With less than 30 games left in the season, the Lakers are already looking forward to closing a chapter on a season that will go down as forgettable.
There wasn’t much high expectations going into this season, but it’s hard to believe anyone truly could imagine the Lakers being in almost last place of the competitive Western Conference. Also, certainly no one thought Kobe Bryant would miss this many games and potentially have his career hanging in the balance of ending. It’s definitely hard times in Los Angeles, but there is plenty of hope if history repeating itself has taught us anything.
This Lakers team reminds me a lot of a nemesis from the past that also struggled all season with injuries to iconic-veteran players, finished with a terrible record and had similar uncertainties in determining the direction of the organization. This team ended up in the lottery and ultimately won it by drafting a big man that would help lead them to a NBA title two years later and then added three more in his hall of fame career. The nemesis from the past that the Lakers should look into for hope is the 1996-1997 San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs were undergoing similar struggles as the present day Lakers where they finished (20-62) and second to last in the Western Conference. It was a backbreaking season for the Spurs as their franchise player and scoring leader David Robinson only played six games due to injury. Other key-nucleus veterans, like Sean Elliot and Chuck Parson, also missed many games throughout the season due to battling injuries, which left the Spurs undermanned on the floor.
The coaching situation was also a total mess as the current head coach Bob Hill was fired midway through the season and replaced with, the one and only, Gregg Popovich. Then we all know the ending to this story with the Spurs winning the lottery that year to nab Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest, David Robinson and veteran company returned to full strength the following seasons and then defeated the New York Knicks in the shortened-locked out season of the 1999 NBA Finals.
The parallels between these two teams, which are separated more than a decade from each other, is very chilling and potentially spirit lifting for all of Los Angeles. The Lakers are still hoping Kobe Bryant can come back at a high competitive level and possibly have a similar impact Robinson achieved when he returned from missing the majority of the season as well. Additionally, key veteran Steve Nash is still a wild card to see if he has anything left in the tank and Pau Gasol signing back could mean the central nucleus could still be in place for one last championship push.
The Lakers also still have a ton of cap space to spread around in building a competitive team and possess a really great chance of winning the lottery to draft a franchise changing player who could instantly turn things around with the support of a veteran cast. Kansas big man Joel Embiid could potentially mirror that dominate force and impact the Spurs experienced when they drafted Duncan because Embiid is becoming more polished with each game and drawing comparisons that his potential could reach the heights of Hakeem Olajuwon.
It’s also not too farfetched to believe Mike D’Antoni is completely safe with rumblings of Byron Scott being the next coach to lead the Lakers back to dominance in the basketball universe. Many things are still left to be seen when the season ends, but all we can hope for is that history will continue to repeat itself. Even if it means repeating the history of a dreadful nemesis that resides in San Antonio.