I am an LA Lakers fan. No matter how humbling and disappointing this past season turn out to be for Lakerdom, I proudly hold my head high to be identified as such.
I have confidence that we’ll be back on top again someday. It might take a few seasons. But I have no doubt that it’s going to happen.
Nonetheless, to say that this season isn’t heartbreaking would be a lie. It has been. But I guess it’s just goes with the territory of a fan investing much love on his favorite team. I consider the start of the 1999-2000 Season as the beginning of my official die-hard Laker fandom, and since then, this season has been the worst I’ve ever experienced. Here are the reasons why:
10.) LEBRON JAMES AND THE HEAT ARE ON THEIR WAY TO ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP
Of course, as a Kobe and Lakers fan, there’s a feeling of slight envy for LeBron and the Heat. Kobe and the Lakers had a dreadful failed season while LeBron and the Heat are in the best position to win the a back-to-back championship. Ugh. To be honest, I root against the Heat harder than I root against the Celtics. Just can’t help disliking that team. If the Pacers can’t beat the Heat, I root for either the Warriors or Grizzlies (my bets after the elimination of the Lakers) to destroy them in the Finals.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying that LeBron is the hands down, unanimous choice for best player in the NBA right now. His stats and game are out-of-this-world phenomenal. It’s either: a) he’s juiced with performance enhancing drugs, or b) he’s just fate’s choice to be the King of Kings of Basketball. As a Kobe fan, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to see that this time had come: LeBron has overwhelmingly surpassed my hero Kobe Bryant. Still, as a basketball fan, you have no choice but to be awed by LeBron James right now. I will be rooting against him nonetheless. Unless this happens next year…
9.) WINLESS PRE-SEASON
For the first time in franchise history, the Lakers didn’t win a single game during the pre-season. Of course, pre-season records are meaningless but this is the Los Angeles Lakers we’re talking about! Besides, no team in the history of the game has ever won a championship after being winless in the pre-season.
The pre-season was a frightening premonition on what season was laid ahead for the Lakers.
8.) NO CHAMPIONSHIP
Everyone knows the high expectations in Laker Nation. Any season short of a championship is a failure. That’s a cliché in Lakerdom. But the “failure” of this season goes beyond that. With having such a roster of All-Stars, everybody expected the Lakers to be in title contention. However, the Lakers had spent the considerable amount of the season below .500 that to just make the playoffs became the new team objective instead of the championship.
(For this item on the list, I choose to use a picture of Kobe and Pau after winning a championship. Because I greatly miss those happy, glorious days.)
7.) MIKE D’ANTONI OVER PHIL JACKSON
After leading the Lakers to the first ever winless pre-season in franchise history and a 1-4 start into the regular season, Mike Brown was rightfully fired. Everybody was expecting the return of Phil Jackson as head coach. The fans were excitedly waiting for the expected announcement of the hiring. Even Phil thought the negotiations were going there.
Then the hiring of Mike D’Antoni came out of nowhere. And the Lakers management did it in such a way that was seemingly disrespectful to Jackson that any goodwill for possible future return is badly damaged, if not totally obliterated already.
D’Antoni proved to be not much of an upgrade over Mike Brown. He failed to create any form of effective team chemistry. There was no efficient usage of personnel. It seems he was stubbornly imposing his own system without taking into consideration the capabilities of his players. He was uncompromising to necessary adjustments, as dictated by common sense. He was emotional – his negative emotions doing harm than good. And the Lakers continued to fall, even dropping to eight games below .500 at one time – a difficult hole to climb back to.
Sure, D’Antoni was able to formulate a workable system (at least, on offense) later on. Kobe Bryant as primary facilitator and ball handler (contrary to the initial Steve Nash) was a moderate success. Lakers were able to claw themselves back to .500 and eventually into contention for a playoff spot. But D’Antoni had to rely heavily on Kobe Bryant to drag the team there (which will have severe consequences later on).
To be fair, D’Antoni had his moments. Take for example:
This trick play he drafted was brilliant! My favorite D’Antoni moment of the season.
