The Los Angeles Lakers came into this season as favorites to not only get to the NBA Finals, but to win it—the Lakers and the Miami Heat were given 9-4 odds (via LA Times) to raise the Larry O'Brien trophy. Those odds were given in the preseason. Fast-forward to today—the Heat are playing in the Finals and the Lakers haven’t played since April.
Sure, the Lakers were a tremendous letdown this season, but were they the greatest disappointment in NBA history? Absolutely.
Let’s throw all of the injuries out the window—the Lakers had far too much talent on their roster to use that as an excuse. Players get hurt, it’s something that every team in the NBA deals with. Los Angeles brought in Steve Nash, a surefire Hall-of-Famer, and Dwight Howard, the most dominant center in the league, to join forces with Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players ever.
My first impression when the team was assembled was one of awe; the Lakers were sure to dethrone the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference and could definitely win a title.
In the first month of the season, the Lakers went 8-8. All new teams struggle at first, and this would be no different. In the first season that the Heat brought their “Big Three” together they started out 8-7, so LA was fine. No big deal, I thought.
The biggest mistake committed by Los Angeles was made after just five games (1-4) when the team decided to fire Mike Brown and bring in Mike D’Antoni. This was a panic move, one that would eventually haunt them down the line.
Under D’Antoni, Pau Gasol and D12 didn’t get enough touches in the pick-and-roll oriented offense. Bryant was forced to become a distributor, a role that he fully immersed himself in, with Nash on the sidelines with injuries. D’Antoni’s scheme, although proven to be successful on other teams, just didn’t fit the Lakers’ roster.
The team’s struggles continued as the season went on, and a disastrous month of January put them out of the playoff picture. Towards the end of the season, though, the team got it together—kind of. The Lakers went 9-2 over the last 11 games to squeak into the postseason as the seventh seed.
LA’s late-season surge included having the fourth best record in the league after the All-Star break, but the team got swept in the first round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. Now, Bryant was out for that series after tearing his Achilles prior to the postseason, so LA gets a pass for that.
But a pass for the season in its entirety? Not so much.
Gasol, Nash, Howard and Bryant were all hampered by injuries and missed time individually. Although that’s unfortunate, it’s no excuse for the team’s final record of 45-37. The debate coming into 2013 was about the Lakers’ title chances, but towards the end of the season, the talk revolved around whether or not they would make the playoffs.
ESPN hosted a round table discussion after LA was eliminated, and asked the panelists whether this was the most disappointing team ever.
Chris Palmer: I honestly can't think of a more disappointing team. The expectations were so high, and they failed to meet them on every front. But it's as much about how poorly they handled the failure as the failure itself. The organization simply got nothing right this season.
Darius Soriano: In terms of results versus expectations, this Lakers' team may be the most disappointing team ever. Of course injuries, the coaching change and the passing of their owner played a part in why things went wrong and must be part of the post-mortem. But if judging their performance in a vacuum, it's hard to think of a more disappointing group.
I agree—this was, without question, the single most disappointing season of all-time. The Lakers were supposed to win a title, or at least contend, and barely made it to the first round.
Next season could be just as bad, but without the title predictions. Howard is exploring free agency and has shown no indication that he’ll be back in purple and gold next season. Bryant is out indefinitely with that Achilles injury. Nash is another year older and Gasol isn't happy in LA. Who will D’Antoni turn to next season?
It could get ugly in 2014, but how much worse can it get? After all, it’s hard to disappoint when you're following the greatest single-season flop in the history of the NBA.
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