Lakers will be chasing wrong kind of history this season
There may be banners signifying 16 titles hanging from the Staples Center wall, but, right now, the traditional question of whether the Lakers will win a championship has been replaced with something a bit less majestic.
Will they ever win a game?
The season-opening bagel grew to historic proportions Tuesday with a 112-106 loss to Phoenix that left both players and fans wandering off into the darkness shaking their heads.
Have you looked at the schedule? Seriously, look at the schedule. If this team doesn’t win Sunday at home against Charlotte, they might be hanging that bagel on their Christmas tree.
This was their fifth defeat in five games, the worst Lakers start in 57 years, since the team played in Minneapolis, where that winter will surely not be as cold as the one here.
Before the game, Coach Byron Scott urged the team to play as if this were a Game 7. They played with that sort of passion for long moments, but this is a team not built to survive Game 7 of the regular season.
“We played hard for the most part,” Scott said afterward. “But there’s no moral victories. We have to get better as a basketball team on the defensive end.”
Indeed, the end was so typical of this Lakers team, with the defense completely falling apart after Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer pulled them within two points with 1:07 remaining. The Suns’ Eric Bledsoe promptly beat half the Lakers team to the basket, where he was fouled and then converted two free throws. After Bryant missed a layup, a wide-open three-pointer by P.J. Tucker clinched it.
“We made mistakes on the defensive end in the last few minutes that we can’t make,” said Scott.
The biggest mistake, of course, was in Lakers management even constructing this type of doomed team in the first place. The Buss family obviously thought Bryant would be enough to keep fans happy. Those fans stuck around for most of the game Tuesday, and indeed cheered every great play like it was a Game 7 but, make no mistake, nobody is happy.
This 0-5 start is the worst since they went 0-7 in Minneapolis in 1957, en route to a 19-53 record and worst winning percentage (.264) in franchise history.
This team wins 19 games, they’re throwing a party.
That Minneapolis franchise was, ironically, coached by a former Lakers star making his homecoming return to the bench, a guy named George Mikan. Don’t look now, Byron Scott, but Mikan went 9-30 before he was replaced.
Seriously, the new coach is not in trouble, he’s one of the only things hanging around that remind the fans of the good old days. The players are not in trouble; how much can you blame a starting lineup of an aging Bryant and four other guys who look like Lakers impostors?
The league record for most losses belongs to the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who were 9-73. Once again, look at the Lakers schedule. Good luck finding even nine wins in there.
Even when the Lakers do something right, everything is turning out wrong.
Bryant traveled through time Tuesday night, playing 44 minutes while once even leaping the courtside fans in a single bound and sticking the landing. Then, later, he dribbled Goran Dragic out of his sneakers on a drive that brought the crowd to its weary feet. Yet he was eventually called for traveling after smoking Dragic, and also missed 23 of his 37 shots to put a damper on his 39 points.
“He plays every game like its his last game, and that’s what you want,” said Scott.
If he keeps trying to carry this kind of load, his last game will come sooner than he planned.
There is some thought that, unlike last year when their tradition and pride dictated that they had to at least pretend they were trying to win, the Lakers should drop all pretense and tank it. That’s a good thought. They have a top-five lottery pick that they will lose to Phoenix if they fall out of the top five. They need to stay real bad before they have a chance of getting read good.
As the losing continues — and it will continue — there will be increased chatter around the league that the Lakers should trade Bryant to begin their rebuilding now, or that Bryant will make such a stink that they will have to trade him.
Even amid this smoking wreckage, don’t believe either scenario.
The Lakers didn’t ruin this roster and give him one of the most foolish contracts in NBA history — they handed him $48.5 million when he wasn’t even healthy — just to see him end his career elsewhere.
The Buss family has been insistent that he will be a Laker for life, and it’s hard to imagine them reneging on the sort of loyalty deal that they say was inspired of their late father’s spirit.
As for Bryant, despite his desire for a Michael Jordan-tying sixth ring, it is hard to think he would turn his back on this Lakers loyalty by demanding a trade and leaving before the end of the contract. Bryant has done some ego-tastic things in his career, but he’s more mature and protective of his legacy now. He knows the Lakers have paid him like nobody else would pay him. He knows they have spent nearly two decades nurturing him, protecting him, and picking him over Shaquille O’Neal. One could easily see Bryant, if he stays healthy, leaving the Lakers after next season and spending a year or so chasing that sixth ring with a relatively small contract for a contender. But it’s hard to see him walking away from the Lakers while they still want him.
And, yes, they should still want him. What other choice do they have? What other reason is there for fans to come to the games? Does anybody really care about anybody else on the roster? And because Bryant would only agree to go to a contender, what sort of young players and picks could they really get for him right now that would satisfy the fans who have clearly bought into this two-year farewell tour. Having painted themselves into a corner with the Bryant money, they now have to live with him there, or it will become one seriously dark and cold corner.
So Bryant stays, and should stay. Of course, it’s only 0-5. Check back with everybody at 8-40.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke
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