Alex Each always believes in
His wife might elbow him in the ribs if he didn't; the first name of the
So even things like Kobe Bryant's uncertain return from a torn Achilles' tendon,
"Kobe has had more resurrections than any athlete I can remember," said Each, 39, an electrical engineer from Fairfax, Va., who watches every Lakers game via
"On his side, he has the best footwork in the game. That won't change. What might change is his ability to get by defenders and elevate. But do I think he will become
He isn't the only Lakers fan who believes Bryant and his team aren't turning into flat-footed entities a la the
Eight of 10 Lakers loyalists contacted by The Times predicted their preferred team would make the playoffs in the upcoming season, though that's hardly the baseline of success for a franchise with 16
The Lakers are usually expected to contend for championships, something even those fans who swathe themselves in purple and gold on a daily basis concede is unlikely for a team that could trot out a starting lineup of
A few fans admitted they would not follow the Lakers as closely as they normally do, particularly if the team struggles.
"I'll watch the same number of games at the beginning of the season," said Rudy Rodriguez, 65, a retiree from Walnut. "I'll watch fewer games when they start losing."
Rodriguez said he doubted he would attend any games at
Chris Rivera, 48, a director of talent acquisition in the healthcare industry who lives in Placentia, said he hasn't harbored such meager hopes for the Lakers since the season preceding superstar center
Some fans believe the Lakers are actually better off now that a once-dominant center has left town.
They contend that during Howard's one season in Los Angeles he was larger than life only on the billboards the team put up encouraging him to stay. He opted last month to ditch his Bel-Air home for Houston, which O'Neal recently derided as a "little town."
"Dwight Howard is a real nice fellow," said Charles Reilly, 64, a corporate recruiter for an information technology company who lives in Manhattan Beach. "In fact, he's a fun-loving 15-year-old in a man's body. He just wasn't cut out for the media attention and the spotlight of a big city like Los Angeles. He also didn't care for his coach [
Howard's departure might ease Gasol's longstanding angst about securing enough touches in the post, something longtime fan Geno Apicella said could help the 7-footer enjoy a bounce-back season in which he averages 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"It will not be a good thing for Pau," said Apicella, 50, who works in sales, distribution and production of watersports products and has been a Lakers season-ticket holder since 1988, "it will be a great thing."
Apicella also likes the free agents the Lakers obtained this summer through the NBA equivalent of bargain-bin shopping. Young and fellow forward
"These four players are far and away a better fit for this team," Apicella said, "and when you can get younger and better without spending a lot, I think it was a coup."
One issue that universally worries fans is Bryant's return from the injury he suffered in April when he crumpled to the floor against
But should he push himself to return by the Lakers' opener Oct. 29 against the
"Kobe should not try to rush back," said Reilly, the corporate recruiter. "If he does, he may end his career much sooner than later. Even Kobe can't escape the rules and laws of medical science."
Chohong Choi, 40, a graduate student who closely follows the Lakers from his home in Hong Kong, said Bryant's need to round into form will require him to involve his teammates more than usual upon his return.
"If he can take care of his teammates," Choi said, "they'll return the favor."
As for the notion that the Lakers should intentionally plummet in the standings to increase their odds of getting a lottery pick and drafting once-in-generation talent
These are, remember, the Lakers.
"Fans won't want to sit through 82 games of deliberately lackluster basketball," Choi said. "They may excuse failure, but they won't excuse abandonment."