It is hard to see historic franchises when they are in full rebuilding mode, regardless of sport and/or season. Even as said efforts are a necessity when we take into account the modern salary caps, free agency, and overall parity in American sports, the lore of some teams makes it hard to digest for their fans, while provoking the schadenfreude of their foes.
This is why it has become quite the spectacle to see what the Los Angeles Lakers are going through nowadays. In a way, it had been coming for a while, as the Lakers have slowly regressed after winning their 16th championship in 2009-2010. The following three seasons were marked by competent regular seasons that ended in embarrassing playoff exits, as well as the exits of star players like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, and injury struggles to franchise icon Kobe Bryant.
It all fell apart in 2013-2014, when the team plummeted all the way to 27 wins (the lowest total since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1960). Bryant missed all but 6 games, Pau Gasol seemed unhappy and showed his age, while Steve Nash was limited to only 15 games during the year. The rest of the roster was predictably awful, with the team relying on the likes of Jodie Meeks and Nick Young to produce on offense.
The Lakers finished 21st in offense and 28th in defense, which seems logical if you saw the team from night to night.
Heading into the 2014-15 season, the team was quick to hire a new coach in Byron Scott who could install a new level of discipline. Also, Gasol bolted to Chicago Bulls, and he was replaced by limited veterans like Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, while the team took its high draft pick to take Kentucky's Julius Randle. All these pieces were acquired to hover around a rejuvenated Kobe, but even the preseason was turbulent.
Reports surfaced about Bryant's animosity towards potential free agents (notably Howard and Carmelo Anthony), while the wily veteran was accused of creating controversy in the locker room. The preseason consensus became that the Lakers would probably be a lousy team again, and so far they have been proven correct.
Through two games, the Lakers have suffered consecutive blowouts by at least 18 points, lost Randle to a season-ending injury, and have looked discombobulated, to say the least. With this in mind, today we present the three main reasons why this has become the new reality for Los Angeles' glamour franchise, and how the current season will be painful to watch.
Their Roster is Terrible
With Nash missing the whole season due to a nerve problem and now promising rookie Randle waiting to shine until late 2015, the Lakers now feature one of the thinnest rosters in the league. They will have to rely on Bryant, who just turned 36, to somehow deliver a vintage season and guide the team most nights, but that seems like a stretch despite his ultra-competitive nature.
The other two recognizable veterans, Boozer and Lin, are coming off bad seasons and feature a limited skill set. Boozer's All-Star seasons now seem like a distant memory, as does Linsanity and Lin's scoring prowess. Their backups may be even worse, with sophomore Ryan Kelly being the nominal sub at power forward, and journeyman Ronnie Price (in his sixth team in 10 seasons) getting reps at point guard. Also, the thin depth chart will also see the Lakers give considerable minutes to the likes of Xavier Henry and even Robert Sacre, which should be as bad as it sounds.
Coach Scott has been vocal in his desire to avoid three-pointers and play a conservative brand of basketball, which doesn't bode well for a team that could at least rely on risky play to be competitive against superior teams. Also, their defense may be even worse than it was last season, and allowing 113.5 points per game to start the season has only served as validation to that idea.
They Play in the West
The Eastern Conference was a mess in 2013-2014, with only a handful of teams presenting a quality team throughout the season. The East again looks mostly lousy for this season, but the West has kept most of its strength and should give us a season-long battle for the last 4 playoff spots.
If the Lakers played in the East, there could be a scenario where they could somehow scrap together 40+ wins, make a few trades, and be mostly competitive. However, their reality is that they have to fight in the tough West, where they have to join Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, and Utah Jazz as probably the only squads that don't have any chance to contend.
Last season, the Lakers went a combined 15-37 versus their Western counterparts, and this year the results shouldn't be that different.
Tanking is a Good Thing
Despite their history and their demanding fans, the Lakers are now in prime position to rebuild quickly, and 2014-15 is instrumental for that. The team knows that the Phoenix Suns hold their first-round pick from the Steve Nash trade, but that pick is also top-5 protected. While it seems unfathomable that a Kobe Bryant-led team could sink so low, this path could be the best course of action.
After this season, the Lakers will get rid of Nash's contract and overall will have only around $47 million in guaranteed deals (Bryant's $25 million representing the only albatross), so if the salary cap grows as expected, they will have enough room to pursue a couple of notable free agents and quickly vie for a turnaround. Pairing this with a possible top-5 draft pick, the return of Randle, and their status as a glamour franchise, the Lakers could be back to contending really soon.
So even if the Lakers miss the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1974-76, it could all be for a good cause. It may be painful to now watch their neighbor Clippers getting rave reviews, but don't count out the Purple and Gold returning to being the kings of LA.