Definitive Los Angeles Lakers Fan Guide to Surviving 2013-14 Rebuilding Season
Let's face it, folks. The Los Angeles Lakers aren't going to be any good next season. Heck, they might even stink up the Staples Center like it's 2004-05 (or worse) now that Kobe Bryant's down and Dwight Howard's out.
But that doesn't mean you should turn your attention to other hobbies, like macrame or rodent acrobatics, rather than tune into Time Warner Cable SportsNet or (better yet) make the occasional sojourn to LA Live. The 2013-14 season should be rife with intriguing storylines and quirky subplots to take your mind off the embarrassing imbalance between winning and losing.
The fact is, Lakers fans, every team has its boom and bust years, its ups and downs, through which its supporters stand strong while finding little ways to stay sane and enjoy watching games with lowered expectations.
Here, then, are seven ways to make your upcoming Purple-and-Gold experience a less depressing one.
The (Potential) Perfection of the Pau Gasol—Steve Nash Partnership
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Amidst the excitement that permeated Lakerland prior to the disaster that was the 2012-13 season, hoops heads were perhaps most aflutter about the prospect of watching Steve Nash and Pau Gasol on the same team. It's not every day that the purest point guard in the game gets to play alongside the best passing big man around.
Then Nash's leg met Damian Lillard's on Halloween, Gasol's knees gave out, and the patchwork of injuries began in earnest. Recurring back problems for the former and a torn plantar fascia for the latter only further postponed the growth of a partnership that, on paper, would've made James Naismith blush.
Except...well, the actual results weren't all that pretty. The two unselfish superstars shared the floor for 539 minutes across just 25 games last season, per NBA.com. In that time, the Lakers were outscored by 33 points and saw their assist ratio drop.
Of course, there were other factors at play, like, say, the dysfunction wrought by Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. The former could be out until December or January, depending on how his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon plays out, while the latter has already moved on to join the Houston Rockets.
That should leave Nash and Gasol plenty of room to ply their trade together for a month or two. Their partnership will be the staple of a Lakers offense that, at the moment, more closely resembles a collection of spare parts than it does a team tailor-made for Mike D'Antoni's spread pick-and-roll system.
In any case, the basketball world should, at the very least, get a glimpse of what Nash and Gasol can truly do in tandem in 2013-14.
Assuming the injury bug doesn't come back to bite them in a big way.
Kobe Bryant's Scoring Sprees
Pau and Steve had better savor whatever time they get to spend as the joint focal point of the Lakers offense because that arrangement isn't likely to last long.
Not if Kobe Bryant has anything to say about it, anyway. If his activity on Twitter and Instagram is any indication, the Black Mamba is attacking his rehab with the same relentlessness and determination for which he's long been known. As such, don't expect Bryant to delay his return to live game action if he feels he's ready to go.
And don't think the Lakers will keep him off, either, even if "tanking" becomes the order of the day. They'll still need someone to draw fans to the arena if the team is losing—a task to which Kobe is perfectly suited.
Because, if the Lakers are beyond saving, the 2013-14 season could become a good excuse for Bryant to make up some serious ground in the all-time scoring race. At present, Kobe needs just 676 points to supplant Michael Jordan as the third-most prolific scorer in NBA history. If Bryant piles up points at his career-average rate of 25.5 per game, he'll need just 27 games to achieve this most symbolic of milestones.
But the ladder doesn't end there. Another 4,636 and he'd overtake Karl Malone, his former adversary-turned-teammate-turned-adversary-again, for second place. Throw another 1,459 on top of that, and Kobe would be in sole possession of first place, just ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Now, there's no way Kobe's making up all of that ground in one season. But if the season devolves to the point where the Lakers have nothing better to do than watch Kobe jack up shots, a la 2005-06, then his quest to be the top scorer in league history could take a significant step forward, devastating injury be damned.
The Gr818, Starring Jordan Farmar and Nick Young
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Beyond the remaining Big 3, the rest of the Lakers roster is replete with tidbits of intrigue to keep fans engaged.
Especially those fans with strong local ties, thanks to the signings of Jordan Farmar and Nick Young.
The excitement surrounding Farmar is to be expected. He was a beloved bench fixture on LA's two most recent title teams before he joined the then-New Jersey Nets as a free agent in 2010. Since then, he's been traded to and cut by the Atlanta Hawks and spent a season overseas in Turkey.
Now, he's back in Purple and Gold on a veteran's minimum contract and, at the age of 26, should have plenty of good basketball left in his body.
Farmar's return to Lakerland should be rendered that much more special by the partnership with Nick Young that it entails. The connections between the two run deep, dating back to their high school days in the suburban San Fernando Valley.
Farmar started out at Birmingham High in Van Nuys before emerging as a star at Taft High in Woodland Hills, where he led the Toreadors to the their LA City title while earning McDonald's All-American honors for himself. Along the way, Farmar went toe-to-toe with Young, who became an All-City sensation at Cleveland High in Reseda (C-HOUSE!).
Their rivalry carried over to the collegiate level, with Farmar choosing UCLA and Young opting for USC over a spot on Ben Howland's squad. Within three years, they'd both arrived in the NBA as first-round picks: Farmar with the Lakers, Young with the Washington Wizards and, eventually, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers.
