As this past summer turned to fall, expectations for the Los Angeles Lakers were sky-high and many expected the team to rival the Miami Heat for the championship. After the Lakers management brilliantly executed trades during the offseason to capture a slew of stars and surround Kobe Bryant with solid role players, the Lakers looked like nothing less than a championship team. They were predicted to usher in another era of basketball dominated by Los Angeles.
Yet during the first half of this season, we witnessed what was perhaps the greatest disappointment in NBA history. Few could believe that such a star-studded roster could fail to achieve a .500 record, losing badly to mediocre teams like the Sacramento Kings and the Phoenix Suns. Media pundits scrambled to find solutions to the Lakers’ woes, suggesting everything from trading center Dwight Howard to firing coach Mike D’Antoni. Recently, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban went as far as to say that Los Angeles should consider exercising the amnesty clause by shredding Bryant’s contract to avoid paying taxes on his salary.
With 70 percent of the regular season completed, the Lakers are finally showing some signs of life. They have won 11 of their last 15 games and are now one game below 0.500 with 28 wins and 29 losses. In terms of the postseason race, the squad is currently sitting at the ninth seed, 2.5 games behind the Houston Rockets and a playoff berth in the Western Conference. On Sunday, Bryant torched the Mavericks to the tune of 38 points and after the game fired off a tweet aimed at Mark Cuban saying “Amnesty that.”
Despite the Lakers’ poor performance this year, Bryant should not be faulted. He has been playing some of the best basketball in his life, and he has masterfully taken on a different role based on what his team needs — he has excelled as a scorer, passer and facilitator. His competitive drive has not softened with age, and he has done everything he possibly can to urge his teammates to perform. Though some of his public statements have been condescending toward his teammates, he is not at all at fault for his team’s failures. A positive sign for the Lakers is that Dwight Howard’s shoulder injury is slowly improving, and the dominant big man can hopefully go back to playing lockdown defense and formidable on-the-block offense. Forward Pau Gasol is expected to return by the postseason, should the Lakers survive for that long.
Legendary Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away a few days ago — perhaps this will fuel some competitive fire within the Los Angeles squad. The Lakers should at least make the playoffs in the memory of one of the greatest owners of all time.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 26 print edition. Karthik Ramakrishnan is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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