2015-16 features a brand new core, a departing hero and a coach potentially on his last chance. Sure, there are no realistic championship aspirations, but here’s a crazy thought: The upcoming campaign might be the most interesting Lakers season before actual games are played in almost a decade.
We all remember that crazy summer of 2007, which featured trade demands from Kobe Bryant, his general disdain towards Andrew Bynum and whether or not ownership would cave to such demands. Could you imagine if we had Twitter back then? #Pluto would be trending worldwide for reasons beyond whether or not it’s a planet. Considering how the season turned out, it’ll absolutely go down as one of the most memorable in Lakers’ history. The franchise somehow went from utter chaos to title contention in a matter of months.
Had they managed to win the title after all that, Disney would’ve made a movie about it.
Yes, fans have enjoyed a couple titles and a potential super-team since then, but this roster offers more intrigue heading into the season, and here’s why.
Championships are obviously fun. They are, after all, the entire point of athletic competition. That said, the narrative in such seasons is fairly straightforward, and can easily grow tiring. Each loss hurts more than wins feel good. Those Lakers rosters, identified early on as title favorites, rarely led to “fun” regular seasons as we parsed effort and execution and whether the lack of either might doom the team’s chances. It was all an overcooked appetizer to the most stressful meal one can try to enjoy – the actual NBA playoffs.
I can’t try to numerate how many fans have said something along the lines of “I just can’t endure another season like the last two” or “please, just don’t let the team suck.” If this is indeed the baseline by which success will be defined, fan expectations should be fairly easily appeased. Knowing that before the season takes place should be a healthy source of excitement in and of itself.
The Lakers’ personnel lends itself to interest here as much as general expectations.
Any conversation about intrigue in the makeup of this team probably has to start with the fact this will probably be Kobe’s final season. Every minor moment we get to enjoy will be bittersweet. Might this be his final home opener? Any game-winning shot might be our last throwback to one of the greatest clutch players in league history. Road trips will undoubtedly feature heartfelt moments between him, the crowd and his opponents. And that final game? Don’t even get me started. Such a season is incredibly rare, and what all this might bring about will generate a wealth of legitimately great moments.
The flipside to those great moments is… Well, you know. And I dare not even mention it.
The Lakers also employ of coach few in the fan base actually believe in fully. Many view Byron Scott as a mere placeholder to keep Kobe happy until the latter retires. Once Bryant is gone, Scott’s value to the organization might be diminished enough for almost immediate replacement, unless the Lakers enjoy some miraculous run to the playoffs. While a change there would be wholeheartedly welcomed by many, the organizational reputation of a coaching carousel isn’t one easily shed. A lot might be riding on Byron’s at least relative success.
Roster turnover arguably drives as much intrigue from year to year as any aspect of sports fandom. Fantasy sports and video games have made us believe we are all experts in the line of personnel management. The positive is arguably the most educated generation of sports fan ever, the negative being the desire for change for the sake of change alone.
In 2012, the Lakers were already easily a playoff team. The additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard piqued interest to astronomical levels. I would argue, however, the narrative was still similar to that of any title-contending team. Any plotline centered around how Howard and Bryant got along didn’t actually gain steam until the games took place. There seemed to be no question as to whether the Lakers would contend for titles not only that season but for several years after. Boy, were we wrong.
In this case, the change has come from more avenues than trades or free agency. The franchise has rebuilt around youth and flexibility. In 2012, the front office swung for the fences and struck out disastrously. In recent years, they’ve been content to form the roster more conservatively. While most fans won’t reasonably expect multiple titles as they might have in 2012, it’s logical to expect a noticeable step forward.
Such an upswing can’t take place unless the final (and probably most) intriguing storyline takes place: The development of Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. When fans of different teams talk to me about the Lakers, the conversation tends to start with either Kobe or the kids. This element of intrigue separates the summer of 2015 apart from previous offseasons not including and involving Kobe’s desire to play on another planet.
As we pointed out here before, the amount of pressure on the Lakers’ young core is immense. Basically, their success is all the front office can use to entice Kevin Durant in this offseason or anyone else in summers afterward. That, combined with a potential Jeter-esque farewell tour and a near fan-base-wide desire for a coaching change make this season undeniably interesting. Fans can complain about plenty with Lakers as a franchise lately, but this season, boredom will not be one such grievance.