“Here’s a timeshare in Hawaii for you, and one in Cancun for you, and a Rolls-Royce for Mom….
“Dad has to run downtown but we’ll eat at, like, 6 p.m.?
“No problem. By 4, we should be winning by enough to coast in. We’re the Lakers.”
Of course, even with local talk show hosts predicting they’d win 72 or 82, their bubbles would last a week or two.
This one lasted 44:15 of Christmas Day, before the Lakers blew an 11-point lead over the Bulls in the last 3:45. Then they were upended in Sacramento where Phil Jackson delighted in torturing the fans (“semi-civilized barbarian rednecks”) before walking over their team, before finally beating the Jazz last night.
Now for a digression:
I know many of you are curious about the exciting, new Clippers. People here are excited about the Clippers, who sold the rest of their seats for this season.
I’m excited about the Clippers, too, but we’ll get to them soon and often enough.
Age and accomplishment, before beauty.
Now, back to our story about how tough life at the top is….
If things didn’t start as the Lakers and their fans hoped, who else could have been surprised after their Preseason from Hell (David Stern takes Chris Paul away, Orlando keeps Dwight Howard away, Lakes give Lamar Odom away)?
Oh, right, the Lakers’ owners.
Before the hits started happening, officially, Jim Buss told the Los Angeles Times’ T.J. Simers:
“I think we have a championship team and that’s without making another move….
“I don’t understand the thinking that we need saving as a franchise. We have three All-Stars, and we need saving?”
Three? I know what you’re thinking. I had to look it up, too.
There is a third: Metta World Peace in 2002, when he was called Ron Artest.
(The fact that Jim knows this leads credence to reports he pushed to sign World Peace in 2009, after Trevor Ariza’s agent said the Lakes had to pay a premium that no one else would, sending Trevor on his way to Houston, New Orleans, etc.)
(Not that it was a total disaster with Artest coming up huge in the Game 7 win over Boston in the 2010 Finals, one of the biggest games in Lakers history.
(And with amnesty arriving in the nick of time, the Lakes can duck $22 million in luxury tax through 2014, even if they have to pay Metta’s remaining $14.6 mill.)
No, I’m not sure the Lakers are still the Lakers, either, Toto.
There is no joy in Lakerdom, even if things are going pretty much according to the script… like the one from the movie, “2012,” in which Southern California falls into the ocean.
Actually, the seas engulf the whole world but we take pride in the local setting, like the grocery where the doofus Amanda Peet left John Cusack for, tells her, “I just feel like there’s something pulling us apart”–just as a crevasse splits their aisle, leaving her on one side of a yawning canyon and doofus on the other.
Then there’s our beloved Santa Monica pier sliding into the ocean, followed by the rest of Santa Monica… a handy metaphor for Lakerdom, which is either going bananas in one direction or the other.
Not that the organization hasn’t been through times tougher than these, even if these are the first with free-wheeling Jim Buss as spokesman.
One way or the other, they’ll wind up as a pretty good team.
Of course, after playing in seven Finals and winning five titles in 11 years, with courtside seats up to $2,750 (apiece, not for all of them together), “pretty good” will get you run out of Lakerdom on a rail.
This season had t-r-a-n-s-i-t-i-o-n written all over it, with moves to make, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum besieged with trade talk, Mike Brown trying to follow in Jackson’s gargantuan footsteps, before the Preseason from Hell turned Laker dreams into nightmares.
Just to show how much things changed in four weeks, the Lakers opened training camp thinking they had a chance to land Howard and Paul.
Of course, things would have to break right, which meant beating everyone to Paul first.
The Magic still hoped to win Howard back, made him available only when he forced them to, and asked for blockbuster deals, as if the Lakers and Nets were the ones holding the fire sale.
With Paul, the Lakers would have been halfway through their transition, which would have left them in nice shape with CP3, Bynum and Kobe Bryant if nothing else happened.
Unless something positive happened in Orlando, the Magic would have been running out of options by the trade deadline, obliging the team to stop asking for pie in the sky and take the best offer… which figured to be Bynum, if he was healthy.
Within striking distance of landing Paul, the Lakers were, instead, struck down by Commissioner/Hornets owner David Stern.
Then, as they tried to reconfigure that deal, Howard unexpectedly hit the market, ending months of coy silence by asking the Magic to trade him.
Sucked into switching to Dwight, the Lakers effectively handed their place in line for CP3 to the Clippers, who may now take their place as the best team in town.
If you’re disappointed the Lakers aren’t going to win a title, that’s on you.
Above all else, this season was always going to be a crossroad for them with two ways to go—on to further glory with Howard, Paul and/or Deron Williams, or off into an unknown wilderness.
Now it has become a slow run to the trade deadline, which isn’t until March 15.
If they remain in good position to get Howard or New Jersey’s Deron Williams—either of whom would open up a bright future–there’s also a nightmare scenario:
Dwight signs with the Nets, who have room for a max deal, to play alongside DWill… long shot that it may be, with Howard taking $25 million less as a free agent unless it’s a sign-and-trade, with Brook Lopez, the centerpiece of any deal, out until February.
Happily for Lakerdom, with the waves about to wash over the ferris wheel on Santa Monica pier, the schedule served up the Utah Jazz, now reduced to expansion team level, and the Lakers got a win.
Now for the 11-week run to March 15, in which we’ll see whatever.
Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns appear each Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter.
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