Great teams and franchises can have off years, but the decline of the Los Angeles Lakers and the way they’ve set themselves up to not succeed through a 3-4 year stretch is an excellent example of a once excellently run club that has simply lost its way.
The Lakers have lost 13 of their last 16, losing 98-118 to the Indiana Pacers, who looked like they were toying with the visitors in a close first half before deciding to play defense and pull away, showing the real difference between the two teams.
The Lakers are now 19-38, en route to the worst season (probably) in over 50 years. The Lakers have missed the postseason only five times in history. They’ve won less than 40% of their games in a season only three times. The championship doesn’t belong to the Lakers even though some fans, like in every sport, think they’re entitled to success and winning, but it’s obvious that this season is something special in the grand scheme of things – especially bad.
And it was written on the wall. From the NBA championship in 2010 the Lakers downgraded to being swept in the conference semifinals against the Mavs in 2011, looking just as bad a year later when losing 4-1 to the Thunder at the same stage. Instead of trying to build a team around Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, they decided on creating an expensive super team going into the 2012-2013 season, adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
The pieces didn’t fit, and if it wasn’t for some downplayed excellence from Dwight Howard while Kobe Bryant stole most of the spotlight, the Lakers would have missed the postseason in 2013. They finished with a 45-37 record, getting swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Kobe Bryant was already injured by then.
There wasn’t any real way to avoid what’s going on this season. Dwight Howard escaped the awful situation while Kobe Bryant tried convincing him to stay by yelling at him at the pitch meeting between the sides. Steve Nash was looking his age, with a deal that doesn’t fit what he contributes. Nash had the option to go for a title contending team, but preferred the money, and by that doomed the ending of his career and the chances of improving for the Lakers. Maybe he can “fix” that by retiring at the end of the season.
The injuries this season have been truly special, but the Lakers aren’t alone in the injury business. The Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs have been hurt in every which way. The Minnesota Timberwolves last season can relate and sympathize. The Lakers aren’t in this shape because of injuries. They’re in this shape because of what their ownership and management decided.
To stick with Kobe Bryant – they didn’t just avoid amnestying him which would have been the wisest decision if the “future” is what they’re thinking of, but actually gave him another mega deal for two more years, that doesn’t allow them to build a championship team, around him or around anyone else. That has been the biggest decision. Taking Mike D’Antoni, not trading Pau Gasol a year ago. It all comes down to a team blinded by its own name and past, thinking that it”ll be enough to make up for lack of talent and bad decisions. This season is punishment for hubris and arrogance, and the funny thing is this might not be the last in the string of disappointing, painful years.