Mike D'Antoni (left) directed Kobe Bryant (middle) and Pau Gasol (right) to one of the most disappointing Laker seasons ever.
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers have failed. A team many expected to compete for a championship never actually came within proximity of the title round given the numerous setbacks it faced.
Some were microscopic while others loomed larger than the franchise itself, or so it appeared.
The Purple and Gold began the regular season by losing four of five games but still looked like a team with unlimited potential. Dwight Howard’s back surgery robbed him of his mobility and consequently made the Lakers a porous defensive team.
The Lakers’ front office hardly seemed concerned with these details and fired head coach Mike Brown after five games. The move was every bit as shocking as it was desperate.
However, his dismissal was deemed necessary for a team seeking an experienced and respected coach capable of steering the team to the mountaintop. With Brown gone, the Lakers would bring back Phil Jackson and incorporate the triangle offense.
Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Howard would all blend their respective talents together under the tutelage of Jackson and make a run in the Western Conference. This was a mere formality.
Chants of “we want Phil” rained down in the Staples Center during home games as management held conversations with Jackson and negotiated the terms and conditions of his employment.
And then, reality soon changed. In perhaps the biggest Lakers failure of the season, the franchise reversed course and instead hired Mike D’Antoni.
The D’Antoni signing became the first domino to fall in what would be a series of unremarkable moments for the Lakers.
The new head coach brought his philosophy to Los Angeles, and it barely had any place for Gasol. D’Antoni favored an offense structured with one big man surrounded by shooters. Consequently, the Spaniard was benched and attributed the role of overqualified sixth man.
With Nash injured, Gasol was unquestionably the second best playmaker on the team behind Bryant, but that hardly mattered. The two-time world champion was a nuisance alongside Howard in the D’Antoni offense during the first half of the season.
In an odd twist of fate, Gasol was injured and missed 33 games with a foot injury. It made his demotion a forgotten issue, but it was still one of the most egregious blunders of the Lakers' season.
The Spaniard’s unavailability put a huge burden on Howard’s broad shoulders. Jordan Hill’s season had been cut short because of injury, making the three-time Defensive Player of the Year the only productive and experienced big man on the roster.
But Howard was already battling his own issues with a torn labrum. That in and of itself was manageable, but what ensued only highlighted the ineptitude of the coaching staff and front office.
Bryant publicly commented on the situation to ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan essentially telling the superstar center to deal with the pain and get back on the hardwood by saying, "We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal. We need some urgency."
Questioning a teammate’s toughness is rather taboo and even seen a form of character assassination in some circles.
Doing so in public, mind you, is simply throwing the player under the bus and paying the chauffeur to repeatedly drive over him. On a small scale, the demands for Howard to suck it up and play irritated Howard.
Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com had the story:
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.
In the bigger picture, it might be one of the multiple factors Howard keeps in the back of his mind this offseason when deciding if he will re-sign with the Lakers.
Bryant challenged Howard’s manhood, and no one in the organization defended the big man. At a time when the Lakers should have been displaying unwavering support for their prized big man, they deferred to the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, who basically called Howard soft.
The superstar eventually rejoined his teammates and played to the best of his capabilities. But again, despite playing with numerous ailments, the majority of the support he received came from his former head coach Stan Van Gundy.
All of this came to a head once the Lakers qualified for the playoffs. Bryant had been lost for the season with an Achilles tear, and the mantle of leadership was placed on Howard.
Perhaps the world should have known what was coming, but instead many convinced themselves the Lakers could potentially upset the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lakers were swept out of the postseason and lost all four games by an average of 18.8 points.
The Lake Show was robbed of the services of Steve Blake, Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks and Nash in the two games played at Staples Center. The Lakers lost both of those battles by an average of 26 points.
As bad as the home defeats were, the Lakers looked completely lifeless in the final game of the series and played like the elimination was a foregone conclusion. The one player tasked with replacing Bryant’s leadership hit the showers early by virtue of a third-quarter ejection.
LN: Dwight, I've been swept before but I never let my team down by getting kicked out of the game.— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 29, 2013
Howard picked up his second technical foul a little over two minutes into the third period of what was already a rout. The former Orlando Magic put an exclamation mark on a disastrous Lakers season in the team’s final game of the year.
His impact was minimal and his exit from the contest barely looked as though it mattered. No protests and no outrage.
All of these big failures the Lakers endured during the 2012-13 season made its ending somewhat predictable. Consequently, no one was shocked. But for those thinking the storm has passed, please brace yourselves.
Howard can still leave the franchise via free agency, while both Bryant and Gasol’s names will be in amnesty discussions. This provision of the collective bargaining agreement allows for the team to waive a player without his salary counting against the cap.
Between Bryant’s age and Achilles injury, the Lakers must consider this option with him. Gasol, on the other hand, has seen his statistical output decline in back-to-back seasons while his salary keeps increasing. Thus, one of these players could potentially get the axe during the summer.
The Lakers do everything big. And that includes failure.