It’s hard to be a Los Angeles Lakers fan these days.
Our team, the one that was supposed to win an NBA title this year, can barely win a game. Once we talked about posting the best record in NBA history; now we openly wonder whether we’ll post a winning record at all.
Still, I don’t expect any sympathy.
This is what it’s like to be a fan of the Lakers: You are over three times more likely to see your team win the NBA title than miss the playoffs entirely.
Almost half of our seasons have ended in June, at the NBA Finals; this year, our season could end in April.
We’re spoiled by success. And that success is fuelled by a franchise that has consistently made the right moves at the right time.
There were the aggressive trades that brought in Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Pau Gasol. The inspired drafts of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Magic Johnson. The signing of free agent Shaquille O’Neal.
And then there was the time the Lakers took a chance on a skinny 17 year-old who came to the NBA straight out of high school: Kobe Bryant.
That is why, when I worry about my Lakers, rival fans show absolutely no sympathy. The Lakers, they sigh, always find a way to win.
Except, this time, I don’t really see one. Not an easy one, anyway.
What can the Lakers do? Standard practice when a team in any sport is struggling is, of course, to fire the coach. But the Lakers already did that: Mike Brown was fired just five games into the season and replaced with Mike D’Antoni.
How about a big trade? For months now, there has been talk of Pau Gasol moving on. But that suggests someone else wants Gasol badly enough to offer someone valuable in exchange. And as much as I love Pau Gasol (and I do), I struggle to see who would want an expensive 32 year-old who has declined in virtually every major statistical category this season.
No, nobody’s coming to save this team, no magic trade, no clever coaching change. This mess needs to be resolved on the court. They will somehow need to find a way to win, and win now.
The Lakers cannot afford to waste time. I do mean that literally: This line-up is too expensive to keep together. And this team is old. Kobe is in his 17th season. Steve Nash will be 39 next month.
There’s also no guarantee Dwight Howard will still be a Laker next year. Howard is a free agent after this season. It was widely assumed that he would sign a new deal with the Lakers and become the leader of the franchise when Kobe retires in the next few seasons.
But given the mess the Lakers are currently in, could you blame Howard for finding a better situation?
When Howard joined the Lakers in the summer, we thought we had a team that was ready to make history.
Sadly, we were right: In over sixty years as an NBA franchise, the Lakers have missed the playoffs just five times. This could be the year we make it six.