Seems like it was years ago when Sports Illustrated’s NBA Preview came out with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on the cover and the headline, “Now This Is Going To Be Fun”. Little did we know that they were referring to fans of the NBA’s other 29 teams. Being a Lakers fan isn’t easy these days and it doesn’t seem to be getting easier. Who would have thought the Lakers would be 9-13 after 22 games, especially with 13 of those games at Staples.
There’s nothing they can do about it now. It is what it is. I never thought that I’d be checking to see if the first round pick the Lakers sent to Cleveland in the Ramon Sessions trade was lottery protected (I’m still awaiting confirmation). And while I still don’t think this team will miss the playoffs, it’s definitely panic time. The 2002-03 Lakers also started out poorly and that team was chasing a fourth straight championship. Shaq missed the season’s first 12 games and the team went 3-9 without him. But even after he returned they were a disappointing 8-10 over their next 18 games (8-10, does sound familiar?).
What followed was a stretch in which the team would go on to win 25 of their next 32 games. From 24-23 at the All-Star Break to 26-9 after it. That was the good news. So much energy was spent trying to dig themselves out from that well they fell down that they ended up losing in the second round to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
This season seems like a combination of the 2002-03 and the 2003-04 seasons. Similar to the former in it’s awful start and similar to the latter in that it seems they’re paying the price for toying with the Basketball Gods. The 2004 team suffered catastrophic injuries to Karl Malone and Horace Grant. Malone missed 10 games through the first 18 seasons of his career and some of them were due to suspension. He would end up missing 40 regular season games in his one season in Los Angeles and was never able to get back to 100 percent before the playoffs. Even though the team would make it to the Finals, they were embarrassed by the Pistons and the team was eventually blown up.
As for Grant, he suffered a season-ending tear in his hip after playing just 55 games. If you believe in the existence of Basketball Gods, it’s hard not to think that having too many future Hall of Famers is like pissing on the NBA’s tectonic plates.
At this point, we can only hope this team figures out how to get better while they wait for the return of Steve Nash. That includes making progress even when they lose. While Nash won’t cure any of their defensive ills, and there are many, that should happen as they get more familiar with each other. It can’t be easy for a team with three different head coaches, a bunch of new players, and numerous lineup changes to figure things out easily. That doesn’t mean we should excuse their constant bouts with lethargy or their inability to take care of the basketball. It just means that I still have faith that this team will figure things before the end of the season. It’s just a matter of when.
I’ve always believed that what separates the good teams from the bad ones is that good ones find ways to win games even when they’re outplayed by their opponents. As we’ve seen far too many times this season, that isn’t the case with this year’s Lakers team. At least not yet. They’ve made it a habit of giving games away. In addition to that, the honeymoon between Lakers fans and Dwight Howard seems to be over.
There are now three camps when it comes to Dwight: those who still cut him some slack while he continues to recover from offseason back surgery, those who keep their mouths shut because they think criticizing him will only lead to him leaving next summer, and those who hold him responsible for recent losses to the Magic and Rockets because he can’t make a free throw. All three are right to feel the way they do. We seemed to have forgotten that reports back in August speculated Dwight probably wouldn’t be 100% healthy until mid-December. He’s clearly been more active on defense over the past few games.
The free throw woes are something Lakers fans haven’t had to put up with since Shaq was here. Every trip to the line feels like Chinese Water Torture. Unless of course, you hate the Lakers. In that case, every missed free throw must feel like another quarter falling out of a slot machine. I was nearly floored when I saw that Dwight leads the NBA with 42 missed fourth quarter free throws and Tyler Hansbrough is second with 10(!!!). Dwight has also missed at least 75 more free throws than any other player in the league.
I still don’t think this team will make a trade involving Pau Gasol. That’s not because they don’t want to but probably because they can’t. It’s not just about finding the right package that makes the numbers work but more about finding a reason as to why a team would trade for Pau. I’m still waiting for someone to tell me why the Hawks would trade the 27-year-old Josh Smith for Pau. If the Hawks wanted to trade Josh Smith, I’m guessing it would be for young players and drafts picks, seeing as they’re rebuilding and on the cusp of having a ton of cap space. If Pau was a free agent, would the Hawks consider signing him for the $19.3 million he’s scheduled to make next season? If you said yes, we probably can’t be friends. Oh yeah, one more thing. The earliest pick the Lakers can trade is in 2019.
As for these ridiculous Ryan Anderson rumors, why would the Hornets sign the 24-year-old Anderson to a very reasonable four-year contract only to trade him for the 9th highest-paid player in the league, who is not only 32 but whose best days are clearly behind him? If you’ve got a good answer to that one, feel free to leave it in the comments. Nobody wants to help the Lakers unless they can also help themselves. That’s why the only deals that make sense are ones for Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani — ideas that suddenly have Lakers fans feeling better about Pau.
The truth is that winning still cures all. In a perfect world, these humiliating losses will be what fuels them once they finally figure it out. I sure as hell haven’t given up hope yet. There are still 60 games left. At this point, I’m just waiting for them to take on an identity. It seems as if they haven’t had one since Game 7 of the 2010 Finals. It’s funny how people seem to have forgotten how poor the 2010-11 team was or how badly Phil Jackson was out-coached by Rick Carlisle in the playoff series with the Mavs.
There’s nothing worse than having to root for a team you hate. It seems like we’ve already reached that point with this team and it’s only December. It’s beginning to look as if the only way these Lakers can shed the comparisons to those aforementioned underachieving squads is by winning a championship. I won’t say it’s impossible but it’s only looking less realistic with every game they play.