Let’s jump in the Delorean for a minute.
The Lakers are about to face the Dallas Mavericks in the 2nd round of the ’10-11 playoffs. You & I walk into Staples Center.
“The Mavs? Dirk? Cuban? HA!”
We have a good laugh while we walk to our $600 seats (which probably means we’re sitting in Section 318). We agree that Dallas is a much better matchup than Portland, but we can’t agree on how long the series will last. You say it’ll be a sweep, I say the Mavs will win Game 3 in Dallas. In either case, we both concede – there’s no way the Lakers are losing this series.
Then it happens.
Only a few seconds before tip-off, our future selves walk into our section through some cheesy CGI portal. They sit down next to us, freeze time and tell us the following:
The Lakers aren’t going to win this series. Actually, they’re not going to even win a single game.
We smile at the obvious stupidity, but continue listening anyway.
And right after the season ends, Phil is going to retire and Jimmy Buss is going to start calling the shots. Brian Shaw will be ignored, Ronnie Lester will be canned without a phone call and Mike Brown will be the heir to Phil’s throne.
We continue to smile, but also wonder about the type of drugs that must be freely available in the future.
After the lockout shortens the season, David Stern will block a trade that brings Chris Paul to the Lakers. Fans will be completely outraged. No need to worry, he ends up in L.A… with the Clippers.
Suddenly, the conversation isn’t amusing or interesting anymore.
The Lakers will panic and trade Lamar Odom to Dallas for a trade exception that doesn’t really help them. And speaking of trades, Dwight Howard will let it be known that the Lakers are on his short list of teams he’d like to be traded to, but Jim Buss will tell the Orlando Sentinel:
“I personally believe now that we have the team that we will be playing with all season long.”
The sudden urge to punch our future selves in the face is ignored only because it would be pretty weird to punch yourself in the face.
Kobe will be rejuvenated to start the year. He’ll shoot – and score – like it’s ‘07. Gasol and Bynum will be healthy but strangely detached. Despite all of this, the Lakers will be #10 in the West and offensively retarded by the time you sit down to write a column about it.
And right before they turn to leave…
Oh, and by the way, Tim Tebow will be the most popular athlete in the world and Eli Manning will carry the Giants to another Super Bowl. The future is an unpredictable place. We’ll see you there.
And with that, they walk back through their portal and time starts again.
8 months have passed, and the Lakers are now the embodiment of everything we thought they would never be.
We expected there to be a certain degree of growing pains under Mike Brown… but 86 points/game over the last 5? We knew that Metta World Peace and Derek Fisher weren’t getting any younger… but 5 points/game on 34% and 36% shooting? We get that Kobe buys his shot attempts at Costco… but 25 shots/game?
It would seem ludicrous to think this Lakers team will be playing anything but NBA2K12 come June…
Just like it was ludicrous to think the Lakers would get swept by Dallas back in May. Or that Stern would veto a trade that landed Chris Paul in the purple and gold. Or that Jim, Mitch and company would ship Lamar to Dallas for a trade exception.
The only ludicrous thing we can do is discount the seemingly impossible, and when I look at the Lakers, they aren’t as far off as it may seem.
You have a new coach, implementing a new system without any sort of training camp. You have a core group of ‘triangle players’ – guys who are built for, and excelled in, Phil Jackson’s system. You have a shortened season that has seen the Lakers play 18 games in less than a month, tied for the most in the NBA.
Standing on the other side, Kobe Bryant has found his legs again and is on pace to have his best season since ‘07. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are both healthy. Mitch has an almost $9 million trade exception in his back pocket, Dwight Howard – and potentially Deron Williams – are still on the market and there’s more than seven weeks left to make a deal.
Maybe most importantly, excluding Oklahoma City, what other team in the West is legitimately scary? Even right now, would you really take Denver, Memphis or Utah (all ahead of the Lakers in the standings) in a 7-game series? What about the Clippers… can you envision Kobe walking out of his own building while the Clippers celebrate?
Even the defending champion Mavs are a mediocre 11-7 and look significantly older and less hungry. And speaking of old, are the aged Spurs (who are without Ginobili indefinitely) really a threat to come out of the West?
There’s this word that my parents introduced me to when I was about one years old:
It’s something that is rarely exercised in Laker Nation. The fan expectation is consistently unrealistic, and with every loss comes a whole new set of reasons to panic.
Oh my god, trade Gasol! Trade Bynum! Cut Fisher! Fire Mike Brown!
Relax, Nation; and try to remember what your future self told you back in May:
The future is an unpredictable place.
I’ll see you there.