Forget titles. After their preseason from hell, Lakes have to make it to trade deadline without losing anyone or giving anyone else away, then try to reload.
In the good news in Lakerdom, it’s not over ’til it’s over….
And it can’t be over if it hasn’t started yet!
Aside from that, of course, the Lakers have looked better starting seasons, in all of them since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe arrived within a week of each other in 1996, with the exception of 2007-08, when Kobe knocked off practice in camp for a couple of days, trying to put together a deal sending himself to Chicago.
This wasn’t that bad, but it still takes a hardy Laker fan to re-experience the last three weeks:
Lakers get Chris Paul.
David Stern takes Paul from Lakers.
(No, Stern shouldn’t have done it, because he had a conflict of interest. Yes, he should have polled owners—but they’d have killed the deal by a vote of, like, 27-3. No, the Lakers can’t complain about bad fortune after the gods dropped a seven-foot star in their laps almost every decade (Wilt in ’60s, Kareem in ’70s, Shaq in ’90s, Pau in Y2K+8).
Lakers re-engage Hornets and Rockets to reconfigure the deal.
Orlando GM Otis Smith acknowledges Dwight Howard has asked to be traded, and says they’re entertaining offers.
Lakers pull out of talks for Paul, switching to Howard… effectively handing their place in line to the Clippers.
Clippers land Paul.
Orlando takes Howard off the market.
Somewhere in there, the Lakes dumped, er, traded Lamar Odom to Dallas, because he was upset at being ticketed for the Hornets, or because he asked the Lakes to move him, or because the Busses didn’t like being crowded by Karsdashian chic, or because Jerry Buss was on another of his austerity kicks, with revenue sharing going up $50 mill, a year before his local TV revenue goes up $120 million.
As a long-time chronicler of Buss family foibles as well as fables, I’ve seen them miss a few, but I couldn’t believe they would unload one of their three tradable pieces (with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, since they plan to keep Bryant), for a mid-round No. 1 and a trade exception, unless it was part of a package going to Orlando for Howard, even if the Lakes wound up getting left high and dry.
The truth generally sneaks out, however. To this point, it looks, indeed, as if the Lakes dumped Lamar to save money, austerity kick, ego conflict with Kardashians, etc.
On the hopeful side for the Lakers, they’re still the Lakers, technically.
Kurt Rambis, now an ESPN commentator, has a handy saying: “The exhbiition season has nothing to do with the regular season, and the regular season has nothing to do with the playoffs.”
If that holds, it would be more good news for the Lakers, now at a low ebb, with Bryant, who has played two seasons splinted, bandaged and bone on bone, for two seasons, starting out with an injured rigth (shooting) wrist to go with the permanently jammed finger on his right (shooting) hand.
The new coach, Mike Brown, had enough to do, trying to follow the Wizard of Lakerdom, the Great and Might Phil Jackson, who could make catastrophes vanish in two what-me-worry sentences, before actual calamities began befalling them.
Before the misdaventures of the last three weeks, the season had T-R-A-N-S-I-T-I-O-N written all over it, meaning Gasol and Bynum were going to hear more about trades to Orlando, New Jersey and places no one ever imagine, than any human could endure.
The Odom trade rocked the payers who loved him, and were already uneasy at all the projected comings and goings amont them.
And for the first time since that horrific off-season of 2007, the Lakers are starting a season without the reassuring knowledge they’re the best in the West and, probably, anywhere.
Now they may no longer even be the best team in town.
The Clippers are more talented, more athletic and, with their heady, battle-tested Paul-Chauncey Billups backcourt, more than a highlight reel mix tape. It’s been decades since the Lakers met a West team without knowing they would have the best player on the floor. If Bryant is better than Blake Griffin, it’s only because of Kobe’s wiles, with his 15-1 edge in NBA seasons.
The Lakers may not be as good as the Thunder. They may not even be as good as the Spurs, who are even older than they are, but deeper and more cohensive, with unbroken continuity, Gregg Popovich having, at least, outlasted Phil.
What Lakerdom is really looking at is a run to March 15, the trade deadline, when this Dwight/DWill situation may finally be resolved.
In recent days, even worse news seemed at hand–a trade sending Howard to New Jersey where he and Williams would presumably have signed long-term deals. The Lakers looked scared out of their minds, which probably accounts for John Ireland’s report the deal was imminent.
Not only wasn’t it imminent, Net center Brook Lopez, who’d have gone to Orlando, then broke a bone in his foot, putting him out six-to-eight weeks…. or until only four-to-six weeks remain before the trade deadline. Nice young seven-footer that he is, he averaged only 5.9 rebounds last season and, coming off his injury, may not be averaging that many by March. 15.
The Lakers, of course, hope they can keep Bynum upright, alongside Gasol through March 15, when time will be running out so the Magic can’t ask for both seven-footers and ask the Lakers take Hedo Turkoglu’s $12 million salary, too… which may have been Orlando wanted this time. That would, at least, explain why talks were like, hi and bye.
The Lakers started last season as two-time defending champions, in kinder, gentler West with no obvious challenger.
The Thunder was too young, the Spurs too old (at least, until starting 44-8), the Nuggets up to here in Carmelo Anthony intrigue, the Mavericks an afterthought, the Suns over, the Jazz about to implode, and Greg Oden was out for the season in Portland.
The Clippers, of course, were still just the Clippers, Blake or no Blake.
Nothing is forever, the Lakers just learned, starting with the Lakers.