Laker Disappointment: Is It Inevitable?
For many of the front-running bandwagon Los Angeles Lakers "fans" that currently claim to be part of the "Laker Nation", Laker disappointment isn't something they believe can ever happen.
That's because they have been Lakers "fans" for only as far back as the first of the Lakers' current two title run.
But for true Lakers fans, those that truly bleed purple-and-gold, those that have aligned their own fortunes and joy to those of the team, Laker disappointment is something that they are not only well acquainted with, but which they accept as a fact of life.
Most of the "fans" these days are not even aware of what an accomplishment and rarity the 87-88 "back-to-back" was, or that the Houston Rockets brought more anguish and disappointment to the Laker Nation in the 80's than the Boston Celtics.
They never experienced the true villainy of Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons, not to mention that of Billups, Prince, Hamilton and the Wallace "twins", and never suffered through the "lost decade" of the 1990's.
They never cheered on the tandem of Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones, never suffered the embarrassment of the antics of Cedric "'Chise" Ceballos, never felt the stomach-turn of seeing Sedale Threatt as the cover star of the Lakers Calendar, and never felt so rejected as when Anthony Miller's dunk attempt was viciously rejected by the Miami Heat's Alonzo Mourning, coached by former Laker hero-turned-villain Pat Riley.
Which event would cause you more pain?
These so-called "fans" think "Magic" is the team in Orlando, never saw Magic's three-point clinic in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game winning his last All-Star MVP, never saw Magic play power forward, never saw Magic coach, never saw "The Magic Hour", and never heard Magic sing "Kiss" by Prince or painting the town red with the ladies before his HIV infection.
True Lakers fans have seen the disappointment.
But for Lakers fans true or new, this season may bring us the worst disappointment in franchise history, perhaps even worse than our annual pummeling in the Finals by the Boston Celtics in the 1960's.
The promise held before this season began was indisputable.
Coming off back-to-back championships, the Lakers were set to achieve three milestones that would change NBA history forever.
Winning the championship this year would be the 17th for the Lakers franchise, tying it with the Boston Celtics for the most championships won in NBA history, and for the first time giving the Lakers a share in the claim of being the "greatest NBA franchise of all-time".
Given that the likely Eastern Conference champion will be the Boston Celtics, winning this year is especially important by preventing them from winning their 18th championship, and again stretching the distance between them and us in the number of titles.
If your girlfriend/boyfriend suddenly supported another NBA team other than the Lakers, would you?
Winning this year will also give Kobe Bryant his sixth ring, enough to tie Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, and perhaps legitimizing the discussion of Bryant being the "greatest basketball player ever".
And perhaps most crucially, at least time-wise, winning this year will give Phil Jackson his fourth coaching "three-peat", and twelfth ring as a coach, something that has never ever been achieved before, and probably never will again.
After all, it's not as simple as a coach winning twelve titles in his career. It has to be done in "three-peats", and the coach needs to achieve four of those.
When you consider that the next most winningest coach in NBA history is Red Auerbach, who coached the Boston Celtics to nine titles overall, the majority in the 1960's when teams were less watered down and the Celtics had the most talent by far, that puts in perspective just what an achievement four "three-peats" over spanning across four decades would be.
This is the season that the Lakers must win, for all those reasons above.
But perhaps even more importantly, because it may be the Lakers' only chance to win for a long, long time.
It's indisputable that the Lakers will be in rebuilding mode next season.
What is more important to you?
For one, Derek Fisher simply cannot play basketball anymore.
Without forgetting the 36-year-old point guard still has two more years on the salary books, the Lakers must get another starting point guard.
However, with the team's salary cap, most likely the Lakers will promote Steve Blake or try to draft one which means years of development.
And then there's Ron Artest.
He may be traded in the offseason, or better yet, a team will take him this month, but that's highly unlikely.
Most likely, Artest will remain a Laker next season, which means more head trips, more disappearances than a Harry Houdini show, and more Dennis the Menace-esque escapades without the rebounds.
Don't even talk about Andrew Bynum.
How many more years of "promise" are fans supposed to endure, when his stats get worse and worse, when his so-called "commitment" means he'll postpone his surgery over the summer until after his holiday, making him unavailable for a large chunk of the season, and when after all these years he's only putting up a line of 11.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists.
Which Laker would you rather see traded
The second coming of Shaquille O'Neal he certainly isn't.
Of course the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. But with the apparent decline in their games already this season, do fans really expect them to be better next season?
With Kobe's arthritic finger and Pau's arthritic heart, can the two of them alone carry the Lakers to another title in 2012?
But the biggest blow to our championship hopes next season is, of course, the loss of Phil Jackson.
Phil has been more instrumental to our last five championships than Kobe and Shaq put together.
