The Lakers are done. Not done being good--they were terrible last year. No, it's something deeper than that: the Lakers, for the first time since I can't remember when, have nothing real to offer their fans.
A strange feeling came over me yesterday when I saw the headline that the Lakers would look to sign LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony after the 2013-2014 season: this team is done. Not that they are done being good--they were terrible last year. No, it's something deeper than that: the Lakers, for the first time since I can't remember when, have nothing real to offer their fans.
7 Reasons the Los Angeles Lakers are irrelevant
1. The Lakers are bad.
Yes, I said this was deeper than being bad, but it starts with being bad. After years as a perennial title threat, the Lakers barely reached the playoffs last year with a 45-37 record and were promptly dispatched by the Spurs.
2. Dwight Howard left for a team with a better trajectory.
The Lakers and Houston Rockets finished with identical records last year. The Rockets, appear poised to take off and become a Western Conference elite, while the Lakers are struggling to stay above water. Dwight Howard didn't have a Shaq-style breakup, which was fun for the whole family, nor was he nudged out the door in favor of someone younger and better. He just left for a team that looks younger and better.
3. They chose their last coach on the shiny object principle.
The Lakers didn't have to think about coaching decisions under Phil Jackson: they had the best and most famous coach. Faced with a real decision about the style and nature of their team, they passed up a second round of Jackson for Mike D'Antoni on the theory that the Suns had D'Antoni and Steve Nash and they were fun and awesome. What people forget is that those Suns had a whole team of players who could run the floor and play a full court, high-octane game. D'Antoni tried this with Carmelo's Knicks, but Carmelo prefers to use his explosive speed in a half-court set and the Lakers didn't have the supporting cast around Nash to make the running game worth it. The other thing people forget is that D'Antoni's teams don't play defense.
4. The Clippers are now the best L.A. team.
For decades, having a second team in L.A. raised the Lakers' stature, because the Clippers were never any good, and the Lakers used them as a foot pedestal to do the classic "lumberjack with one foot on a stump" pose. Now, the Clippers are better and more fun than the Lakers. Let's say you're a 10 year-old in L.A. ready to pick a side. Do you want the team with the aging stars that barely made the playoffs and then lost a key player, or do you want the Clippers, who just signed their best player to a long-term deal, have the dynamite Blake Griffin and look poised to fight for a top spot in a tough Western Conference?
5. Kobe ain't getting any younger.
Kobe Bryant is still a star player. His points, rebounds and assists per game last year were all a tick above his career average. But he's 34 and the window to build another champion-caliber team around him is closing, especially if that team continues to be built around Kobe, Nash and Pau Gasol. Yes, if either side of the Carmelo-Lebron fantasy comes through, they would have a great nucleus, but...
6. They are no longer a star destination.
The Lakers used to be the best team with the biggest celebrity factor. They used that lure to draw Shaq, Karl Malone, and yes, Dwight Howard to team up and party with the best and brightest. No longer. Let's assume LeBron James uses his opt-out clause after this season and is once again a free agent. Why become a Laker? LeBron could go back to Cleveland and play with young star Kyrie Irving. He could go to Chicago and play with Derrick Rose on an incredibly solid Bulls team. He could join the Rockets, who suddenly look like a juggernaut. Oklahoma would make room for him. Does high-fiving Jack Nicholson beat any of those options? Can we really imagine LeBron leaving the Heat for the Lakers?
7. No one cares about next year.
This was the real message of the report that they wanted to sign LeBron and Carmelo. There's just not enough to care about this year, so let's just jump to how we're going to sign all the best players next year and be the best team again. The Rockets, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Nuggets should all be better than the Lakers, meaning that the upper end of what they can hope for next year is 6th in the West.