It seems like only yesterday that the Lakers won back-to-back titles and Kobe Bryant was being fitted for his 4th and 5th championship rings. Oh, how swiftly the tides have turned.
Last season they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Spurs. En route to the sweep, San Antonio won all four games by double-digits. Sure, Kobe was out with a torn Achilles, but this series was never in doubt. The Lakers’ downward spiral has continued from there.
Will they again make a miracle comeback after the All-Star break, or is this the season for Laker Haters to celebrate?
Dominated by the who? The Clippers?
Now, this might not mean so much to those of you who’ve only been following the NBA since the arrival of Blake Griffin, but it’s gotten so bad for the boys in purple and gold that they were swept for the first time in club history last season by the L.A. Clippers.
And currently, with a record of (16-26), the Lakers are 12.5 games back of their cross-town rivals in the Pacific Division.
OK, yeah, I get it. Griffin and Chris Paul are All-Stars and the Clippers are not only relevant these days, but are a really good team. But you can trust me when I say that the Laker faithful are most definitely checking the skies each morning for flying pigs.
The red, white, and blue will need to hoist an NBA title (maybe two) before the name Clippers is no longer associated with being “the” perennial loser in American sports.
But I digress … the point here is that the Los Angeles Lakers are a sinking ship, and I’m not so sure that even the return of Kobe Bryant would provide enough buoyancy to keep the team afloat.
“We’re old as shit.”
Around this time last year the Lakers found themselves in more or less the same situation (at least record-wise). When asked for an explanation of his team’s woes, all Kobe had to offer was the abovementioned reference to an aging roster.
There were also issues with team chemistry, as Dwight Howard seemed to be a “wrong” fit for the team, regardless of his obvious talent.
But as we already know, Kobe, Nash, Howard, and Gasol tightened up their laces and pulled together for a late season run that left L.A. with a (45-37) record at season’s end, along with the 7th seed.
So what’s the dealio this time around?
Perhaps, they’re injured as shit?
I’m not sure if my editor’s going to fill in all these h’s, i’s, and t’s with asterisks here, but it’s 2014, so I think we might actually be allowed to print “shit”. But that’s it, three times; I’m not going to push it.
So, yeah, moving on to the elephant in the room. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have missed all but six6 games due to injury and neither player’s return appears to be imminent.
In fact, Magic Johnson has openly expressed his opinion that if Kobe wants to keep playing, he’d be better off throwing in the towel this season and giving it another go in 2014-15.
We’ll find out here shortly if Nash might be done for the year as well. The team announced that he is hoping to return January 28th for the game against the Pacers, but the future Hall-of-Famer stated that he fully realizes that if he’s not healthy enough to play here soon that there wouldn’t be much of the season left to salvage.
How about some good news, Mister Gloomy?
Look, I do have some “glass is half-full” stuff for you in a minute, but I’m not going to sugarcoat the Lakers’ outlook here. To answer the question I posed up there in paragraph three: No, the Lakers will not make another come-from-behind run and slide into the playoffs during the final weeks of the season.
And do you want to hear something disgusting?
When Los Angeles does miss the playoffs this year it will be only the third time they have done so since … drumroll … 1976.
So to answer the second part of my question: Yes, it is time for the Laker Haters to celebrate.
“Am I a Laker Hater?” you ask.
Absolutely. I remember vividly chanting “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” at the old Seattle Coliseum whenever Magic, Kareem, and Worthy came to town.
As an aside here, Americans have by far and away the most unimaginative rally cries.
So, yeah, the Lakers will temporarily suck. But savor the moment, because it won’t last for long.
They aren’t going to have a winning season … but they are going to get better – a lot better.
A rising star and a lottery re-tread
Making the best of a bad situation, sixth-year pro Nick Young has taken this opportunity and ran with it.
Not only is he leading the team with 17.1 points per game, but he’s growing as a leader.
Young is feisty, as is evidenced by his recent suspension for fighting, but he’s bringing a spark of confidence and a hint of fire to the Lakers at a time that they dearly need it.
The other night, after recording their second straight win, Young tweeted, “We played with more fight. That’s all I wanted, a little more heart.”
On top of this, last night in Chicago, Young drained three clutch free throws to send the game into overtime – then he nailed a baseline jay with six second left in OT to tie it up. But Gibson’s buzzer-beating lay-up secured victory for the Bulls.
Young’s got the potential to springboard from this success into a more prominent scoring role with the Lakers even after the return of Kobe. He’s got enough talent to be a star and it appears as though all he really needed was a shove from behind to shift from role player to team leader.
Another player for Laker fans to keep their eye on is Kendall Marshall. While it’s too early to know for sure if Marshall can fully shed his “bust” moniker, the former lottery pick has been on fire since being signed up from the D-league 13 games ago. He’s averaging 10.6 points and 9.2 assists.
Marshall was drafted 13th overall by the Suns in 2012 but he was out of the league in one year after failing to pick up the aggressiveness of the pro-game.
If Marshall can keep up this level of play and perhaps live up to his previous expectations down the line, the Lakers may have found a real steal out of the developmental league.
The Lakers may wind up finding that their misfortunes of late turn into a blessing in disguise. What the Lakers need down the line is young blood, and it looks like they’ve found it.