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What is this thing, hope? alternately: Drowning in our own hubris
December 12, 2012Posted by on
Back in September, the odds makers in Vegas or Jersey City or Macau or wherever it is they reside set the odds of a Lakers championship at 9-4. For the sake of comparison, the defending champion Miami Heat also had 9-4 odds; which makes the Heat and the Lakers the odds-on-favorite to win the NBA crown … as of September. As I sat down to write this, the Lakers were 9-12 and a full two games outside of playoffs in the Western Conference. They were in the middle of a strange slap fight in Cleveland against the Cavs—a team that no doubt scraps and scrapes, but in terms of today’s talent, they’re many rungs lower than the Lakers on any imaginary talent ladder.
But for multiple reasons, I enjoy watching this Lakers team and it’s not because of any hatred I harbor for Kobe or the Lakers because I don’t hate the Lakers or Kobe. It’s not even the smoldering dislike I have for Dwight Howard—which I do have. It’s because there’s something beautiful in the struggle and I don’t mean beautiful struggle the way disenfranchised people struggle to find justice and equality in a prejudiced world. I mean it in the sense that there’s an awesome collection of talent on this Lakers team and, to some debatable degree, they’re trying to learn how to successfully coexist with each other. And in that struggle, I find them more intriguing than the team that won over 70% of their games the past five seasons because there are so many strange things going on with this team and their least interesting player is somehow Metta World Peace. And since I think lists are kind of gimmicky, but my brain moves in bullet points, I decided to lay out my feelings and views on the 2012-13 Lakers, an old team that could be hopeless or hopeful … or both:
- The Lakers as imagined by a European soccer owner: The Lakers have always loved to make a big splash and collect talent and in that regard, they’re similar to those mega-spending Euro soccer clubs that build football foundations on cash and bricks of gold and hope that’s enough for success. Sometimes it works like Manchester City’s EPL title last year, but other times it ends up like Chelsea or Real Madrid—a pair of accomplished clubs that seem to be influx for perpetuity. Chelsea’s been through eight managers since 2008 and Real Madrid’s backups could compete for a UEFA crown on their own. It’s talent for days, but what’s that matter when it’s assembled without any sense of compatibility, cohesion, personality or style? Sound familiar?
- Will Steve Nash even help this team? Mike D’Antoni loves to run the pick and roll, but how’s that going to work with Dwight and Kobe out there? How’s Nash feeling sitting on the bench and witnessing this avalanche of ineptitude? He looks sharp, has a nice new Tom Cruise-approved LA haircut and can be counted on to be a good soldier, but on the insides of the walls of his mind, in places we can’t penetrate; it’s likely a tumor filled with doubt and regret is growing.
- Speaking of Steve Nash … how great is the Phoenix training staff? Anyone who follows the NBA is aware of the Suns’ magical powers of resuscitation and now we have the final proof, the absolute truth: Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Each of these aging (by NBA standards) players experienced mostly clean bills of health during their stays in Phoenix, but now that they’ve relocated to opposite ends of the Staples Center, they’ve appeared in a combined two of 42 games this season. Phoenix, we salute you.
- How bad does it hurt to let your team down? Hack-a-Shaq has evolved into a hack-a-Dwight and Howard has predictably failed at the free throw line where he’s shooting a career-worst 48%. Too much pressure in LA? Too much pressure having to look Kobe in the eye after you miss another freebie? Eh, I’m not too concerned that Dwight’s missing these shots, but I’m curious about the psychological impact it has on him. Shaq couldn’t shoot throws to save his life and Wilt Chamberlain was worse than Shaq and Dwight. Each of these dominant giants has masked any insecurity they may have with blinding and deafening personas that divert and distract from pain, but somewhere deep in those psyches, behind the conquests, jokes and accomplishments lays shame and embarrassment at having stand in front of the world, naked and vulnerable, and be judged.
