It is the summer of 2016 and, as a Lakers’ fan, it is finally okay to dream again.
For most of my life, or at least the part where I understood what I was watching on TV, being a Lakers fan meant dreaming of the team and its players reaching heights reserved for only the greats of the sport. How far would they go in the playoffs? Would they win the championship? Would player X win the MVP? How many players would go to the all-star game? Etc, etc.
For nearly 5 years, those types of dreams have ceased. They dissipated with a ruptured achilles, free agents walking without compensation, a bloated contract extension, the bringing on of stop-gap players, and the hiring of coaches who either couldn’t live up to the memories of those who came before them or reveled so much in the past that embracing the future seemed like an afterthought.
So, for nearly 5 years, fans’ dreams shifted from things the organization could shape and had some control over to things they really did not. Would a free agent choose the Lakers? Would opposing team X win or lose that night and impact the standings? Would the lottery balls bounce the Lakers way? Etc, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, the Lakers are not likely to be a “good” team next year. A standard improvement from a team which wins in the teens the previous season is an increase of 11 to 13 wins. If the Lakers follow that trend, they will win roughly 30 games next year. I know many hope (expect?) better, but tempering expectations in that regard is the better bet.
However, what these new Lakers offer — the Lakers sans Byron Scott and post Kobe retirement — is a hope and an opportunity of investment at the ground floor. With Luke Walton and a slew of young players who all look like they have some game, it is finally time again to look forward and explore the possibilities of what can be and using that to uplift rather than reveling in the past as a way of distracting from the current woes.
There will be down times. Players as young as the Lakers will feature make mistakes. They can have tunnel vision. They turn the ball over. They miss defensive rotations. They lack experience and the sharpened instincts which come with those additional game reps.
But there will also be flashes of brilliance. They will have moments where they look like the best players on the floor. Where no matter what the defense does they won’t be stopped. Where they get a key steal or rebound or blocked shot. Where they dial in defensively and move on a string. Where they make you forget just how much you wished you could forget the past 5 years.
The inspiration to believe in something beyond lottery odds is here again. The ability to invest in something which looks like it can be planted and grow into something beyond a one-year rental is back. This won’t stop the complaints or the critiques or the want for better. That never ends, silly. But after years of not having much to cheer for beyond the fading shine of an aging legend, the cycle is starting anew. It’s okay to dream again.