by Lindsey Beakes
Let’s talk about the Lakers. The Los Angeles basketball powerhouse is probably one of my favorite topics to discuss, and not because I like them. As one of my least favorite teams in the NBA, I was nervous/angry/disappointed/jealous when the team acquired both center Dwight Howard from the Magic and point guard Steve Nash from the Suns. Even the additions of guards Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks were predicted to bring only good things for Los Angeles. For a team that already boasts Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, among others, the acquisition of even more big names just meant one thing to me: the Lakers have it all. Just as the Miami Heat have built a team that seemingly has all the talent needed to win, the Lakers roster makes the team appear beyond strong. On paper, this team is a great one.
Bring in the pre-season. A team that was predicted to dominate the West ends up going 0-8—the first winless preseason in the history of a winning franchise. The disappointment was credited to the adjustment period of the new team, much as the Heat took its time to win the NBA Championship despite being the favorite. No matter how great a team may be, they have to learn how to play as a team. Sure, Bryant and Gasol are used to being teammates. They each know how the other player works and plays. And of course, Steve Nash has the NBA experience and Dwight Howard has freakish athleticism. Still, if you throw all of those abilities out onto the court, they still do not guarantee wins, as Los Angeles has shown recently.
The Lakers not only had the challenge of adjusting to the new roster, they also had the challenge of working with a new head coach. Following in the steps of 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson is not an easy task, especially when you can’t seem to get your team to win. This was a lesson Head Coach Mike Brown soon learned. The Lakers went from a historically bad preseason to a historically bad start to the regular season. They began 0-3 before finally beating the Detroit Pistons and most recently, the Golden State Warriors, the team that had its most disappointing starting record in history. At the end of the preseason, we could all finally say this: The Lakers are the worst team in the NBA.
Last week we learned that the Lakers relieved Mike Brown of his coaching duties. Sure, the team was not playing well, but was it too soon? Lakers’ officials and spokespeople say that the team was not winning at the pace it was expected to and that it was simply not headed in the right direction. Although it seems quite rash that the Lakers would fire the new coach just six games into an 82-game regular season, when there is a precedent of greatness and even greater players are added to the lineup, it is difficult to accept anything less than expected.
This past weekend, rumors circulated that the two lead candidates for the head coaching position were Mike D’Antoni, former coach of the New York Knicks, and the man who knows the Lakers best, Phil Jackson himself. Shortly after these rumors hit the media, word followed that there was a “95 percent chance” Phil Jackson would return to the team he had coached before retiring last year. With an injured Steve Nash who has played in only two of the Lakers’ five games so far, a recovering Dwight Howard and an injured Kobe Bryant, the team needs new hope. Perhaps going back to the old ways is the best way to re-instill it. (Editors note: D’Antoni was hired after the writing of this article).
What this says to me, however, is that the room for error for certain NBA teams is shrinking. These powerhouse teams keep trading for bigger names, creating what appears to be monopolies of teams. In a sense, the fans get it. The NBA seems to be more business-minded than, say, the NCAA. These are huge sports franchises and when they aren’t winning, they aren’t making the most money they could be. If you take the great team that the Lakers appear to be on paper and assume that the players will actually generate wins, they will only get stronger over time. More wins likely means better recruits and better trades. Probably my least favorite example of this is Ray Allen’s departure from the Boston Celtics to the Miami Heat. Simply put, these athletes are in the NBA to win.
I think it is good for both the NBA and its fans that things have not gone accordingly for the Lakers so far. If Mike Brown was able to get his team to perform in the preseason and the beginning of the regular season, predictions of the Lakers making it to the finals would have been right on track. The monopolies of great players that are the Lakers and the Heat seem to be the favorites this season and fans know that. However, that doesn’t mean we want to see everything go according to plan and have both teams go undefeated the entire season.
The drama that has been the Lakers in the beginning of this season keeps the sometimes predictable NBA a lot more interesting. A historically bad start? A fired head coach? In a world where we see there is little room for failure, this all adds to the excitement and possibility of what the rest of the season could bring. If anything, this makes fans more likely to watch the Lakers. In 2007, the San Antonio Spurs went 2-3 in the preseason and won the NBA Championship. Although this is certainly different from what the Lakers—who are used to going 6-2 and winning the title—have grown accustomed to, it means that not all hope is lost.
Am I saying the Lakers will do this? No, but I am saying it means the fans will be watching.