Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol could only look on as the San Antonio Spurs made quick work of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2013 postseason.
Injuries, coaching changes and death in the family. All three factors contributed to the unravelling of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, who had fewer positive moments to cherish than negative.
Taking a look back through the highlights of a plagued campaign, one can't help but feel a small ping of sympathy for a dysfunctional group that simply got crushed by adversity.
Aside from a few brilliant individual performances and the acknowledgement of two of the city's greatest champions, the Lakers would rather lock this season's memories far away. And, as if the struggles of this season weren't enough, Los Angeles has a very rocky offseason ahead as well.
But before we get ahead of ourselves and plunge into speculation about the future of stars like Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, let's have one final comprehensive look at the 10 most important moments of the Lakers' year organized in chronological order.
When Dwight Howard was finally traded and agreed to take his talents to Southern California, NBA fans rejoiced. Most rejoiced because his embarrassingly dramatic departure finally ended, regardless of where he ended up. Yet, in Los Angeles, Lakers fans hailed his arrival via trade as a huge piece to a potential NBA title run.
Admittedly, I too believed that Howard combined with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol would be too big of a force for anyone in the Western Conference to reckon with. How wrong I turned out to be.
In any case, Dwight’s arrival was an exciting time in LA, when optimism ran rampant and the Lakers once again promised to be a team feared around the league. His lighthearted acceptance of his new jersey and home were a refreshing change from the scene that followed him leading up to the trade.
Of course, Dwight ultimately failed to leave the drama at the door this year, and things turned out a bit differently than expected. The biggest question still remaining is whether D12 will return for another shot in Los Angeles or quickly head for the door as he did less than one calendar year ago.
Mike Brown’s tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers met a quick end. In his place stepped offensive-minded Mike D’Antoni, who quickly and appropriately noted that his expectations were to win a championship and nothing less.
D’Antoni’s promises at this early juncture turned out to be ill-founded. However, his assessment of the Lakers franchise and projection of what it would take to derail the Lakers’ season turned out to be eerily accurate.
Despite initially being handed the keys to a seeming winner, D’Antoni could only watch all year as his stud athletes crumbled around him. How much of this season’s turmoil was Coach D’s fault? And how long will he remain at the helm? Only time will tell.
Early in the season, Los Angeles Lakers fans were looking for just about anything to cheer for. At halftime of a December bout with the Portland Trailblazers, Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes was honored for his Lakers greatness.
Everyone in the arena rose to their feet as Silk’s jersey was unveiled in the rafters, and his ensuing speechlessness garnered a warm response from the Lakers faithful. Behind him stood teammates and other Lakers legends Jerry West, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor.
In response, the current Lakers team bludgeoned the Blazers by the final score of 104-87 despite a cool 26 points on 12-17 shooting by LaMarcus Aldridge.
Who says the All-Star Game doesn’t mean anything? Certainly not Kobe Bryant, who was clearly playing for bragging rights against NBA powerhouse LeBron James.
While the two were likely never to meet in the postseason—a prophecy that quickly came true—Bryant seized the opportunity to play one-on-one with his younger counterpart. It is rare to see such effort in the usually casual display of superstardom, but Kobe did not waste the opportunity to stick it to the player deservedly considered the league’s current best.
Prior to the game, Michael Jordan issued a statement that he’d rather have Kobe over LeBron, founded mostly on his sick obsession with winning (and counting) championships. Perhaps MJ gave Kobe a little fuel. Regardless, his defensive effort against LeBron was another typical Bryant moment and one of my favorites of the season.
Dr. Jerry Buss will forever be remembered as one of the key forces in establishing the greatest Los Angeles Lakers teams of all time. In fact, some of the greatest players in NBA history played for Buss’ team, garnering the Lakers national prominence and year-to-year continuity.
Dr. Buss passed away on February 18 at the age of 80, but he left behind a legacy that will far outlive his days on this planet. He instilled pride in the Lakers brand and ensured longevity beyond what nearly any other franchise has been able to accomplish in the National Basketball Association.
Even Kobe Bryant, who bows to no one, took a moment to help the Lakers faithful recognize the passing of a legend. Preach, Mr. Mamba.
Staring down another midseason loss to a subpar team, Kobe Bryant decided to take matters into his own hands. And his hands quickly caught fire as they have so many times before.
Down late to the Toronto Raptors, Bryant started hoisting ill-advised, heavily contested threes. Despite having to create his own shot and often finding himself trapped and off balance, Kobe rose up and knocked in three consecutive buckets from range to keep the Los Angeles Lakers afloat.
While Bryant’s 2012-13 campaign was rich with terrific individual performances, his solo act against the Raptors was a microcosm of his role for his team throughout the entire season.
Dwight Howard made no small story of his departure from the Orlando Magic. In a summer coined the "Dwightmare," Howard was a model of indecisiveness and slowly tortured every suitor until Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was finally able to land the big fella.
As if to add insult to injury, "Superman" destroyed the Magic in his Orlando homecoming, registering 39 points and hauling in 16 rebounds in leading the Lakers to a 106-97 victory.
In fairness, the Magic didn’t help their own cause by sending Howard to the line 39 times. Even though D12 only sank 24 freebies, his 39 trips to the charity stripe tied an NBA record that he set just a year before.
It was about this time in the season that Dwight began to look healthy and as explosive as fans in his former city remembered him to be.
After a heroic season—No. 17, to be exact—Kobe Bryant’s legs finally came out from under him. Based on Bryant’s reaction, the pain was immediate and severe.
Yet I can’t even pretend I was surprised to see Kobe grit his teeth and step to the line to shoot free throws on what was later termed a ruptured Achilles tendon. Nor was I surprised that he drained both.
As disparaging and detrimental to the team as Kobe’s injury was, it cannot overshadow the phenomenal campaign the Black Mamba put together at age 34.
As the team’s most consistent and potent source of offense, he played way too many minutes over the course of the season, especially down the stretch. While coach Mike D’Antoni is largely to blame for Kobe’s overuse, I don’t fault him for riding the talent of one of the best players in franchise history.
Either way, Kobe’s injury was a tragic blow to the Lakers’ title hopes—which were slim to begin with—and was one of the telltale moments of the 2012-13 season. Kobe promises to be back in dominant form next year, and to doubt him at this point would be foolish.
The Los Angeles Lakers added Shaquille O’Neal to the ranks of Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in April.
Shaq has and always will be an entertainer, evidenced by his rousing speech and genuine thrill in the moment. More importantly, Diesel helped bring three NBA titles to the Lakers before feuding with Kobe Bryant and eventually changing scenery.
O’Neal’s jersey retirement ceremony was one of the brightest moments of a mostly overcast Lakers season. As if attempting to steal the moment, Bryant posted what former coach Phil Jackson later deemed a “perfect game” that night in leading the Lakers to victory.
Kobe Bryant went down in Game 80 of the regular season, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers with one last gasp to reach the playoffs and an even smaller ray of hope if they did make it.
His absence gave rise to the opportunity for another to step up and save the day. Oddly enough, that late-season hero turned out to be Steve Blake, the former University of Maryland guard best remembered for his stellar play in the Terrapins’ 2002 national championship run.
In Bryant’s absence, Blake posted consecutive 20-plus-point efforts in helping the Lakers clinch a No. seed berth to the NBA postseason. His magic quickly disappeared against a well-prepared San Antonio Spurs roster in the first round.