Realities Changing For Lakers
No NBA franchise is immune from losing. The great franchises find a way to best cultivate their assets and navigate through difficult periods. For years, the Los Angeles Lakers have been known for successfully doing both. Championships are the goal; championship contention is the expectation at the very least. The past few seasons since their 2010 championship, however, have shown that the Lakers may not be included in the title chase going forward.
Much of this season's disappointment can be attributed to injuries. But there are also some realities that can't be disputed.
Kobe Bryant, though he has consistently played great, takes the floor every night with his career inevitably winding down.
Mike D'Antoni, who assumedly will be their coach for the foreseeable future, has a system that hasn't proven championship worthy to go along with a stubbornness that won't allow for much change in that system.
Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, can leave at the end of the season via free agent to a team that has a system that fits his skills. Even if Howard re-signs, the question of who the Lakers will get to play with the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has to be asked. For example: the Rockets have James Harden for four more years, the Lakers have only an opportunity to get Howard a co-star.
These things immediately come to mind as I watch the star-studded team fight for a spot in the playoffs, a spot which realistically would lead to a first-round exit.
I have to wonder if it's just the Lakers’ time go through the rough stretch that the Boston Celtics went through before acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007. Or even the Knicks and the decades they have gone without being able to produce a championship team.
It's a tough spot to be in, but it's a valid question that has to be asked: Is this the beginning of an NBA era that doesn't include the Lakers among the elite?
In the past, a player could easily be swayed to come to play for the Lakers. Who wouldn't want to play for a franchise with such a rich history and strong fanbase? Who wouldn't want to play for the Buss family and add to the tradition?
But the NBA has changed and so has the perception.
There is now an understanding that you don't have to go to the Lakers or any other big-market team to win or compete for a championship. You only have to play with the best talent and that's no longer exclusive to a specific city.
The next crop of free agents will have a clear understanding that the Lakers need them to stay relevant, not the other way around.
That starts this summer with Howard.
He was a superstar before he arrived in Los Angeles and will once again be viewed as one of the elite players in the NBA once fully healthy again. He was able to be very successful with the Orlando Magic without the talent of a Kobe Bryant or the allure of Hollywood and all it offers. In fact, he was so good Hollywood came to Orlando to get him. The same thing will happen if he leaves and wins in another city.
I'm sure Howard knows this, as do the league's other stars.
The decline in Los Angeles since their last championship can't be denied. It can be said that every team falls off, but we've watched the San Antonio Spurs benefit from continuity of Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, while the Oklahoma City Thunder grow from patience. I can't honestly point to either for the Lakers.
I can, however, point to a belief that the history of the Lakers is thought to be the main selling point to players and fans. Applying pressure to a player by asking: who wouldn't want to play for the Lakers?
But times have changed and the questions should also.
The question, in my opinion, shouldn't be who wouldn't want to play in Los Angeles? It should, without question, be why would a player want to play for the Lakers?