors from Boston.

It ended the way it started back in the darkness of October, questions raised, issues unresolved, Kobe Bryant, their signature performer, a picture of abject frustration.

It ended in a hail of turnovers, misguided shots, lousy decisions and dunks by an opposing team that treated them with a haughty disdain in front of a howling, mocking crowd that serenaded them with cruel chants.

Oh yes, it all ended badly for the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night against the Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden, as it as so often has across the decades against a franchise that now has won nine world championships at the expense of the Lakers against only two setbacks.

The inevitable finger-pointing, blame-game, radio sports talk psycho-drivel transpired afterward, and one can say Phil Jackson was out-coached by Doc Rivers, as I have, and one can say Kobe Bryant faltered and was upstaged by Paul Pierce and one can say Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were too timid and one can on and on tendering myriad reasons for the Lakers' collapse.

But it's an indisputable fact that the Celtics, clearly, were simply a superior team, possessing a stronger defense, a deeper bench, a tougher mindset and a couple of players - namely Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce - the Lakers found insoluble.

So, what can Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers general manager, do in the off-season to close the distinct disparity that now exists between his team and the Celtics?

Well, first off, he's under an unconscionable restriction that he himself unfortunately created for himself.

He can't get rid of a couple of players - Luke Walton, the quintessential teacher's pet, and Vladimir Radmanovic, the Space Cadet - who richly deserve to be excommunicated, since neither is a legitimate NBA player.

At least they weren't for most of the post-season when they descended to depths of incompetence that not even sonar could have detected.

But the Lakers are stuck with these two duds, since the blessed Walton still has five years left on his contract and is guaranteed of heisting another $26 million from the Lakers.

If you think that's bad - and you wonder if Kupchak was secretly receiving personnel pointers on the matter from the Dodgers' fabulously gullible Ned Colletti - then brace yourself against a possible fainting spell when I reveal to you that Radmanovic will be around for three more years at a cost of $19.4 million.

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