Back to the Future
• dEDGE Post Scriptum •
Dwight Howard scorns the bright lights of LA for the obscurity of candle-lit Houston. Kobe Bryant tends to his blown achilles tendon and Vines himself jumping down, but not up. Steve Nash is another year older and another year removed from his MVP reign in Phoenix. Mike D’Antoni is still the head coach and still not Phil Jackson. Metta World Peace, Ron Artest and Tru Warior are all amnestied in a harsh realization of the NBA’s luxury tax. With D12 out, Pau Gasol is in… that is, until rumors begin to percolate right around February’s trade deadline. While questions about this team’s resolve remain unanswered and unproven, unabashed fans of the Los Angeles Lakers embark on the 2013 season with a clear mantra, “Just wait until 2014.”
If there was ever reason to doubt the purple and gold, the Summer of 2013 should jettison any bandwagon fan directly across the hallway. The Clips remain the next best thing to an NBA title contender since Donald Sterling reinterpreted the definition of settlement. The once, lowly Clips are now projected as a likely Western Conference finalist while the 16-time, banner waving Lakers will be hard pressed to match last season’s meager accomplishments with Howard, Gasol, Bryant, Nash and MWP in the line-up. Gone are all remnants of D’Antoni’s coaching staff, the sole exception being big brother Dan. Also awry are any expectations of a 17th championship, that is, until the Lakers reload in the free agent rich Summer of 2014.
Lacking in substance and quality, the Lakers have gone the route of nostalgia, bringing back former Angelenos Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar. Ownership would never say it out loud, but this team has been built for a solitary season of expiring contracts and temporary bodies. The names and faces look familiar, the better to alleviate the harsh reality of another “wasted” season. Last year was championship or bust, and after the disastrous tenure of the cowardice, the finger pointing quickly turned on anyone and everyone. What better way to appease a dedicated, yet unrealistic fan base than to direct them back to the past; a happier time full of warm, fuzzy feelings and meager goals?
Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Elias Harris won’t quite elicit the oohs-and-ahhs of Dwight Howard powering home an alley-oop jam, but they will fill a void that has been blatantly absent for the past several seasons, youth and athleticism. Look for both Johnson and Young to bring instant excitement to a debilitated bench. Henry appears to have finally found his comfort zone in his 4th NBA season and could be on the verge of a Trevor Ariza-like breakthrough. Although newfound fan favorite Earl Clark is off to greener and richer pastures in Cleveland, his ceiling was viewed as relatively low, as proven by his late season descent to earth after his meteoric rise. With Jordan Hill back from hip surgery, Clark was expendable, even after recording his best statistical season of his career.
Steve Blake finally flourished in the offense and returns for a 4th and final season as does inconsistent streak-shooter Jodie Meeks. Back-up center and lead cheerleader, Robert Sacre also returns as inexpensive insurance to the injury-prone Gasol and Kaman. Gone are Antawn Jamison, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, late addition Andrew Goudelock and doghouse dweller, Devin Ebanks. To complete the nostalgia tour, the Lakers added Mark Madsen and Kurt Rambis to the coaching staff, along with Johnny Davis and Larry Lewis. And on the farthest fringes of reality television, lies the smallest of opportunities to resign former 6th Man of the Year, Lamar Odom.
The Los Angeles Lakers start the season with a tenuous schedule and if the shaky start under former coach Mike Brown seemed bad, this has the potential to be even worse. Lowered expectations and the frail health of veterans Nash, Gasol and yes, even Kobe has pundits calling for no better than a 12th place finish in the talent-rich Western Conference. But the Lakers have never been accused of tanking so don’t ever count this franchise out. Stranger things have happened and with a bevy of free agents available in the upcoming off-season, look for some serious trade scenarios popping up right after Christmas.
And should Mike D’Antoni and the Lakers stumble badly out of the gates, there are plenty of eager candidates waiting in the wings. Although Phil Jackson has ruled out ever coaching again, his regime is far-reaching and any assistant under the Zen Master will automatically bring back instant credibility. If you want to reach even further back, Byron Scott, a Pat Riley protege is patiently biding his time for an opportunity to join the bench on the purple and gold. With Kurt Rambis now part of D’Antoni’s staff, a shift in direction is easily possible with one or more of his cohorts jumping onto this nostalgic tour.
It may not be pretty, it may not be Lakers caliber basketball that we’re accustomed, but it will be basketball from the heart. As Lakers Nation patiently waits for the main act to hit the stage, all we can do is hum along and snap our fingers to the beat of some treasured oldies.