Teams with a strengthened core, like Brooklyn, are confident they have done everything possible to take the final step to win a title.
Teams such as Oklahoma City and Chicago, who were limited by injuries, are optimistic that if healthy, championship dreams are realistic.
Teams that have been building, like Cleveland, are thrilled with the young talent they have added and even though they know they are not championship contenders, they fantasize about that next step to the playoffs. And after that, dare to dream.
And then there are the Los Angeles Lakers, whose fans have had to deal with rejection in a way they have never experienced in their history. The Lakers have always been a destination franchise – a place where Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal and countless stars and role players wanted to play.
They have history, they have Hollywood, they have Showtime and they play in one of the few major cities – perhaps the only one – where the NBA is far and away the most popular sport.
Which, of course, results in the most irrational fans.
Because of those 16 banners, because of those legendary players, because the Lakers are a way of life, the decision of Dwight Howard – unquestionably the best center in the league – to leave the glamor of LA for the humidity and overall averageness of Houston has had an unnerving effect on the Laker populace.
So you know what has happened? Lakers fans aren’t dealing with it very well. And it does seem the front office has taken on characteristics of the fan base. The result is the Lakers are looking at the off-season in a way they never have before.
Which is to say they are excited about the 2014-15 season.
That is correct. They are excited about next offseason, not this one.
The dream – or delusion, perhaps – is for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to opt out of their contracts after next season and join a healthy Kobe Bryant with the Lakers.
That is an honorable goal for the team. It is somewhat like wanting to start a new business with aspirations of having Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison for partners. Who wouldn’t want that?
While the chances of a LeBron-Kobe-Melo troika are remote, it is fascinating to consider the story behind the story, which was broken by two reputable reporters for ESPN.com. The information obviously came from parties close to the players, the team or both, but it would seem that the entity with the most to gain would be the Lakers.
With Howard gone, Bryant recovering from surgery on his left Achilles tendon, ultra-talented teams in Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio and down the hallway, the Lakers do not have realistic expectations of adding that 17th banner to the rafters next year.
So how to deal with that? Easy. Sell the year after. Focus the fanatics on that 2015 championship parade and perhaps they will be a little less restless this season.
If LeBron and Carmelo were willing, of course, the Lakers would sign them quicker than you can say Phil Jackson, who, by the way, might even come out of retirement again to coach those two and Bryant. (And then he could write another book and mention how difficult it is to coach Bryant.)
But all the reasons that have already been stated and written on why James would not go to LA – if he wins a third straight title in Miami, why leave? If he wants to leave, why not go home and repair his relationship with Cleveland? – there is a larger reason.
Whose team would the Lakers be? And at this level with these personalities, don’t think for a second that it is not a major issue.
LeBron went through that in Miami. As much as he deferred to Dwyane Wade, when it became apparent that he was far superior, Wade announced publicly that James was better. When asked why he would say that, Wade replied, “I try to speak the truth. He is.”
Can anyone imagine Kobe saying the same thing?
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