Whenever I complain about the Lakers four-year (and counting) fall from glory I’m reminded that I’ve been spoiled over the years when Dr. Buss’s ownership yielded 10 titles. I plead “guilty but with an explanation.”
The way I see it, when you live in L.A., which has its downside because of size and congestion, one has the right to expect (or hope) that in return at least our sports teams should be top quality. Put another way, if we get rid of smog and traffic, then I can accept Laker mediocrity. Until then I want my Lakers to be in the hunt.
In the meantime, Laker immortal and the player featured on the NBA logo, Jerry West, signed on with the L.A. Clippers. For all the joy he brought us over the years, I should be glad for Jerry that he’s found a new challenge. But why the Clips?
While he is a huge improvement over his predecessor, Donald Sterling, I’m not fond of Clipper owner Steve Balmer. He seems loud and arrogant but he’s rich and apparently willing to open his wallet. He’s also talking about building his own state of the art arena in Inglewood.
So if you’re a Clippers’ fan, things are looking up. As a lifelong Laker fan, at the moment I don’t know how things are looking. We might have a better sense come Thursday and the NBA draft.
With Magic Johnson in charge of basketball operations I’m hopeful. But two Laker contracts are reminders that it’s going to take more than hope. Last year Timothy Mozgov and Luol Deng were given 4-year contracts and contributed next to nothing. With three more years and $96 million left on the contracts, hoping feels a little hollow.
When Magic first took over the reins, he said in order to improve the Lakers had to admit to their past mistakes and explain the lessons learned. I’m still waiting to hear the logic behind Mozgov and Deng. What we’re they hoping to accomplish and how realistic was it.Put it this way, without those two roadblocks, the Lakers could be entertaining signing two max players in the near future and this would be a very different column.
But, trying to look on the bright side, the Lakers have the 2nd pick in the draft this Thursday and also the 28th pick. (And there’s speculation they may still trade to get a 3rd first round pick. )
Until recently it was a foregone conclusion the Lakers first pick would be former Bruin Lonzo Ball. And if I let my hopeful imagination run free, I can imagine the Lakers improving fairly quickly and possibly being able to lure a top free agent. Then again, after watching the Warriors decimate the Cavs, and both teams being leagues above even an improved Laker squad, the road back to glory is likely to be a slow one.
Meanwhile the Lakers mortal enemy (when they were good enough to have mortal enemies) the Boston Celtics are improving by the minute. The Lakers have been in the NBA finals a record 31 times, while the Celtics have the most championships, 17, with the Lakers at 16.
Unlike the Lakers, the Celtics are inching toward championship level, if they’re not already there. I don’t have to remind Laker fans we have been at the ping pong ball lottery level for the past 4 years, though we are told that will change. (And I believe it will, I just hope it’s during my lifetime.)
The Celtics had the best record in the Eastern Conference last year and might very soon (next season?) dethrone the Cavs. General Manager Danny Ainge has stored up so many draft picks it seems like the Celtics could be among the elite for a decade. I know grass always looks greener on the other side but Celtic green looks very real and foreboding.
My loyalty to the Lakers goes back to 1959, their first season here, when they played at the Sports Arena. But in the last four years, my devotion has been tested. Two years ago they had the 2nd worst record in the NBA and last year theirs was the 3rd worst. And, no, that’s not what I call progress.
Realistically, the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers and Rockets, among others, are infinitely better than the Lakers in the West. But, I’m also reminded of what the legendary Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu (who doesn’t get much pub in sports columns) said in 5th century B.C., “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Thursday is the NBA draft. Let’s hope for the Lakers it’s a very big first step. (All due respect to Lao-tzu, Paul George, who wants to be a Laker, coming here for the 2018-19 season wouldn’t be bad either.)
The 2017 NBA Draft begins at 7 p.m. (eastern) on Thursday, June 22, and will be televised by ESPN. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.