The Los Angeles Lakers 2012-13 season has become one of the most polarizing NBA storylines in recent memory, and it has been characterized by a variety of defining moments (almost none of which are positive).
The Lakers entered the season with expectations and aspirations for a championship run. The additions of two-time MVP Steve Nash and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard was meant to be the boost in talent needed to contend for another title. Unequivocally, however, the Lakers have failed miserably at playing up to the hype.
Lakers might end up the most underachieving NBA team ever,— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) March 26, 2013
As the Bobcats beat writer, you know Bonnell has witnessed bad basketball. And yet, he might actually be a bit generous by using the word “might.”
The first defining moment of the Lakers’ bizarre campaign occurred very early when head coach Mike Brown was fired following an ugly 1-4 start.
From there, interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff took over to the tune of a 4-1 mark. Despite evening the Lakers’ record to .500, Bickerstaff was replaced by offensive guru Mike D’Antoni.
D’Antoni has had mixed results with a 31-30 record since taking over. He’s also created a few rifts along the way.
Among the defining moments in Lakerland between player and coach was the relationship between offseason acquisition Antawn Jamison and D’Antoni.
Following five consecutive DNP-Coach’s Decisions, the 15-year NBA veteran voiced his displeasure concerning his lack of playing time. Via Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times, Jamison said:
My only thing is let me know why. I don’t think you go from starting and 30-something minutes to not in the rotation whatsoever. And not explaining to me what exactly happened, that’s the toughest thing. There’s nothing you can do but be positive and support your teammates. The only reason I came here was they said I was going to play and to win a championship.
The DNP’s extended to a sixth-consecutive game on Jan. 1. After that, Jamison notched three minutes and four minutes in two games before getting back up to 24 minutes on Jan. 8.
In D’Antoni’s defense (the only time you’ll see “D’Antoni” and “defense” in the same sentence), Jamison had truly been struggling prior to getting benched. During the month of December, Jamison shot 39.1 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from three-point range and 57.1 percent from the free-throw line. He’s a lackluster defensive player, so not playing him when he’s not scoring the ball efficiently is certainly justified.
The friction between those two didn’t last, though, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN said via Twitter:
D'Antoni on Antawn Jamison: "He understands the type of basketball I love." How far those two have come.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) March 1, 2013
Jamison and D’Antoni didn’t see eye-to-eye for a while this season, but the truly compelling quarrel has been that between D’Antoni and two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol.
Gasol had not only lost his starting job to the previously irrelevant Earl Clark, but he also wasn’t getting to play in crunch time of close games. That’s something the talented Spaniard had never had to deal with throughout his successful career.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, Gasol was not pleased following a 111-106 Lakers win against the New Orleans Hornets on Jan. 29. Gasol was benched in the fourth quarter and responded after the game by saying, “I’m a competitor. I’m a guy that thinks I bring a lot to the table, and not being on the floor is something that I don’t like, I don’t appreciate.”
Gasol has started both games since returning from a foot injury that caused him to miss 20 games. The Lakers lost both of those games and Gasol shot 27.8 percent from the field combined in those two contests.
Gasol is still trying to get back into game shape after missing 20 consecutive games, but it appears as if he’ll be the starter going forward.
Of course, the situations between player and coach haven't been the only significant factors in Lakerland. Another key issue that has surfaced at times is the bristly relationship between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Bryant vs. Howard
In an interview earlier this season with Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, Bryant reportedly urged Howard to play through his shoulder injury saying, "We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal. We need some urgency."
Howard didn't take too kindly to that report. According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, Howard said, "That's his opinion. That's it. He's not a doctor, I'm not a doctor."
D12 also said the following when his competitive nature was called into question:
I want to play, I mean, why wouldn’t I want to play? But, at the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can’t leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. So, if people are pissed off that I don’t play or if I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody’s life is going to go on. I don’t want to have another summer where I’m rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That’s what I want to do.
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, clearly wanted to see a sense of urgency and desire from his new teammate. Howard fired back by saying he's not going to jeopardize a promising career by playing through injury if he's not ready to go.
The relationship between these two stars has been tenuous at times, but Bryant and Howard need to play together if the Lakers have any shot at a championship this season.
R.I.P. Jerry Buss
Even though it seems like an incredible longshot at this juncture, winning a championship in 2013 would be the perfect way to honor the memory of Jerry Buss. The Lakers former owner, who bought the team in 1979 and went on to win an unprecedented 10 championships, died on Feb. 18 at 80 years old.
Although Buss's death didn't rally the Lakers to a win streak at the level experienced by the Denver Nuggets or Miami Heat, it was an incredibly significant event. I'd be remiss not to mention it as a defining moment of the Lakers' 2012-13 campaign.
The Lakers season has been defined by a lack of coaching continuity and a lack of team chemistry, but they’ve still made their way back into the playoff picture.
Something that has helped dictate the Lakers’ fortunes of late is a factor that does not even involve the Lakers.
Fortunate Eighth Seed
The Utah Jazz, a team that held steady in the Western Conference playoff picture, has collapsed. Utah lost four straight games on two separate occasions in the month of March alone. They’re 3-7 in their last 10 games, and are basically spoon-feeding the final playoff spot to the Lakers.
Who will finish the season with the eighth seed in the Western Conference?
The Jazz lost every game on its early March road trip to Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and New York. They followed that up by losing at home to New York and getting swept on their Texas road trip (losing at Houston, San Antonio and Dallas).
The Lakers have improved recently, but they’re still not playing great basketball. As it stands, they’ve been the beneficiaries of Utah’s road woes.
The Jazz will play the last place Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, while the Lakers face the Minnesota Timberwolves (a team on the second game of a back-to-back). Needless to say, this is a must win for the Lakers, who are just one game ahead of the Jazz in the standings.
The Lakers’ season to this point has been defined by a coaching change, disgruntled veterans and the team's ability to outplay the struggling Jazz.
There’s still no guarantee that the Lakers will make the postseason. But if they do, their 5-16 record against Western Conference playoff teams is not a good omen.