8 Reasons Why the Lakers Are So Despondent Right Now
The Los Angeles Lakers are navigating uncharted waters off the reaches of Southern California. They’re exploring what it’s like to be bad. The Lakers don’t do bad. Sure, they’re the Evil Empire of the Left Coast, lording over the Western Conference and effortlessly bouncing from first-ballot Hall of Fame superstar (West) to first-ballot Hall of Fame superstar (Wilt) to first-ballot Hall of Fame superstar (Kareem) to first-ballot Hall of Fame superstar (Magic) to first-ballot Hall of Fame superstar (Shaq) to first-ballot Hall of Fame superstar (Kobe) — but watching the Lakers extinguish hopes and dreams is as American as muscle cars, Ronald Reagan, and speeding tickets.
Making it worse for everyone else is the undisputed fact that the Lakers are the second winning NBA team where it counts, their 16 championships coming in second only to the Boston Celtics’ 17. (Lakers fans like to point out that the Celtics won a bunch of those back in the day with Bill Russell. Celtics fans like to point out that 5 of Los Angeles’ titles were won in Minnesota. So it goes.) They’ve missed the playoffs exactly 5 times in their entire franchise history — ’58, ’75, ’76, and ’05. That’s all.
Compare that to the Orlando Magic, who have seen the Lakers steal away their two No. 1 draft picks in free agency ten years apart. Or the Milwaukee Bucks, who lost Kareem to the Lakers and haven’t touched the NBA Finals since. You get the idea. For fans of the 29 other NBA franchises, our collective schadenfreude at the misfortunes of the purple-and-gold unites us like a great fast break. Here are nine reasons for Lakers fans to grimace, and for everyone else to rejoice.
1. They’re not the best franchise in Los Angeles
For newer NBA fans, this might not seem like a huge deal. After all, Blake Griffin is everywhere, Chris Paul is, at worst, a top-10 NBA player, and Doc Rivers brings a championship pedigree after spending the last seven years winning and contending for rings with the Celtics. But for everyone else, seeing the Clippers succeed is weird. Seeing the Clippers eviscerate the Lakers on TNT March 6 was doubly so.
That evisceration ended in a franchise-worst 48 point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last night. 48 points is more than the Lakers scored in the second- and third-quarter combined. Under the watchful play calling and color-commentating of Marv Albert and Greg Anthony, the Los Angeles Lakers were definitively deposed as the premiere LA franchise.
Well, not really. Mostly because, even when the Clippers are good, they’re still the Clippers. But it seemed like Christmas came early when the TNT crew cut away from the action to focus on the pained non-reaction from GM Mitch Kupchak. Check out that Youtube clip above to see what I’m talking about (and there’s a run-of-the-mill Paul>Griffin lob in there, too.)
2. They’re set to miss the playoffs
As we’ve discussed already, the Lakers don’t miss the playoffs. It doesn’t happen. It’s like Haley’s Comet or an honest politician. Even those post-Shaq teams with Kobe and Smush Parker made the playoffs — except for 2005, but no one talks about 2005.
After 2010, when they won the NBA Championship courtesy of Pau Gasol — and an (allegedly) crooked officiating squad — the Lakers fell apart. Andrew Bynum couldn’t stay healthy or motivated, Lamar Odom went off the deep end, Derek Fisher finally found another team he couldn’t quit on, and Phil Jackson decided he didn’t want to coach a bad team. Rather than bring in Jackson assistant Brian Shaw, Jim Buss, who assumed decided to hire famously-meh Head Coach Mike Brown.
No worries, though. The Lakers would just reload with a star cast of free agents and vault right back to the top of the WCF. Three ‘down years,’ two semifinal losses to Dallas (2011) and OKC (2012), and a first round sweep from San Antonio in 2013, surely the Lakers would be back in the WCF. Right?
3. They lost out on Dwight Howard
Say what you will about the tenants of Dwight Howard, but the man made history in the summer of 2013 when he spurned the Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets. Dwight, who’s been rightly and thoroughly trashed by everyone from fans to former teammates to the Dali Lama (who thought Howard’s candy addiction was super lame.) Probably.
But, for all the (deserved) criticism, there remains little doubt that a healthy Dwight Howard is a game changer. He’s still the best center in the game when he’s playing at his best, and by bailing on the Lakers after one season he became the first mega-free agent to leave LA. Free agents don’t do that. There’s Hollywood, personal brand considerations, and the corpse of the record industry. You think Shaq makes a platinum record playing for the Magic? Yeah, no.
So when Howard bet $30 million dollars on winning a championship faster with the Rockets, it was a collective slap in the fact to the franchise. According to Howard, “I felt like Houston was going in one direction — they got a lot of young players, they got a good coach in Kevin McHale and I just felt like having him as a coach, he could really help me in the post and help me develop like I want to. That was mainly the big reason right there, and having the opportunity to grow with a team, a young team, like the Rockets. That’s the reason why [I decided to leave.]” So if the Rockets are going in one direction toward championships, then the Lakers are not headed that way. Go figure.
