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Lakers Learned From Previous Champs

Jul 3, 2009 – 11:30 AM
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Tim Povtak

Tim Povtak %BloggerTitle%

Ron Artest and Trevor ArizaThere is a reason nothing stays the same in the NBA. It's never good enough -- even at the top.

What the Los Angeles Lakers learned from the previous four NBA champs – Detroit, Miami, San Antonio and Boston -- was that the status quo will just get you beat the next season.

It's why there have been no repeats lately.

By landing Ron Artest to replace Trevor Ariza -- a huge upgrade -- the Lakers did what others before them didn't do. They got better after they won.

After watching both Eastern Conference finalists Cleveland and Orlando make major moves last month to improve, the Lakers countered with their chase of Artest, adding another star to a stable of stars. He is expected to sign as a free agent next week.

"You always have to be looking for ways to improve,'' Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said in Orlando shortly after winning the 2009 title.

Instead of celebrating and savoring their championship like the Pistons, Heat, Spurs and Celtics did, the Lakers quickly went to work improving what they already had. It's why they should become the first repeat champion since they won three in a row from 2000 to 2002.

After Boston won with the Big Three in 2008, they didn't replace key role player James Posey when he left in free agency, and they didn't even get back to the conference final. After San Antonio won the title in 2007, they returned the same cast of characters, then lost to the Lakers in the conference final.

The Miami Heat were the ultimate one-year wonder when they won in 2006, then didn't even get past the first round the following year because they got considerably worse. The Spurs didn't add much after their 2005 title, either, and didn't get out of the second round a year later. The Detroit Pistons won in 2004, then swapped Corliss Williamson for Antonio McDyess, which was mostly a wash.

There is a lesson in recent NBA history. If you're not improving, you're going backward because other contenders are usually getting better.

The Magic, who lost to the Lakers, traded for All-Star Vince Carter, essentially letting go of free agent Hedo Turkoglu in exchange. The Cavaliers got superstar Shaquille O'Neal for nothing from Phoenix. The Spurs, hoping to contend again in the West, also grabbed a key piece in Richard Jefferson. The Celtics, learning their lesson from last summer, are hoping to add veteran Rasheed Wallace.

The allure of being close to the top has pushed the serious contenders to gladly accept the fact they will have to pay more, venturing or staying in luxury tax territory. It's the championship chase that is so appealing.

The Lakers were masterful in their response, trading (not literally) an average player like Ariza for a star in Artest. Ariza, a role playing reserve for most of his career, has used a strong finish on a great team into making people believe he is better than he actually is.

Artest, conversely, is the real deal, averaging 16.1 points in his 12-year career. Ariza has averaged 6.9 points, maybe the most over-rated free agent in the market this summer. The Lakers hit the jackpot, a rarity as a champion that will come back better the following season.

Latest NBA Images

    Baron Davis, a basketball player for Los Angeles Clippers team of the National Basketball Association (NBA), looks at Indian children play basketball during a basketball awareness event in Mumbai July 3, 2009. Davis inaugurated 'NBA Jam', a seven-week promotional event in Indian cities, organised by NBA and the Basketball Federation of India. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA SPORT BASKETBALL)

    Reuters

    Baron Davis, a basketball player for Los Angeles Clippers team of the National Basketball Association (NBA), balances basketballs during a basketball awareness event in Mumbai July 3, 2009. Davis inaugurated 'NBA Jam', a seven-week promotional event in Indian cities, organised by NBA and the Basketball Federation of India. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA SPORT BASKETBALL)

    Reuters

    Baron Davis, a basketball player for Los Angeles Clippers team of the National Basketball Association (NBA), helps an Indian boy to put a basketball into the hoop during a basketball awareness event in Mumbai July 3, 2009. Davis inaugurated 'NBA Jam', a seven-week promotional event in Indian cities, organised by NBA and the Basketball Federation of India. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA SPORT BASKETBALL SOCIETY)

    Reuters

    Baron Davis, a basketball player for Los Angeles Clippers team of the National Basketball Association (NBA), helps an Indian boy to put a basketball into the hoop during a basketball awareness event in Mumbai July 3, 2009. Davis inaugurated "NBA Jam", a seven-week promotional event in Indian cities, organised by NBA and the Basketball Federation of India. REUTERS/Arko Datta (INDIA SPORT BASKETBALL)

    Reuters

    Newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers Shaquille O'Neal holds up his new jersey, accompanied by two young fans, during a press conference at the Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, Ohio, Thursday, July 2, 2009. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

    MCT

    Cleveland Cavaliers' General Manager Danny Ferry, left, and owner Dan Gilbert, center, present new Cavaliers member Shaquille O'Neal with a pair of winter boots during an introductory press conference at the Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, Ohio, Thursday, July 2, 2009. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

    MCT

    Cleveland Cavaliers' General Manager Danny Ferry, left, laughs as new Cavaliers member Shaquille O'Neal holds a photo of the two in a game during an introductory press conference at the Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, Ohio, Thursday, July 2, 2009. (Mike Cardew/Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)

    MCT

    Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal arrives at his introductory news conference at the Cavaliers practice facility in Independence, Ohio, Thursday, July 2, 2009. O'Neal was acquired by the Cavs from the Phoenix Suns in a June 25 trade. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

    AP

    Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal answers a question at the O'Neal introductory news conference at the Cavaliers practice facility in Independence, Ohio, Thursday, July 2, 2009. O'Neal was acquired by the Cavs from the Phoenix Suns in a June 25 trade. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

    AP

    Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal, center, laughs along with Cavs general manager Danny Ferry, foreground and head coach Mike Brown at the O'Neal introductory news conference at the Cavaliers practice facility in Independence, Ohio, Thursday, July 2, 2009. O'Neal was acquired by the Cavs from the Phoenix Suns in a June 25 trade. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

    AP

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