Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are passionate. They are opinionated, and they are informed. They appreciate the team’s history but would prefer to look to the future. They want the team’s fortunes to rebound quickly but know in their hearts it will take time. They will not hesitate to criticize front office moves but will defend the team when outsiders in the media profess to know the Lakers better than they do and pile on in an exaggerated fashion.
While Los Angeles Clippers fans are on vacation, there is no offseason for Lakers’ fans. They know Byron Scott had to go and that Luke Walton was the best choice to replace him. They go from the lottery to the draft to free agency to summer league, and they pay close attention to all of it. They know that D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. have not been resting, that they are hard at work in the gym to improve their games. They look forward to watching Brandon Ingram in the summer league to assess how much of a contribution we can expect from him this fall.
Of course, what Lakers fans do best is fight with each other. Should we trade the second pick in the draft or keep it? Is Russell going to be a superstar or a bust? Is Clarkson better as a starter or coming off the bench? Should we trade young players for (check the box) DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler or Paul George?
It is time for Lakers fans to stop putting each other down and circle the wagons. The Lakers are under attack from members of the elitist national media who have a tabloid mentality but disguise themselves as serious journalists. They immediately ridiculed the signing of center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year deal worth $64 million but had no problem with the Memphis Grizzles paying Mike Conley $153 million, the Toronto Raptors paying DeMar DeRozan $139 million or the Charlotte Hornets paying Nicolas Batum $120 million. Conley, DeRozan, and Batum are good players, but none will ever be the number one option on a championship team.
Give the Lakers some credit. Does anyone really think they would have rushed to sign Mozgov if they thought they had a chance with Hassan Whiteside? Since we know now that Whiteside is a businessman first and a basketball player second, it was good business for him to stay with a team that could pay him top dollar in a state with no income tax. Moreover, the NBA likes to pretend that no one talks before the free agency period starts, but teams all know in advance who is interested and who is not.
Lakers fans were hoping for a sexier choice. With limited options, the truth is, Mozgov is a pretty good NBA player. This past season doesn’t count because the Cleveland Cavaliers signed Tristan Thompson to a large contract and thus had to start him. Mozgov was also coming off surgery last summer that hampered him early in the season. This is the same Mozgov who Cleveland (i.e. LeBron James) coveted so much the season before that they surrendered two first-round draft choices to trade for him.
Mozgov has played quite well against the Lakers in the past. He is a big body on defense and has a surprisingly versatile offensive game which includes a mid-range jump shot, and he can finish with both hands at the rim.
The point is, the media jumped on the Lakers without allowing the free agency period to play out, to see all the questionable moves made by other teams. They pronounced that the franchise is dead, that this is the lowest moment in Lakers’ history.
Are the oft-injured Chandler Parsons and the modestly talented Evan Turner and Evan Fournier (to name a few) worth the massive contracts they received? It is just a sign of the times, and to call out the Lakers for special criticism is absurd.
So far, as expected, nearly all of the top free agents simply stayed put. Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, only their current teams could offer Conley, DeRozan and Batum the deals they got. The system is set up to allow teams to keep their players. It will happen occasionally, but it will be rare when a player passes up that kind of money and security to move to another team.
When it does occur, such as in the case of LaMarcus Aldridge last year, the player will move to a team that gives him a better chance of winning a championship. Kevin Durant is not leaving perennial contender Oklahoma City to join the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, or Philadelphia 76ers. Nor sadly, will he leave to join the Lakers.
It took the Lakers a while understand and adapt, but they know now that they need to rebuild from the draft (which is what they are doing), and when their young players become stars, the team can outbid anyone else and keep them. Unfortunately, at present, they have no players on the roster to protect in this manner.
Lakers fans know the real culprit, the person who is really to blame for the hard times which have befallen the team. Here is a hint: It is not Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak or Byron Scott. It is not Kobe Bryant. It is not Dwight Howard or Steve Nash.
It is David Stern. The Lakers can’t say it publically, and the media does not talk about it, but what Stern did to the Lakers was devastating. It caused crushing damage to the organization, and it will take a full decade to get past it. The Lakers made a fair trade for Chris Paul, and if that trade had not been unjustly vetoed by Stern, the last five years would have been very different, and today Durant would be meeting with the Lakers, not the Clippers.
The Lakers need their fan base to put aside their differences and show support for what the Lakers are trying to do. It will take time for the team to contend again, but they’ll get there. You’ve got Luke and a good young core. Be patient and enjoy the climb. To all the naysayers, just know that the Lakers will have the last laugh.
One last thing: Don’t count the Lakers out yet. The summer isn’t over. The subsequent addition of free agent Luol Deng, another good veteran, was unexpected. There could be another surprise or two. You can be assured they’re working on it.