They’ve been here before. As if it were a cruel joke, the Lakers find themselves facing yet another reduced season after dreams of a championship one dissolved in disappointment.
The ’98 Lakers were unceremoniously swept from the Western Conference Finals by an aging Utah Jazz team.
And they had plenty of time to think about it, as NBA owners locked the players out for 4 months until play resumed in January.
What ensued was bad basketball for the league and a disaster of a season for the Lakers.
With no training camp and little time for player preparation, a homogenized 50-game season produced such clunkers as a 49 point performance by the Chicago Bulls against the Miami Heat.
With Nick Van Exel gone, 15 year veteran Derek Harper and sophomore Derek Fisher submitted one of the worst statistical Lakers point guard seasons. Combined, they would not produce ten assists in 58 games played.
After a slow start and the failure of the previous year still fresh in their minds, the Lakers felt forced to make a trade. Gone was fan favorite Eddie Jones and the lackadaisical Elden Campbell to Charlotte in exchange for B.J. Armstrong, J.R. Reid, and Glenn Rice.
As back-to-back, and back-to-back-to-back games mounted to make up the almost lost season, the poor played continued and Lakers coach Del Harris was fired and replaced with Kurt Rambis.The circus continued as the mercurial Dennis Rodman was enlisted to bring stability to the reeling roster.
None of it worked, and the Lakers were swept away by the Spurs in a series they were favored in.
If there indeed is a 2011-2012 season, the Lakers are again embarking on an abbreviated season.
Much of the same elements exist from the ’99 sojourn. After being swept by the Dallas Mavericks they return a deep roster, but there will be little time for team preparation, and will battle to win a championship under a new head coach.
NBA seasons are like dog years, especially with an aging first option like Kobe Bryant. The Lakers don’t have time to fritter. Their payroll is high and the demands for excellence exceeds that. Playing a shortened season quantifies the pressure to win.
There were calls during the off-season to blow the team up. If the Mike Brown era begins slowly, do the Lakers look at moving Lamar Odom and or Andrew Bynum? Will rumors of Pau Gasol for Kevin Love resurface? Would a roster ripe with talent all of a sudden appear bloated and in need of a hair-cut?
Had there been a complete 1998-1999 season, the Lakers wouldn’t have been rushed into making trades that hurt the roster.
With Mitch Kupchak, it’s been the moves he hasn’t made which have been the best ones.
Look to the up-coming “asterisk” season to present the opportunity that will make him push the red button.