Whether one is a fan, media member or intense NBA 2K gamer, the 1992 USA Dream Team created an obsession with creating just such a team on an NBA roster. Some, like former Phoenix Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo, felt that the way to go was to construct a team that ran a nightly track meet. Others, like Pat Riley, sought to convince players to stray away from the alpha dog mentality made famous by Michael Jordan and instead chase the title as a collusion of talents that in the past would try to step over one another for that allusive championship ring. Needless to say, some of these strategies worked better than others but one man changed the entire landscape of the term dream team, a man known all too well within NBA circles. It is the story of what happens when strategy goes very, very wrong and one that while not true, could very well become the airline passenger safety manual of how not to run an NBA organization. This is the story of the summer that David Kahn took reigns of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kahn has never been the type of executive that has shied away from making the tough calls as an executive. As we saw his desire to floor the first starting unit constructed entirely out of point guards, Kahn has always thought outside of the box. You see, although Kahn was a fan of the seven-seconds-or-less-system that revolutionized the offensive tempo of the NBA and envied the success that Riley achieved by constructing a Miami Heat roster of unselfish stars, he believed that returning the Lakers into title contention needed a different touch. Almost overnight, the talk among fans of the game turned to the latest gift that Kahn bestowed onto the NBA, the two-passes-or-less offense.
With the same fire that burned deep in his eyes the day that Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson were all selected by him in the same draft, Kahn got to work on putting together a roster that would excel within his masterpiece. After the dust settled from the wave of strings pulled, backs scratched and draft picks shipped off, a starting five for the ages through the eyes of the controversial general manager had been established.
In Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony and Michael Beasley, the belief was a simple one: defense and size simply did not win titles in the modern era while the idea of ball movement was something that needed to be minimized or even abolished all together in order to keep defenses off balance. Furthermore, the notion of five players that looking for their own before that of others seemed to comfort Kahn because he believed that rebounding, something he held as vital to success, would get a kick start with just such a group of personalities. Simply put, with each shot taken, five guys would be crashing the boards because the one that grabbed that ball would probably be the one that dribbled and shot it over the course of the following possession.
In the case of the two-passes-or-less Lakers assembled by Kahn, it took a mere two preseason games to see what would happen if the NBA`s greatest collection of ball hogs were stuck under one roof. With every out of control drive by Westbrook, unnecessary fading jump shot by Gay, forced three pointer by Bryant, and contested step back by Anthony, the tension and lack of cohesion on the floor grew more evident. After escaping with a narrow victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, a game that many marked as the biggest fluke in NBA history as Bismack Biyombo went off for 45 points against a suspect interior defense, the following game against the Toronto Raptors served as the nail in the coffin for the system that seemed destined for failure.
Entering opening shoot around, the Lakers made their way onto the court with renewed optimism that the five key cogs in the system could make it work. Sadly, the shot heard around the world, a simple corner three pointer during that warm-up by Gay, sealed their fate. The ball, after dropping seamlessly through the basket with the perfection that can be expected from Gay on about a third of his in-game attempts, was picked up by Westbrook. After a successful long range attempt of his own with that very same basketball amid cries of `respect` from Gay, the loose ball made its way squarely between the likes of Anthony and Bryant. The scene that ensued, as described by Beasley and the baffled ball crew who sat two feet away from two full racks of basketballs, is to go down as one of the dark marks in league history.
Witnesses to the scene described the argument between Bryant and Anthony as one that they could not quite understand, stating that it seemed that both demanded the ball in mental preparation of a final in-game shot that neither had the chance to take in the closing seconds of the previous contest. After deciding on a one-on-one game to resolve the issue, their diplomatic solution was interrupted as Westbrook and Gay entered the fray. Demanding for the ball due to a breach of the unspoken rules of basketball that would take place if the ball was not handed over, the argument became heated. After half an hour of conflict, tempers looked to have cooled as the group collectively decided that the best course of action was to simply leave the ball at center court and proceed with the shoot around with the remaining balls sitting untouched at the baseline. As the four superstars slowly made their way to the baseline, betrayal reared its ugly head as the group of players, almost in unison, turned and sprinted toward the idle basketball. With chants of "give him the chair" echoing throughout the now packed Air Canada Centre, the four players wrestled and fought for that lone basketball until security finally made its way to the floor to break up the melee.
In the following weeks, all save for Bryant were scattered throughout the league in a series of trades while Kahn was relieved of his active duties as general manager of the organization. Once believed to be the future of the league, the team assembled to become legend within the sport`s history instead became one that would forever remain its greatest myth, the one forever known in the books as "David Kahndalf and the `you-shall-not-pass Lakers."