4. – Kobe Bryant’s probably never going to be KOBE BRYANT again
This is the one of two real bummers on this list. Fans of the NBA knew the writing was on the wall when Kobe went out with a torn Achilles’ Tendon. No one’s come back from one of those to keep playing at a high level aside from, weirdly, Dominique Wilkins — and that’s a drag. It doesn’t matter how vehemently you dislike a team or a player, injuries rob basketball fans of the chance for more awesome moments on the court — especially when it’s a Hall of Fame talent like Kobe Bryant. He’s got a nice suit collection, but we shouldn’t see them when there’s basketball to be played.
Kobe recently came under a bunch of fire when he signed a two-year contract extension for $48 million dollars. That’s KOBE BRYANT money for a player who’s almost assuredly going to be existing in the lower-case for the duration of the deal. Hating on Kobe for accepting the money is silly, as he pointed out to Yahoo. What is he supposed to do, leave money on the table for the good of a franchise that’s made millions, if not billions, of dollars off his likeness? That’s bad business, and Kobe doesn’t play that.
The cap rules players have to be “selfless” on To “help” BILLIONAIRE owners R the same cap rules the owners LOCKED US out to put in #think
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 27, 2013
Of course, Kobe doesn’t play basketball anymore either, and his mega-contract is going to screw the Lakers a little bit as they try to rebuild. Oh, well. So it goes.
5. Steve Nash is a shell of himself on his best day
This is the second real bummer on this list. Steve Nash, two-time MVP and one-time curator of one of the most awesomely fun offenses in the history of the NBA, hasn’t been the same since he left Phoenix about two years too late back in 2012. Suffering nerve damage after a fractured leg early in the doomed 2012 season — a season that, lest we forget, had the Lakers pegged as heavy title contenders and Nash playing what his age suggests, having turned 40 in February — had Nash looking more like the best YMCA player ever than the starting point guard for the most valuable team in the NBA.
Don’t think that Nash isn’t aware of it, either. Teaming up with ESPN’s Grantland to deliver a series of webisodes called “the Finish Line,” Nash is taking part in an examination of the end of his career. It’s must see. as is Baron Davis’ parody.
6. They just fixed Jerry’s succession plan
In the wake of Dr. Jerry Buss’s death, his personal plan for the Lakers called for Jeanie Buss, his daughter, to head up the Lakers’ business operations (as you can see on the card above) while her brother, Jim, took over the basketball operations. Jeanie Buss, in addition to being the daughter of Dr. Jerry Buss, is the significant other of Phil Jackson. She’s also now the Executive Vice President of Basketball operations for the Lakers because Jim Buss dropped the ball.
Jim Buss was the head of basketball ops when Dwight Howard left. When Phil Jackson was almost brought out of retirement, only to be discarded for Mike D’Antoni? Also Jim. After a hot minute, the Lakers front office realized something was amiss — namely, you know, the smartest people in the room being given control of the ship.
Jim was subsequently shifted to an “Executive Vice President” role while Jeanie “is now responsible for running all aspects of the Los Angeles Lakers organization,” according to her Sloan Bio. It was too late to keep Dwight and it was too late to sign Phil, but at long last the Lakers have some competency in their front office. Not that it’ll help much in the short-term.
7. They could be bad for a while
This is a team that pulled Kendall Marshall from the D-League. It has no choice but to play Nick Young and MarShon Brooks — and fans were freaking out at the prospect of losing Jordan Hill. This team is not great, and while they’ve stacked their books so that they’ll have enough cap space to sign a max contract free agent, no one really wants to go from one bad team to another.
Howard? He left because he didn’t want it to be Orlando 2.0 — the reason he chose Houston over Brooklyn or Dallas or staying in LA was because Houston has the best shooting guard who’s under 30 in the game, James Harden. Kevin Love? His LA roots and widely-discussed dissatisfaction with the Timberwolves make him seem like a gimme-free agent. Not so. “I’m not [dissing] the Lakers,” Love told GQ, “but we have the better team, the better foundation. I’m having fun.” The jury’s out on whether Love leaves Minnesota, who have yet to make the post-season, but it’s hardly the forgone conclusion many Lakers fans seem to believe it to be.
8. They could miss out on the draft, too
The Lakers haven’t had the No. 1 draft pick since 1982. Their pick, James Worthy, was a good one. But the Lakers have not become the second best NBA franchise of all time on the back of their own developed talent. For every Magic Johnson there’s a Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq, Dwight Howard, or a luxury-free agent lured in by the bright lights and the parties at the Buss Mansion. All of those things are awesome, since Los Angeles is a cool city.
But the team culture doesn’t seem geared toward development. The fan base, while they might be patient enough for it, isn’t accustomed to it. The 2014 NBA Draft has at least three A+ prospects (and none of them are Adam Morrison), but the Lakers are the fifth worst team in the league right now. Check out Tankathon to see what that means for their chances at the No. 1 pick (and also to keep refreshing until they win the draft lottery, because we all know you’re going to.) As of right now, the Lakers have a 29 percent chance of picking in the top 3 and only a 55 percent chance of picking in the top 5 at all. That’s far from a sure thing. Good luck with losing, Lakers fans. Maybe you can snag some Clippers playoff tickets?