Everybody from LeBron James to Gregg Popovich to Dirk Nowitzki still pegs the Lakers as the team to beat if you want to win the 2011 NBA championship. But where do these 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers rank amongst the other L.A. squads of the 21st Century?
To evaluate these 12 teams—all featuring Kobe Bryant, mind you—I looked at regular season and postseason records, along with Basketball-Reference.com's Simple Rating Scores (for those of you unaware of SRS, it basically takes scoring margin and adjusts for strength of schedule), and ranked them one through 12.
So without further ado, here’s where the 2011 Lakers--the back-to-back NBA champions--rank amongst the Lakers Dozen … so far.
1. 2000-01 LAKERS … 56-26, 15-1 Playoffs, NBA Champions … This was the proverbial Laker team that turns the switch on an underachieving regular-season mark (+3.74 SRS) to a phenomenal playoff finish. In fact, the 2001 Lakers had the most dominating playoff run in NBA history (+17.67 SRS). There may never be a better playoff set of six this century than Finals MVP Shaquille O’Neal (4 rings), All-NBA sidekick Kobe Bryant (5), Derek Fisher (5), Rick Fox (3), Horace Grant (4) and Robert Horry (7).
2. 2001-02 LAKERS … 58-24, 15-4 Playoffs, NBA Champions … This Three-Peat Lakers crew handled their biz in the regular season (+7.15 SRS) as well as the playoffs (+9.05 SRS) with Horry taking the lion’s share of the departed Ho Grant’s minutes, while Finals MVP Shaq & All-NBA Kobe did their thang, winning their third and final championship together.
3. 2008-09 LAKERS … 65-17, 15-7 Playoffs, NBA Champions … Inspired by the heartbreaking loss to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals, this Laker team survived a seven-game scare from the Houston Rockets in the second round, but otherwise in the NBA Playoffs (+11.07 SRS), just as it did in the regular season (+7.11 SRS). Bryant won his first of two Finals MVPs, Gasol earned the first of his two All-NBA awards, while Odom, Ariza and Fisher did the heavy lifting throughout the regular season and playoffs.
4. 1999-2000 LAKERS … 67-15, 15-8 Playoffs, NBA Champions … This was the Lakers’ most dominating 21st Century regular-season performance (+8.41 SRS), but as Shaq’s tears illustrated, it was a slightly tougher road in the playoffs to getting his first championship ring (+6.60 SRS). Thank goodness he had a sensai like Phil Jackson to show him the way to a championship, a regular season MVP and a Finals MVP. Of course, it helped that Diesel, All-NBA Kobe, Horry, Glen Rice and Ron Harper teamed up to play a league-leading defense en route to the title. Before Jackson’s arrival, L.A. ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency.
5. 2010-11 LAKERS … 45-19 … Based on +5.99 SRS and projected 58-24 record, this year’s Laker team could range anywhere from No. 2 to No. 8 on this list. Same crew as last year—Fisher, Bryant, Ron Artest, Odom, Gasol—but with a healthy Andrew Bynum finally, this L.A. team should be an improved version come playoff time. It will need to be better too since more good teams are in the playoffs (six 5+ SRS squads) than ever before this century.
6. 2007-08 LAKERS … 57-25, 14-7 Playoffs, NBA Finalists … This was a championship-worthy Laker team (+7.34 SRS), with a nucleus of regular season MVP Bryant, Fisher, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. It’s just that they ran into a buzzsaw in Boston’s Big 3—Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett—who had an even more impressive regular season and playoffs.
7. 2009-10 LAKERS … 57-25, 16-7 Playoffs, NBA Champions … Yes, the 2010 Lakers won a championship, but don’t forget how ugly it was and how fortunate they were to do so (only a +4.78 regular-season SRS and a +3.83 postseason margin of victory). Finals MVP Bryant, All-NBA Gasol and the gutsy crew of Odom, Artest, Fisher and a hurt Bynum played their hearts out to beat Boston in 7, Phoenix in 6 and Oklahoma City in 6. They indeed will forever be remembered as champs, but I personally think the 2008 Lakers could have taken them, in addition to the 2011 Lakers … as long as Bynum remains healthy, that is.
8. 2003-04 LAKERS … 56-26, 13-9 Playoffs, NBA Finalists … This was the season the Lakers formed a Hall of Fame quartet. Aging vets Karl Malone and Gary Payton joined Shaq and Kobe for an underwhelming regular season (+4.35 SRS) and playoff finish that ultimately became disappointing when Malone got hurt in the Finals.
9. 2002-03 LAKERS … 50-32, 6-6 Playoffs … This is where the Shaq-Kobe Lakers started to go downhill, where they had no big-man depth to support Shaq and Horry anymore (Mark Madsen and Samaki Walker were the first bigs off the bench). The crew of Shaq, Kobe, Horry, Fisher and Devean George finished the season with a +2.71 SRS and lost to the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
10. 2005-06 LAKERS … 45-37, 3-4 Playoffs … Phil Jackson showed how much he meant to Laker success by returning from his one-year hiatus to transform this losing team into a +2.52 SRS squad that would take a very good Phoenix Suns team to seven games in the first round. And Phil did so with a lineup of Smush Parker, Bryant, Luke Walton, Odom and Kwame Brown.
11. 2006-07 LAKERS … 42-40, 1-4 Playoffs … Laker starters Odom and Luke Walton missed 26 and 22 games respectively (leading to a mediocre +0.24 SRS), Jordan Farmar replaced Parker in the playoffs lineup and Brown was the center. Needless to say, this was not Bryant’s strongest supporting cast.
12. 2004-05 LAKERS … 34-48, did not make playoffs … Bryant found out the hard way how tough it was to win without Shaq and head coach Phil Jackson when L.A. experienced its only losing season in the 21st Century (-2.33 SRS). The Rudy Tomjanovich- and Frank Hamblen- coached squad of Bryant, Odom, Caron Butler, Chris Mihm and Chucky Atkins could fill it up (7th-best offense), but their league-worst defense couldn’t stop anyone. Oh, how they missed Phil.