Most fans have come to understand that the Lakers aren’t a very good team this year. And that’s okay. Kobe barely played at all and the team has a lottery pick to look forward to. For a fan base that craves championships, they have taken this year remarkably well. But should we?
At the beginning of the year, I thought there was no way this Lakers squad would eclipse the record of futility set by the last lottery bound squad. In 2004-05 they went 34-48 on the first post-Shaq team. But then Steve Nash remained brittle and Kobe broke his leg less than a handful of games into his return from a torn Achilles. Right now the Lakers sit at 22-46 and are seriously in danger of breaking the Lakers’ futility record of 30-52 which happened in 1974-75. With 14 games to go it doesn’t look promising for the purple and gold.
The finger has been often pointed at Jim Buss by most fans, because he is the invisible face of the Lakers who didn’t hire Phil and let Dwight get away. But Jim, with help from Mitch Kupchak, actually put together a fairly decent roster considering the Lakers one year limit on deals, and inability to sign other free agents due to the salary cap. Mike D’Antoni has been right next to Jim sharing most of the blame. He has had completely inconsistent rotations and routinely freezes players out of the rotation for games at a time. But he has also helped to develop players like Kendall Marshall, Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, and Jodie Meeks, all of whom have a chance to be on the Lakers moving forward.
Injuries are the easiest issue to look at for the Lakers’ struggles and have been well chronicled. To really understand the impact of the injuries this season, take a look at the Lakers 2004-05 roster:
Kobe Bryant, Brian Grant, Lamar Odom, Vlade Divac, Devean George, Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm, Slava Medvedenko, Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones, Brian Cook, Sasha Vujacic, Tierre Brown, Luke Walton and Tony Bobbitt.
Here’s this year’s roster:
Kobe Bryant, Kent Bazemore, Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, MarShon Brooks, Kendall Marshall, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, Ryan Kelly, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, and Xavier Henry.
Both rosters have one thing in common – players that weren’t in their prime. Odom, Butler, and Sasha had yet to his their primes and Vlade, Chucky Atkins and Brian Grant were all past their best years. At least this year’s team has a still effective Pau Gasol, a wildly improved Jodie Meeks, and a high level NBA scorer in Nick Young. If this year’s team wasn’t one of the most injured of all time, I believe that this team would be closer to the level of the 2004-05 squad.
So while this team might end up with the worst record for the Los Angeles Lakers franchise, it isn’t necessarily the worst team. Wouldn’t it be worse for the franchise if they ended up with 34 wins and the 10th pick, rather than the top 5 pick the Lakers are currently positioned at? Imagine being in the position the Knicks are in; fighting for your playoff lives, while not having a 1st round pick to cushion the blow if you don’t make the postseason – and that’s in the Eastern Conference.
Here’s something to consider. Every time the Lakers have won less than 35 games, the franchise has won an NBA title within 6 season. Not only that, but each team ended up winning at least 3 championships in the following decade. If this season is the price the Lakers have to pay to for future success, I certainly welcome it.