Tuesday, April 22, 2014

R.I.P. LA Lakers 2013-2014

Kobe's reaction perfectly embodied the sentiments of Lakerdom.
As I write this, the NBA playoffs has started.  And for the first time in nine years – and just the second time in my tenure as a basketball/NBA/LALakers fan – my beloved Lakers are not in the playoff picture.  They finished this season with an abysmal 27–55 record – the worst in franchise history!

Last season was my most disappointing as a Laker fan, but though I am not expecting much from the Laker team this year – thus, the disappointment is still lesser than last season’s (because the lesser the expectations, the lesser the disappointments) – this development still left a bad taste to me.  As someone who is used to see the Lakers’ being “invincible” no matter what, seeing them to end this season in such an awful state is kind of a shock.   

The start of the season was actually pretty optimistic, even though Kobe wasn’t able to play yet.  The Lakers were hovering along .500.  They win some and lose some.  And during those wins… wow… the Lakers were a lot of fun to watch.  They had an awesome eclectic rotation of players and the minutes were distributed evenly.  Nobody was getting more than 20 minutes.  But everyone made sure that every minute of their playing time counts.  Everybody contributed.  Everybody played with energy.  Hence, the box score of the Lakers were often looking like this:

Therefore, they had an unpredictable team identity and game style.  They were not title contenders, but they were surely entertaining at least.     

Then the injuries happened.  Every single one in the roster has been in one point sidelined due to injury. This resulted in significantly depleting the team’s depth.  Mike D’Antoni seems to have been made the scapegoat for this, that the up-tempo pace he insisted the Lakers to play on led to these injuries. 

Yep, it was this bad.
Of course, the blame is not at all completely on Mike D’Antoni.  The injuries and the Lakers’ worst season record ever – I won’t put all of these on him.  In fact, under D’Antoni, I’ve never had the feeling that this weakened lottery-bound Lakers team underperformed.  Really.  It seems to me that D’Antoni made the best out of the situation at hand and the resources he has been provided.  This Laker team under D’Antoni never gave up.  The injury plagued, depth-lacking Lakers played hard even though they were outmatched and losing.  Even when the Lakers were already rapidly sliding in the playoff race and then, eventually, virtually out of playoff contention already, I never found the perception that this Lakers team slacked off and just took it lying down, considering that as such situation, business-wise, it is preferred to “tank” – to intentionally lose as much as possible – so the team would have more chance of receiving a higher drafting position during the lottery.  And I can find something to be proud about in that.  You can never accuse my Lakers of tanking this season.  (Even if they did, Mitch Kupchack and Mike D’Antoni did it in the most subtle way possible – masking the tanking by making an appearance of “not tanking”: up-tempo pace = injuries; injuries = depth-depleted Lakers; depth-depleted Lakers = weakened Lakers; weakened Lakers = awful season record; awful season record = high draft pick position.  And with the Lakers already weakened and set to lose, the “playing hard” aspect of the team, having no significant effect on the ending result whatsoever, serves as a perfect smokescreen of the Lakers’ shrewd tanking strategy.  If that’s true, that is equally impressive.)

Nonetheless, though this season’s appalling outcome is not completely Mike D’Antoni’s fault, it still happened under his watch.  As the leader, he’s accountable.  And I think it unlikely he’ll be back as coach next season.  I want a new coach.  But I’m not at all for replacing D’Antoni just for the sake of replacing him.  If there are no better options available (and don’t tell me everyone is better than D’Antoni.  I don’t buy that), it’s prudent to keep D’Antoni at the helm for a little longer. 

So, the 2013-2014 NBA season is done for me as a Laker fan (but as an NBA fan, I’m still enjoying the playoffs.  I really want the Indiana Pacers to win the title, but that seems unlikely).  There could be a silver lining in all of this.  But we’ll only be able to really see it when we’re already looking back at this particular moment of Laker history, enjoying the success we’re having then and realize that that wouldn’t be possible if not for this. 

Until then and forever, proud to be...

Some random musings:
• I hope the Lakers’ pick will turn out to be an awesome franchise player. 
• I hope Kobe will still be able to play in an elite level in his return.
• I hope Pau returns to the Lakers.  For a reasonable contract, of course.  He might be no longer playing in a “best finesse big man” level, but I think he can still contribute.  Maybe.  Hmmm.  Okay, I admit, I want him back primarily because I’m greatly fond of the guy (might write something about him in the near future, before or during the off-season)
Pau doesn't look soft in black at all.
• My most favorite Laker thing this past season: the “HOLLYWOOD NIGHTS” BLACK ALTERNATE JERSEY!  It looks so awesomely bad-ass!  That is something I’ve been wanting for the Lakers to have for a long time.  It’s kind of a bummer though that this fan milestone had to come in the Lakers’ worst season ever.    
• My second most favorite Laker thing this past season:
Swaggy P!
Nick Young is no Kobe Bryant, nor a star-caliber player.  I’ve never cared much for Young before, but by becoming a Laker, I get to really observe him.  And I get to like the guy’s game.  He has his flaws.  But I would love to have him back next season (at a reasonable contract) as Kobe’s back-up.   Again, he’s far from being Kobe, but there are parallels.  He is utterly fearless in shooting the ball.  He is never intimidated by any opponent he matches against; even if it’s someone like LeBron James, he won’t back down.  And he can be a showboat enough to get the crowd on their feet.  A player like that coming off the bench, with the energy he’ll provide, would be an asset.  Sure, there will be times he might take to many bad shots and harm his team; he’s a scorer-type after all.  But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.  For me, with regards to Young, the pros outweigh the cons.     
• Paul George was the one I was originally hoping the Lakers will pursue.  Too bad that is nigh impossible to happen anymore after he signed that extension with Indiana.  I guess I’ll go with Kevin Love (the consensus among Laker fans) then.  (And I won’t mind LeBron.)      
• Jim Buss promises he’ll step down if the Lakers aren’t contenders within the next three years.  We’ll see.  Lakerdom is impatient.  We need another championship… fast!

Kobe should get at least one more before retiring

No comments: