Bernucca: Future murky for Lakers, biggest underachievers in NBA history

Dwight HowardBefore Game 4 of their Western Conference first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers handed out white towels to fans at the Staples Center.

Apparently, someone in the marketing department didn’t understand symbolism. By halftime, those towels had become flags of surrender for the Lakers, the biggest underachieving team in the history of the NBA.

Dwight Howard offered his own symbolism, figuratively throwing in the towel midway through the third quarter. Unwilling to grit his teeth and bang and bump his way through all of another telling, embarrassing loss, he got himself ejected, starting his offseason of uncertainty with an hour’s headstart on his teammates.

Dwight Howard, human surrender flag. Yeah, there’s the sort of toughness you want to build a franchise around.

Eight months ago, the Lakers had assembled a superteam for the ages. People were talking about 70 wins. Among a panel of 35 “experts” at ESPN.com, 33 said the Lakers would win their division, 25 tabbed them as Western Conference champions and eight picked them to win it all.

You say the media doesn’t know what it’s talking about? Fine. In an NBA.com survey, all but one of 30 GMs had the Lakers winning the division, 18 said they would win the West and seven had them hoisting The Larry.

I don’t want to hear about injuries. GM Mitch Kupchak knew Howard was coming off back surgery and Steve Nash had been nursing mutiple aches and pains for several seasons.

I don’t want to hear about age. Kupchak knew the acquisitions of thirtysomethings Nash and Antawn Jamison made his team older, slower and extremely susceptible on defense.

I don’t want to hear about coaching changes. Smart coaches develop schemes that fit their talent instead of forcing talent to fit their scheme.

The projected starting lineup was a former Defensive Player of the Year who actually was the runt of the litter; a four-time All-Star and arguably the best all-around European player ever; the NBA’s best center, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and the game’s most impactful paint player; a two-time MVP who is among the league’s best passers and shooters; and simply one of the greatest players ever with an unmatched will and competitive nature.

The injury whiners will point out that the projected starting lineup took the floor just seven times this season. Right. And went 0-7.

“It’s not necessarily about having the best names,” forward Metta World Peace told CBS Sports Radio this weekend. “It’s about being the best team. So this year, I felt we had the most talent. It just wasn’t translating and it didn’t connect.”

From Nov. 21 to March 8 – a span of 107 days – the Lakers were not above .500. They lost home games to Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington, three of the worst road teams in the league. They won three road games all season against teams that finished with winning records. They had to win eight of their last nine games just to clinch a playoff berth on the final day of the season.

With a $100 million payroll, the Lakers finished 45-37. That was the same record as the Houston Rockets, whose payroll was $52 million. They were swept in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1967. They lost all four playoff games by double digits and led those games for a total of 5 1/2 minutes.

When told that the 120-89 beatdown in Game 3 was the worst home playoff loss in franchise history, Earl Clark said, “Damn, that sucks.”

I challenge anyone to find a team that has underachieved more in a single season. The 1994 Seattle SuperSonics and the 2007 Dallas Mavericks may have suffered stunning first-round upsets, but both those teams won 60-plus games with less talent than the Lakers and neither was swept out of the first round.

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  1. Steve Kass says

    Just did a little research. ‘Primary residence’ is the qualification for state residence. I think players can pull off that ‘primary’ residences are where their home when not on the ‘road’ works for the IRS. . .

  2. Steve Kass says

    Players can claim income (I believe) in the state where their official home is, even if they travel and live part time outside of that state (I think Jeter pulls this off-pays no state taxes with his monstrosity in Tampa) and I believe Howard still has some pretty nice digs in Orlando, which incidentally also has no state income tax. But yeah, future=ugly only getting uglier. Kobe will not be as good, Nash may as well be glass at this point and Howard is a joker and second best player on a champinship team. . . writing is on the wall. Nice article.

  3. Brad says

    Here’s the Offseason Plan. 1) Re-sign Dwight, 2) convince Metta to opt out of his contract and resign for more years at a lower price, 3) amnesty Steve Blake, 4) Trade Pau for a package of youth and picks involving either a) Kevin Love, b) Luol Deng, c) LeMarcus Aldridge, or d) Ryan Anderson, 5) sign Monta Ellis for MLE, 6) sign a few veterans for minimum to chase a ring. That is all.

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