But overall, I am disappointed with him. I never had the feeling that he was a good coach for the Lakers. I felt no sympathy towards him during the awkward “We want Phil!” incident in Shaq’s number retirement ceremony. If I was there, I would have chanted with the crowd myself.
6.) THIS COULD PROBABLY BE KOBE AND PAU’S LAST SEASON TOGETHER
The Lakers’ Game 4 elimination at the hands of the Spurs could be Kobe and Pau’s last moment as Lakers teammates. And, it sucks. Heck, they weren’t even playing together (with Kobe injured and in street clothes)!
Pau has emerged as one of my most favorite Lakers ever. He was significantly instrumental in the Lakers’ return to glory (post-Shaq). It was a lot of fun watching Kobe and Pau winning championships together. The Kobe and Pau tandem has been thrilling and wonderful. One of my best moments as a Laker fan.
Pau remaining with the Lakers is unlikely. The most logical move for the Lakers, businesswise and teamwise, is to trade Pau for valuable team pieces or cap relief (leaving room to acquire other pieces). That is, if Dwight Howard decides to re-sign with the Lakers. Of course, if D12 chooses to leave, the Lakers management would be fools if they still trade Pau. It is also possible that the Lakers will choose to risk it for another season and still keep Pau even after D12 re-signs. That possibility is just slight though.
I would have wanted for Kobe and Pau’s last game to be an epic one – either it’s a championship clinching game or of them going down in a blaze of glory. That game against the Spurs was not it.
I knew there would come a time when Kobe and Pau would have their last season together as teammates. But not like this. Considering that this was…
5.) PAU’S WORST SEASON IN HIS CAREER
Pau’s career stats:
Clearly, the past season’s – most notably, offensively – has been the most inferior. He had career lows in FG% and points per game and he missed a lot of games due to injury. And, thus, it’s one of the main reasons the Lakers have failed to become a dangerous, elite team this year.
4.) SWEPT IN THE FIRST ROUND
The Lakers was one of the first two teams to make a playoff exit. The Bucks is the other one. Both of them got swept. (As of writing, the Celtics and Rockets, however, have just emerged victorious from their Game 5 battles in their respective opponents’ home floor, extending their series to a Game 6 after falling to a 0-3 start!)
This season marked the first time in my years as a Lakers fan that the LA Lakers got swept in the first round.
I thought that the Lakers, even with no Kobe, were in good position in upsetting the Spurs. But injuries overwhelming the Lakers’ already weak depth and Popovich outcoaching D’Antoni just destroyed all hope of it happening.
Ah, injuries and D’Antoni – the two primary reasons of the Lakers’ downfall this season.
3.) DEATH OF JERRY BUSS
The magnitude of this season’s failure is increased when we put into the mixture the fact that it was during this season that the great and legendary Dr. Jerry Buss passed away. It feels like it’s dishonoring his memory that this season would end up becoming one of the worst in Lakers’ history (and the worst in my time as a Laker fan).
Dr. Buss made the Lakers what it is today – the most premium property in the NBA. He was a visionary. He associated the Lakers with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. He made sure that when you come into a Lakers game, you would have an unforgettable experience. He made a Lakers game more than an NBA basketball game. He also made it a Hollywood experience – celebrities, quality half time shows, Lakers girls, and an environment of first-class entertainment. But more than these things, what’s more important is he shaped the Lakers into having the identity of champions. Division banners are not hanged at all, only championship banners are worth hanging. He doesn’t care how much money he spends as long as it brings the necessary talent in helping the team to win that championship. Each season that’s how it goes. Thus, the “any season without a championship is a failure” attitude of Lakerdom.
With Dr. Buss’ death, there is reason for anxiety for the Lakers’ future. Under Dr. Buss, Lakers fans trust that the owner would do all things necessary in his power to keep the Lakers winning. With his passing, his unproven son, Jim, is now fully in charge. Jim has big shoes to fill. And I don’t trust him yet. I can’t feel him having the same passion and vision as his father had. However, I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and will just wait and see in the next seasons. But the only time my uneasy feeling towards him would entirely fade is if a championship team and reign happen during his time as Lakers owner.
