The Los Angeles Lakers, winners of 16 NBA championships, and arguably the most popular organization in the league, are suddenly on the precipice of a harrowing stretch like they have never faced before.
There have been brief periods of mediocrity, but that was mostly tempered by the attraction of superstar players in their prime, whether that be Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant. There is no one on this team that is going to help them win its next championship.
The jockeying for internal power within the hierarchy of ownership is also something to keep an eye on. Jim Buss has seemingly taken full control of the basketball operations side of the franchise since his legendary father, Jerry Buss passed away. This outcome has been a topic that has kept many a Laker fan up at night. Jeanie Buss, his sister, still runs the business and marketing side of the organization, but there doesn’t seem to be a united vision in taking this franchise into the future. The only thing that is really going to keep the Lakers relevant these next couple years is that they most likely will be Kobe Bryant’s last seasons in the NBA.
These past few years haven’t been kind to the Lakers, with them only advancing as far as the second round, yet there seemed to be point of optimism, especially with the acquisition of Dwight Howard.
We all know how that ended. Howard left for the Rockets in the offseason, in what is a first for the Lakers: a superstar in his prime choosing to leave the organization.
We don’t know if Howard will ever be the same after his back injuries, but this had to be crushing to the Lakers brass and fans. Why did Howard leave? Your guess is as good as mine, but here are a few of mine. He doesn’t have to pay state income tax, gets to play with James Harden (who is a top 10 player), but I think the biggest reason is that he didn’t want to play in Bryant’s shadow.
Bryant, a brilliant player throughout his career with a legendary work ethic, also has a personality that isn’t suited to cozying up to people. His famous feuds with Shaq don’t compare to the Howard situation, but his unwillingness to cede the spotlight his last few years in the league probably gave Howard all the incentive he needed to move on. In other words, Howard was gone, even had Bryant not injured his Achilles.
All that is left of this team are fast fading former superstars (Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash) and borderline rotation players (everyone else). Mike D’Antoni, the curious coaching hire of a year ago, still has 2 years left on his contract, with a team option for one more. The odds that he finishes that contract seem to be slim to none.
Why he was chosen to coach a team, especially last years version, over the iconic Phil Jackson will always be a mystery to everyone except Jim Buss. The Zen Master could have even persuaded Howard to stay, but that’ll never be known. Despite D’Antoni’s own tremendous credentials, this move will be frowned upon for years to come by Lakers fans. Not even Kobe can solve all these problems…unless he asks for a trade.