LOS ANGELES — What do parents do if they've spoiled their children for many, many years and then realize that their kids are woefully unready for the harsh realities of normal, rugged life?
To be precise, I asked, "For Lakers fans who are impatient and want to see something big happen, is there anything you can tell them besides, 'Hey, next year there will be another free agency and we'll keep going for it—and then one after that'?"
"We're not giving up on this summer and this year, that's for sure," Kupchak replied. "There still are possibilities. But we're just going to keep working at it and look for opportunities to remain competitive, contending and flexible."
Both the question and the answer speak to the vague limbo in which the team exists right now.
The Lakers missed the playoffs for just the third time in the past 38 years—with 10 NBA championships in that time and six other NBA Finals appearances in that period. Lakers fans don't know what to make of this world in which they have been asked to accept mediocrity. They don't know that rebuilding usually takes time and a little unforeseen good fortune.
They are spoiled rotten.
Again, it's only a byproduct of the parenting. Over the years, the Lakers have given their fans every reason to grow comfortable with a certain standard of living.
But with happy days gone and not on the horizon, fans are already frustrated.
Los Angeles' acquisition of Carlos Boozer on Thursday prompted the latest toy-throwing tantrum by fans of wanting to win now-now-now!
Yet the move was greeted with a chorus of criticism in some quarters of Lakers fandom, claiming that anyone another club is paying not to play for it is just embarrassing. It's beneath the royal Lakers to add another team's castoffs, as it was unseemly to let the Houston Rockets use them as a Jeremy Lin salary-dumping ground—even if the move netted the guaranteed profit of a free first-round pick.
The Lakers shouldn't be taking other teams' overpaid rejects or helping other teams set up their title runs! We're the Lakers!
And Boozer even rhymes with "loser"!
True enough, Boozer doesn't play a winning style, but what's really at work here is that his resume looks underwhelming when you are used to having trustworthy leaders with unique, magic touches—Jerry Buss, Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant…and you're really, really missing them.
Take the emotion out of it, and it's not that big of a deal.
Boozer gives the Lakers the kind a proven big-man scoring option that they don't have among the group of Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Robert Sacre and probably Ryan Kelly. Boozer's defensive shortcomings could also be muted if he plays next to a shot-blocker in Hill or Davis at all times.
What doesn't make sense for a rebuilding team is to give playing time to Boozer, 33 in November, ahead of guys who might work toward their ceilings and help the Lakers in the future. But there is also a credible argument to be made that adding Boozer is part of a broad-minded approach to ease the demands on Randle, who will be 20 in November, as a rookie.
Boozer will be making a little more than $3 million, the same as Chris Kaman got last season with the Lakers in a hot-and-mostly-cold season in the big-man rotation. And his contract expires at season's end, meaning he fits the team's key guideline of preserving salary-cap space to chase that big-time free agent a year from now.
That brings us back to the question posed to Kupchak about what exactly is the Lakers' future—and the truth that it's even harder for fans to deal with the present when there is relatively little growth for the future going on.
Non-Lakers fans are used to seeing various clubs go through full-out youth movements or investing in strong players who could evolve into stars. That hasn't been part of the Lakers' culture, and the lack of any substantial youth movement last season only fed fans' bratty attitudes, with so many feeling no appreciation for competing for the sake of competing.
Can we just get to the draft and free agency?
But is even that enough?
Fast-forward to Monday night in Las Vegas, and there was second-round pick Jordan Clarkson tipping in a Randle miss at the overtime buzzer to beat the Golden State Warriors. Though it was in an utterly meaningless summer league game, the display of competitiveness was weirdly inspiring.
Still, the team's present feels awkward with the knowledge that perhaps no marquee free agent is actually coming this summer.
But what should the Lakers have done instead? Surrender that future cap space with a four-year deal to Gordon Hayward at $63 million? Kyle Lowry at $48 million? Trevor Ariza, Channing Frye or Avery Bradley at $32 million each?
If you believe Eric Bledsoe is on the cusp of stardom, he also might've been attainable as a restricted free agent from the Phoenix Suns—though at the extreme cost of that future cap space earmarked for Kevin Love or Marc Gasol. Perhaps the only true miss was on the mercurial Lance Stephenson, who signed with the Charlotte Hornets for only two guaranteed years, something the Lakers could have afforded.
Carmelo Anthony's temporary interest skewed the summer storyline and raised hopes. But for as fun as that courtship was, it remains fundamentally questionable whether the Lakers are better off without Anthony. He would've been guaranteed $25.5 million at age 33, when he'll only be able to guard guys with bodies like, well, Carlos Boozer.
Since the Melo flirtation subsided, every summer day has just been another reality check.
And if the Lakers use their remaining $2.7 million salary-cap exception to bring in someone such as the oft-troubled Michael Beasley, 25, or offense-illiterate Al-Farouq Aminu, 23, that player will also get sneered at for not being a real rebuilding difference-maker.
The absolute uncertainty as to when some faceless free-agent superstar will choose the Lakers is what makes the suffering that much worse for their fans.
It doesn't even feel like rebuilding. It feels like waiting.
Because it pretty much is.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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