- I alluded to this a bit in the second paragraph above, but part of the reason I want to keep watching this team is because something is going to happen. If the Lakers keep up like this, then the finger pointing, the blame game, the inability to trust … all of it is going to get to worse and while I don’t wish harm or anguish on these guys, it makes for an entertaining season and future and after all, sports exist for entertainment. The other reason, the preferable reason (depending on your allegiances) is the belief that the Lakers will figure things out, that Nash will come back, Pau will thrive in D’Antoni’s system, Dwight will get his legs and his back healthy and dominate defensively and of course Kobe will have the opportunity to explore the non-scoring facets of his game. This is the hope, but we have to find out if our basketball prayers (for better or worse) are answered.
- Is this the longest winter of Mike D’Antoni’s life? That’s kind of tongue in cheek since the experiences life delivers us far exceed the game of basketball, but in professional terms, this has to be painful. And it leads to another question: Can Mike D’Antoni coach at this level? While the Seven Seconds Suns were delightfully pleasing to the eye and the box score, D’Antoni hasn’t proven capable of improving or innovating from that original style. Many fans and analysts saw his apparent disregard of defense as a cardinal sin he could never overcome and sadly he’s done nothing to prove otherwise. Instead, he’s bounced across the country in high profile jobs with his maverick mustache, laid back approach and lukewarm results. I have to give him leeway with this Lakers team that was strangely constructed and the short timeframe he’s had to turn things around, but if the struggles continue, Mike D’s head’s going to be on the chop block (figuratively speaking … I hope).
- Phil Jackson can coach. It’s a natural segue from the previous questions about D’Antoni. I’m not saying the Lakers should’ve caved to the allegedly ridiculous demands made by the Zen Master, but to all the fans and anti-Phillipians out there who love to accuse Phil of riding the coattails of Jordan and Kobe, look at the nightly confusion that is the today’s Lakers and tell me that shit would fly with Phil sitting on the bench in that crazy special-made chair he had.
- Was a curse attached to this trade and if so, did Rob Hennigan cast the spell? When I first read about the Dwight-Bynum-Iguodala trade this summer, I was least impressed with Orlando’s inability to get back any worthwhile assets (except for Aaron Afflalo, we all appreciate his contributions). But in the true, humbling nature of the universe, everyone in this deal appears to be struggling with their new acquisitions—except Orlando. Andrew Bynum’s combination of knee injuries and hairstyles has resulted in Moses Malone reconsidering his retirement (“for the good of Philadelphia,” he says). I thought Iguodala would blend in brilliantly in George Karl’s intense defensive approach to the game, but instead he’s playing about as poorly as he ever has as a pro. We’ve already discussed a few of the Lakers woes above. And that leaves Orlando; limping along at 8-12, but doing two things extremely well: Playing hard and playing together. And they’re facing some of the same challenges as the Lakers—new coach and new teammates. It’s a relative comparison since the Lakers are living below lofty expectations while the Magic are playing above the lowest expectations (they tied Charlotte with the worst odds to win the title: 1,000 to 1).
- Dwightmare revisited? Of the possible dastardly outcomes of a Lakers collapse, the potential for a return of the Dwightmare is most concerning. Nothing gets the media’s attention like a juicy, sensational rumor; especially one that involves one of the league’s best players and signature franchises. And if the Lakers continue the current backslide, only time will stand between us and a litany of quotes from “unnamed sources.”
There’s a reason the sports books in Las Vegas are still accepting sports bets and haven’t gone out of business yet: They know more than we do. And they missed this early-season Lakers conflagration by a country mile and then some … just like the rest of us did. To say there’s anything certain attached to this Lakers team (other than them playing 82 games this season) is to actively participate in self-deception. So when your friends or your favorite bloggers or handicappers approach you with their foolproof theories and analysis of why this Lakers team will either sink into the abyss or triumph over the uncertainty of the day, kindly remind them, like the universe occasionally has to remind us, that we’re all walking through the darkness of today toward the light at the end of the tunnel of a tomorrow we’ll never reach.