In fact, we suffered through three seasons of ShaKobe disappointments before Jackson came along, and he won a championship his first season as Laker coach.
To put it in perspective, the last coach to win a title with the Lakers before Jackson was Riley.
The last coach to win a title for the Chicago Bulls before or after Jackson? Nobody.
Who could possibly fill in Jackson's shoes in the 2011-12 season?
Absolutely no one, and that's a sad fact.
If you had to choose one, would you rather?
So this year is the year the Lakers must win a title.
But all signs this season point to the Lakers not winning the championship this year.
Of course, the signs were already there in the NBA Finals last year.
We needed a serious injury to the opponent's starting center and a home Game 7 in which the team barely scrapped together a win, aided by an ailing Rasheed Wallace with cramps so tremendous he could barely move in the second half after being a one-man blitzkrieg in the first.
Not to mention the divine intervention of bounced balls off the rim right into our hands giving the Lakers second, third and fourth chances on numerous fourth quarter possessions, and a possessed Ron Artest who went from invisible in the earlier rounds of the playoffs to the reincarnation of "Big Shot Rob", it was far from a comfortable, dominating performance that carries over to the next season.
It was obvious that the Lakers needed to reload in the offseason, and reload in a major way.
Of course, none of the new faux-fans expressed any concern last summer, when they all hailed the additions of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes as our new saviors able to carry the team through another decade of titles.
These same "fans" yawned when it seemed disgruntled Hornets superstar Chris Paul might be available through trade last summer, expressing how invaluable Derek Fisher was as the starting point guard of our championship hopes, despite his mounting age contributing to the obvious decay of his skills.
If the Lakers were to be eliminated in this year's playoffs, which team would you rather see with the NBA Championship?
These are the same "fans" that have throughout the season claimed that "championships aren't won in November/December/January/February".
These are the same "fans" that dismiss tell-tale heart-wrenching losses to the Spurs, Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Clippers as just "regular season games," while heralding wins against teams like the Hornets and the Cavaliers as "proof" of us winning it all again this year.
These are the same "fans" that are invested in the team only if the Lakers win the title, who will vanish in the breeze as soon as we lose, so for them, it wouldn't make sense to accept the possibility that we could lose, which would undermine the only reason why they "support" our team.
But true Lakers fans have been there, done that.
The signs are foreboding, and it doesn't look good.
Will the Lakers even make it out of the second round this year, against the Mavericks or the Spurs?
If you could only choose one, who would you rather bring back for another three seasons?
Sad to say, but the hunger of the veterans on those teams so far dwarfs the Lakers' it's sickening.
It's sickening when the Lakers are in February and the talk of the team is about "turning it on" as if Laker Pride wasn't enough reason to come to play every game from the beginning of the season.
The 1996-97 Bulls we are not, when winning 69 games was a disappointment, when losing back-to-back games in December was enough to make Jordan throw a fit on his teammates.
And if by some miracle of injury or bubonic plague outbreak in Texas that we are able to make the NBA Finals, will we be able to overcome the lack of home court advantage against a determined for revenge Boston Celtics team of veterans who understand this year may be their last chance at winning another title and cementing their legacy?
Or against a just as hungry Miami Heat team who have been ridiculed and insulted to their boiling point, ready to unleash an atomic explosion on their final opponent standing between them and respect and redemption?
The new, front-running, bandwagon "fans" think "yes" to any of these questions, given the paradox of their whole reason for existence lying in the Lakers' ability to win the title ad infinitum, for once they fail these "fans" will cease to exist.
But for the true purple-and-gold, the signs to massive disappointment this season are only déjà vu, and we'll be here next year, and the year after, and the year after, and the year after, no matter the outcome of any season.
If you could reverse one Laker disappointment, which one would it be?
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To prevent potential Laker disappointment, "Should The Denver Nuggets Trade Carmelo Anthony To The Los Angeles Lakers?"
"When considering the Miami Heat as our possible NBA Finals opponent, "Is Mike Miller the Ringo Starr of the Heatles?"
With how the season is playing out, "Do the L.A. Lakers Deserve Three Players in the NBA All-Star Game?"
Perhaps one of the few non-disappointments this season is "Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol Starting 2011 NBA All-Stars? Thank Yao Ming".
When considering the Boston Celtics as our strongest possible opponent in the NBA, "Should Lakers Fans Root for the Miami Heat?"
Seeing our need to rebuild after this season, "Should the L.A. Lakers Trade Pau Gasol for the L.A. Clippers Star Blake Griffin?"
As Mitch Kupchak recently expressed that moves might need to be made to win the title this season, "Should the L.A. Lakers Trade Kobe Bryant for Miami Heat Star LeBron James?"
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