I am a die-hard Lakers fan. I remember when the Lakers were a middling team coached by Jerry West with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as their star, and not much else.
I remember when Magic Johnson joined the team (with West as GM), and the rise of Showtime. I remember Magic Johnson's shocking retirement, and the fallow period that took place before Shaq and Kobe made the Lakers great again.
I remember the inevitable fall and then the unlikely rise to two more championships, flanked by a still-dominant Kobe and an inspired, skilled giant in Pau Gasol.
In this time, there have been so many tears (of joy and disappointment), so many clutch shots, incredible runs, controversies, injuries, trades and no shortage of drama.
Last night, the Lakers played the Oklahoma Thunder, their first true measuring stick game, and had their hearts ripped out. It's been that kind season.
According to ESPN's Ric Bucher, Kobe noted after the game, "Times change. That used to be us," which Bucher took as a waving of the white flag, and acknowledgement by Kobe of a window that is probably closed.
Distraught, I finally wrapped my head around what bugs me so much about this team this year. There is no a single game that comes to mind this year where the Lakers played a complete game for all four quarters.
They will show a brilliant quarter, or even a great half, but never all four, which leaves a perpetual sense of dread that the other shoe can drop at any time.
It's little surprise that they lead the league in games decided by 5 points or less, all of which speaks to a talent gap, aging roster, coaching challenges, and a dearth of discipline and will.
All Dynasties End
We have had a great run, but I suspect it's the end for this unit, barring significant structural change (i.e., shifting to a more bigs focused game, where you use your point guard as a point guard, and Kobe plays off the ball).
Yet, when I go to my favorite Lakers discussion board, Forum Blue and Gold, and read the anger, the vitriol and the finger pointing, I am left not mad at the Lakers for blowing it, but resigned to the hard truth: Dynasties rarely end well.
Sportswriter Roland Lazenby puts it best, noting how sports is a game of patterns, repetition, trust and practice, and when you SIMULTANEOUSLY change a coach, a system and deal with a difficult transition from one Alpha dog to the next (esp. because while Lakers Center Andrew Bynum may be ready talent-wise to be the guy, he lacks the maturity, hunger and aggression that Kobe brings), the process is inherently fraught with peril, and takes time to foment.
My only point is that it’s easy to blame the new coach for not being the old coach; it’s easy to blame the son for not being like the father; it's easy to blame the front-office for not being able to turn lead into gold, and it's certainly easy to blame the aging superstar for not embracing the emerging star, but ask yourself this.
How often does it work out when the new coach replaces the old legend, or the boy wonder steps into the superstar's shoes?
How often do teams get old and then magically renew without missing a beat? How often does the untrained son take over the family business from dad, the legend, and tomorrow is better than today?
Simply put, a lot of the angst for long-time Lakers fans like myself comes from knowing that these things rarely end without blood and carnage, and that is what sports is all about.
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