Most people think of a basketball team as a unitary organism. There are constituent pieces, of course - players, coaches, management, scoreboard operators - but all strive toward a shared conception of the common good, right? Right... and wrong. Mostly wrong. An NBA franchise is a small competitive ecosystem operating inside a larger competitive ecosystem. The Lakers compete against the other 29 teams for victories, championships and cash monies, but within the Laker organization roils an equally fierce battle for status.
As the Lakers stand on the eve of a new season, it's time someone stepped forward to slap them under a microscope and document their internal workings in the most scientific way possible: Internet blog power rankings. That brave someone is me, Dexter Fishmore. Based on my observation of the team through the off- and pre-seasons, here's a rundown of who's wielding influence in Lakerdom these days. Please enjoy the inaugural edition of...
Laker Power Rankings: Rankings of Power!
1. Patrick Soon-Shiong. Such an obscure name atop the list? Yes, and it won't be obscure for long. This week Dr. Soon-Shiong, a surgeon and billionaire biotech mogul, acquired that rarest of luxuries - an ownership stake in the Lakers - when reclusive businessman Magic "Earvin" Johnson decided to sell. It's only 4.5 percent of the franchise, but last I checked that's 4.5 percent more than you and I own. In Los Angeles, "Part-Owner of the Lakers" is the second-most prestigious title you can put on a business card, right after "NBA Blogger."
2. Magic Johnson's Money Manager. Shortly after dumping his minority interest in the team, Magic announced that he's also sold off a bunch of Starbucks outlets. Together, the two deals netted him something in the neighborhood of $100 million. People liquidate assets on that scale for only three reasons: they need cash to pay off debt, they need it to buy something else, or they think their investments have crested in value. The third explanation seems likeliest here. Magic has probably recognized what economists have long predicted: that the world has finally reached a state of "peak coffee."
3. Shannon Brown. The backup shooting guard is having an OK preseason. He's averaging 11.2 points per game, good for second on the team, with a very solid 56 percent True Shooting mark. What lands him on this list, however, is that he's apparently now engaged to marry R&B chanteuse Monica. Mazel tov! This ranking is my wedding present to the happy couple. He probably shouldn't get too used to it, though. Unless she can teach him not to go under screens when defending the pick-and-roll, their wedded bliss won't be much good to me.
4. Sacramento Prosecutors. They've yet to decide how difficult they intend to make life for Matt Barnes. The reserve small forward remains in legal jeopardy as attorneys in the state capital evaluate whether to press charges over whatever led to Barnes's arrest on a domestic-violence beef in early September. There was supposed to be a decision on Monday of this week, but that's been postponed until next Monday. Getting it resolved before the season starts on Tuesday would no doubt be the preference of both Barnes and the team, but that's not likely among the state's most pressing concerns.
5. Lamar Odom's Elbow. In practice last Friday, it connected accidentally but violently with Sasha Vujacic's face, concussing the Slovenian guard and putting him out of action for the past week. As concussions go, the injury isn't considered serious - word is, Sasha will be available for Thursday's preseason contest against Golden State - but he can't afford to keep missing time. Sasha was already behind Brown on the depth chart and needs to demonstrate that his three-point stroke is once again dependable, or his role is only going to diminish further.
6. Jacob Weinstein. Jacob is the resident artist at Free Darko, whose second book about the NBA drops next week. My anticipation of its release - and I've heard nothing but great things from those who've read advance copies - led me lately to revisit some of Jacob's older prints, including his excellent graphical renderings of Lakers Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest. His Artest piece, titled "Madness in a Cup," I find particularly exhilarating. Jacob's work is witty and provocative, and I can't wait to see which new NBA players he's chosen to interpret in the coming book. You know Juwan Howard will be buying it!
7. Andrew Bynum's Fibroblasts. As I learned at Wikipedia Medical College, fibroblasts are the cells that cause wounded ligaments to heal. Apparently Drew's fibroblasts are functioning as designed, because he's been cleared to participate in non-basketball activities, raising the prospect that his surgically repaired knee will be well enough to see game action by late November. In the meantime, you can entertain guests at your next cocktail party by working the word "fibroblasts" into the conversation.
8. Pau Gasol's Hair Stylist. The star power forward hasn't yet found his shooting touch, as he's hitting less than 50 percent from the field and less than 70 percent from the line in the preseason so far, but that's not stopping him from looking fresh. Pau has cleaned up his beard and trimmed that shaggy lettuce on his head. The change is subtle but flattering and lowers the "greasy Euro" factor to sub-critical levels.
9. Tech-Happy Refs. David Stern's latest exercise in tinpot dictatorship is a classic example of the disease (players complaining about calls) being way more tolerable than the cure (refs handing out techs capriciously and in great quantities). Presumably everyone will figure this out once the regular season starts and we won't have to endure many games like Tuesday's against Utah, when four technicals were assessed for various picayune offenses. If not, Kobe and Barnes can look forward to being ejected every third game or so.
10. Kobe's Shooting Stroke. The Black Mamba has to date made only 27 percent of his field-goal attempts and an eye-watering 15 percent of his threes. Is his broken right index finger still troubling him? Are the fibroblasts in his surgically repaired knee not doing their job? No one's quite sure. Odds are, he's just kicking off the rust and will be fine when the games start to count. Accordingly, look for him to appear higher up in future editions of the Rankings of Power.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.