And now, at long last, they're teammates, much to the delight of anyone who hails from the 818 area code.
The Social Media Stylings of a Caveman
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Speaking of "homecomings," Chris Kaman will be back in LA after a two-year "Rumspringa" in New Orleans and Dallas. Kaman came up as a Clipper, earning his lone All-Star appearance as a member of the Lakers' little brothers, before the team shipped him off in a deal for Chris Paul in 2011.
Lakers fans shouldn't expect too many contributions of consequence on the court from "Caveman." He'll be a solid backup center who can score, but his effectiveness figures to be limited by both his lackadaisical defense and his substantial injury history.
Luckily, none of that should keep his social media self from entertaining all of us. The Michigan native also happens to be an avid outdoorsman (and something of an eccentric) who's never been shy to share his excursions with the Twittersphere.
Kaman won't find nearly as much wilderness in LA as he did in New Orleans and Dallas, though his prior familiarity with southern California should spawn no shortage of wacky adventures worth sharing with the Interwebz.
Wesley Johnson, the Second Coming of Kwame Brown?
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Wesley Johnson, who signed a veteran's minimum deal with the Purple and Gold this month, won't be the first former lottery pick the Lakers have tried to salvage, nor will he be the last. Back in August of 2005, LA traded for a No. 1 pick by the name of Kwame Brown (you may have heard of him) along with Laron Profit in a deal that sent Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins to the Washington Wizards.
Brown's faults as a player were all too apparent during his two-and-a-half-year tenure in LA. He had hands of stone, brought nightly effort that might best be described as "inconsistent" and saw his confidence wax and wane (but mostly wane) under the overbearing yoke of Kobe Bryant.
Not to mention the impact that injuries had on his productivity. On the bright side, Brown was flipped to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of the trade that brought Pau Gasol to LA.
The Lakers can only hope that Johnson will net them as much in return, be it through his own play or that of another piece acquired for Wes' services. The Syracuse product was billed as a sharpshooter when the Minnesota Timberwolves made him the fourth pick in the 2010 NBA draft, ahead of Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe, among others.
Since then, Johnson has pursued a career in basketball masonry with the T-Wolves and the Phoenix Suns—which is to say, he's laid a ton of bricks. In his three years as a pro, Johnson's hit just 40 percent of his shots overall and a subpar 33.6 percent from three, along with a troublingly average 71.4 percent at the free-throw line.
To his credit, Johnson improved his accuracy a smidgen during his lone season in Phoenix. If he continues to sharpen his stroke, the Lakers may yet have themselves an athletic and relatively young piece to play on the wing and learn from Kobe.
And if not, they can comfortably cut ties with him knowing that their investment was negligible.
Free-Agent Watch: Miami Heat and New York Knicks Edition
For those folks out there who will be hoping against hope that the Lakers will make a big splash in free agency next summer—and those who aren't all that interested in watching their team stink it up—there will be plenty of cause to keep a close eye on the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks.
If, for whatever reason, the Heat fall short of sealing their three-peat, the door may open just a crack for the Lakers to get their proverbial foot in for LeBron James and/or Chris Bosh, assuming either (or both) opts out of his current contract. As the now-rote story goes, LeBron may not want to stay in South Beach if the roster, which will essentially be the same next season as the one from 2012-13, continues to crumble amidst age, injuries and the wear-and-tear of campaign after grueling campaign.
And if Pat Riley decides to retool the roster around LeBron, he could, hypothetically, dangle Bosh as his most attractive trade chip, though the Lakers won't have any assets of note to offer in return.
As for the Knicks, they could be under the gun to show Carmelo Anthony that he can compete for championships (and not just early playoff exits) while "suited and booted" for his hometown team. New York may have already peaked with its current core of 'Melo, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and JR Smith, and if things slide significantly in 2013-14, Anthony could reconsider spending the rest of his prime on a middling, capped-out club without any realistic room for improvement.
In other words, the worse the Knicks and the Heat fare this season, the better the Lakers' (admittedly slight) chances will be of adding a superstar to whom Kobe can pass his imaginary torch.
A College Basketball Bonanza!!!
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That is, unless the Lakers are so bad themselves that marquee free agents wouldn't dare cast their lot with LA, in which case the NBA draft lottery becomes the bigger draw.
As does the season of college basketball from whence should come a parade of prospects with franchise-type talent.
If Lakers fans don't want to torture themselves with their own bad basketball, they can watch intently as the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid at Kansas, Jabari Parker at Duke, Aaron Gordon at Arizona, Marcus Smart at Oklahoma State, and Andrew Harrison/Aaron Harrison/Julius Randle/Willie Cauley-Stein/Alex Poythress/James Young at Kentucky (man, that team is going to be STACKED) slog through the antiquated brand of hoops most often peddled at the pseudo-amateur level.
That way, at least all the losing will seem like it's for a good cause—and will be for a good cause if/when the Lakers land themselves a future All-Star in exchange for their momentary suffering.
It's a long shot, but a kid can dream, can't he?