2.) IT HAD BEEN FRUSTRATINGLY, DISAPPOINTINGLY HUMILIATING
Every Laker fan was blown away when they were assembled during the off-season… Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. It was like the coming together of the Avengers (or Justice League). Those names, on paper, make one of the strongest, if not strongest, Starting 5 in Lakers history! Everyone has been an All-Star at least one time. Two had been MVPs. Two had been Defensive Player of the Year. Four are probably future Hall of Famers. The championship was almost already in the bag.
Every Laker fan couldn’t wait for the season to start. Lakerdom was feeling very, very high.
Thus, the ensuing fall and crash from that high height have been tremendously hard. Injuries and lack of chemistry destroyed the perception that this team would easily win the championship. It’s as if for every game they win, they lose three. The regular season’s presumed “walk-in-a-park” path to the championship became a “trench-warfare” crawl for a playoff spot. The Lakers eventually managed to finish with an okay 45-37 record, enough for the 7th playoff spot in the West. However, they weren’t able to win a single game in the post-season (See number 4).
Great were the euphoria and boasting at the start; therefore, great were the disappointment and humiliation in the end.
1.) KOBE’S ACHILLES INJURY
Bringing Steve Nash (and Dwight Howard) in should have made life easier for Kobe Bryant. But what happened this season was quite the opposite. D’Antoni’s system was not working. Thus, instead of relying on Steve Nash to be the primarily ball handler and distributor, as what the logical thing should have been, Kobe Bryant was forced to assume this role to carry the Lakers. Thus, even with Nash and Howard in the team, it’s the same old story with the Lakers: Kobe need to dominate the ball in order for them to win.
And carried the team he did. The Lakers was way behind for the last playoff spot, but Kobe guaranteed that the Lakers will make the playoffs. With his legendary heart and will, Kobe played through. Refusing to rest, even if his age requires it. He played heavy minutes – and even the entire game during late in the season. His offense – finding balance between facilitating and scoring – dragged the Lakers in making his guarantee happen.
But at what cost?
Through the years, Kobe Bryant has continually shown his amazing grit and will in pushing his body limits – even playing through injuries that would have sidelined many of his peers and juniors. And it was almost a sure thing that a time would come when his body would finally give out on him and say, “I had enough” – forcing him into a much needed rest that his body has been wanting. That is exactly what eventually happened this season. And it’s one of the worst kinds, if not the worst, of injury that could happen – a torn Achilles.
In their last game with the Warriors (which they have won), Kobe would get fouled and would tore his Achilles tendon. Still, despite the pain, he sank his two free-throws first before being assisted off the court – walking! Let me repeat that: a torn Achilles tendon, he still chose to do his free throws (which he made) before leaving the game, and then chose to wobbly walk to the lockers instead of opting for a wheel chair. (probably because it would look demeaning if he did and his pride won’t allow it). What a badass. It was a heartbreaking and inspiring sight. Fans felt a mixture of pride and sadness for the Black Mamba. Here’s the man, who gave his all for his beloved team, the Lakers. And they said Kobe is selfish, only thinking of himself.
Rehabilitation from an Achilles injury would require six to nine months, or possibly even longer. And no one who “recovered” from such an injury has been the same. Those who had come back from it experienced a significant drop from the prior quality of their game. Of course, this is Kobe we’re talking about – he’s not most athletes. He might even come back better than ever. Nonetheless, to worry that he would no longer play in an elite level when he returns is valid. That is, if he returns at all. Yes, the damage from this injury forcing Kobe into retirement is also a scary possibility.
I was hoping that this injury would fuel and ignite his team to win the championship. But this was wishful thinking in my part. With no championship to show for it, Kobe’s injury has been more frustratingly pointless.
In the end, to nurture the bitter frustration in my heart won’t help me or Kobe or the Lakers. Thus, what’s left for me to do is to continually pray for Kobe’s speedy recovery – a recovery that would bring him back better than ever, to lead the Lakers to another championship. And that championship will definitely be sweeter because of all of these.