It is almost over now. This season of injuries, losses, records of the wrong kind being broken, and, mostly, failure. That can sound harsh, but it isn’t meant to be.
This season started under the guise of hopes just to make the playoffs. Internally and in issuing sound bites, key figures spoke in the same grand terms they typically have — “contention” and “championship” were words tossed out as the goal, but we all really did know better. This team was built with cast-offs and rentals and asked to be a team. And for the first part of the season, they were that. But then it started to fall apart similar to the bodies of the players. Nerve roots and knee caps, hamstrings and groins, strains and fractures.
And through all that there was a coach searching for…something. A lineup that worked. A power forward to stretch the floor. A big man who played well on both sides of the ball. Rotations changed. One day you were in, the next you were out, and a week later you were back in.
It’s been 78 games of this, but it is almost over now.
Where the team goes is the question on everyone’s mind. Kobe has his contract extension, but has no team to surround him at this point. The Lakers will have some dough to spend, but last I checked cap space has never grabbed a rebound or hit the open man in stride for an easy bucket. That money must be used wisely and, probably not all on one player. After all, the Lakers aren’t one guy away. After all, even a prime Kobe and Shaq needed other dudes to help them get those rings.
Speaking of building a team, Mitch Kupchak is pretty good at that. In fact, he’s been so good and is so trusted the Lakers extended his contract. Next season was to Mitch’s last under his current deal, but the Lakers rectified that last night.
Last night Mitch, maybe after signing that deal, sat down with USA Today’s Sam Amick and spoke openly and honestly about the path ahead. He didn’t “give away his plan” but acknowledged the team has a lot of work to do and said he is not sure if it will be one, two, or even three years to get to where they want to be. He also said many other insightful things, so click away on the link.
One of the questions he answered was about Mike D’Antoni’s status for next season. Kupchak stated that no decision has been made to this point. However, Dave McMenamin is reporting that the Lakers are “leaning” towards not retaining their embattled head coach. This only a week after Kevin Ding said the opposite. If all of this makes your head spin, well, welcome to the club.
If the Lakers do make a change at coach, one writer thinks they should target UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie — and he thought that even before the Final Four.
Another player who is out for the year is Kent Bazemore. The 2nd year pro tore a tendon in his foot and will soon have surgery. This, though, is just one more obstacle for him to overcome in what has been quite the journey to get to the NBA.
Much like Bazemore’s journey, the Lakers have an arduous path ahead. Building a winner takes time, it takes talent, and it takes a fair amount of luck. It takes a coach and a front office all on the same page. And even when all those things happen, a team still might not win it all. For all that the Thunder have done to build their contender, they still have yet to actually win it all. Their accomplishments have been many and should not be diminished in any way. But this is your gentle reminder that winning is hard and even the most prepared team with a boatload of talent may not break through.
The Lakers, actually, know this better than most. Because while fans love to talk about the 16 banners and the hall of famers, there are also the 15 defeats in the Finals. They have been oh-so-close more times than most teams could ever dream of and have felt the heartbreak that comes with it too. In a way, then, it’s good to remember the feeling you have now watching this team lose 50+ games. Because just as the team has broken through before, when you have been down in the dumps feeling awful, the turnaround is that much sweeter. Even if it does take years.