I'm going to just say it now because I know it's going to slip out eventually: I hate the Lakers. That's right, I said it. Hate them. Most of the time, there's really no rhyme or reason to which teams I chose to have a deep, passionate hatred for; there are some teams I just hate. When forced into giving my reasoning behind the hate, I chalk most of it up to being born and raised in New York City. As a New Yorker, it is my civic duty to hate on all other major cities trying to claim any share of the limelight. I remember reading a study that asked people from New York City to draw a map of the United States; all of them drew New York City about the size of Florida while the rest of the United States was drawn at a considerably smaller scale. So, yeah, I'm a New Yorker. We are the greatest city in the world and people from other 'big cities' are evil, especially folks from Los Angeles. Don't worry Lakers fans; at least you're not from Miami. We will always hate the Heat more than we hate you.
All that being said, I am an NBA fan first and foremost. As much as my hatred for the Lakers increased two-fold this offseason when Dwight Howard and Steve Nash joined the gang, I was still excited for the basketball greatness that my eyes were to behold once the season began. If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that you knew that the Lakers? season was going to play out the way it has thus far, quit your day job immediately and open up shop as a fortuneteller. You have a very special gift.
When my fantasy hoops draft began, as much as it pained me, I knew I couldn't completely ignore Lakers players. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard (FT|PERCENT| notwithstanding) have proven to be steady fantasy contributors through the years, and each would have been tough to pass up if they dropped to me. Bryant and Metta World Peace have been the only consistent fantasy producers on the team, and both have really exceeded expectations this season. Nash and Gasol have seen their values drop due to injuries, while Howard has been so atrocious from the charity stripe that he's been tough to own in nine-category leagues. We've seen flashes of value from guys like Antawn Jamison or Jodie Meeks, but none of the depth players have really stepped up to provide consistent production.
Many people have been (understandably) making excuses for the way the Lakers are playing right now. Everyone is trying to find the reason that explains what the heck is going on. At the very start of the season, after finishing the preseason whatever the opposite of undefeated is, the struggles were Mike Brown's doing. Other excuses have included, "the season is still early," "Dwight is not making his free throws," "we need Gasol and Nash on the floor at the same time." All of these excuses are true, but none are good enough alone to fully explain what currently ails the Lakers.
The season is still early, and some of their key players are injured. The Lakers have been without Steve Nash for the majority of the season. Nash being hurt is definitely an issue, but the fact that no one has been able to step up in his absence is an even bigger concern. Chris Duhon and Darius Morris just aren't cutting it.
Gasol has also missed extended action. Well, Laker fans, regardless of if you were crying for him to be traded or crying for his return (let's be honest, in most cases you were doing both), Gasol is back now. If you didn't realize that he returned for that one-point victory over the Bobcats, don't feel bad, I probably wouldn't have either had I not been actively watching for his (unimpressive) contributions. Gasol, when healthy, has been playing at a considerably lower level than in years past, and he still has yet to prove himself in the up-tempo offense under new coach Mike D'Antoni. Even though Gasol has been disappointing thus far, he's still a player that would add value to your fantasy team. However, I wouldn't put him at the top of your Christmas list since there are numerous other options at a much lower cost. He still has to fully prove he can fit in D'Antoni's system and play alongside Howard, neither of which can be fully determined until Nash returns. It's possible Gasol will revert back to the top-20 player he has been in years past once Nash is back in the lineup, but for now that's just speculation. My opinion? Create a nice trade package and ship him off to an unsuspecting owner. The way I see it, Gasol's name value will surpass his numbers this season, and two lesser-known players will be of more value than Gasol alone. Even when Nash re-enters the picture, I think it's going to take at least a full season before all the different dynamics of the team successfully flow together. I'm also not sold that Mike D'Antoni is the right answer to make each component as prosperous as it can be.
Now, looking past the Nash/Gasol fiasco, this is a team that still has Kobe Bryant. Did you hear me? I said Kobe Bryant. This man is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and in his age-34 season, he doesn't appear to be declining at all. He's the undisputed leader of the Lakers. Unfortunately, he's also the same player who at the end of games is making comments about teammates needing to put on "big boy pants," and hoping for a game against the "Washington Generals" to get a win. I understand the frustration, Kobe. Really, I do. You shouldn't have to feel like you need to score 40+ points to win a game (though I'm sure it's a welcome surprise from your fantasy owners). You should be able to trust that the rest of your team can, and will, step up. But from another perspective, it must be intimidating to be on the same team as Kobe. The quotes Bryant feeds to reporters after games aren't the type of comments that boost morale (unless you?re Metta World Peace, who has statistically improved since Kobe remarked on him needing to 'step up'). I would suspect that these are the type of comments that could possibly, say, make an All-Star player miss an inexplicable amount of free throws? Those comments are not the type of thoughts that should be running through your head when you step up to the line. Even if Bryant's harsh leadership skills are getting to Howard, his free-throw percentage is still unacceptable. If a player is earning almost $20 million, he should be able to make unguarded shots that most middle school children can make with at least some consistency.
Despite all the struggles, I do believe that at some point these Lakers will be a successful team. I would be naive (and very hopeful/delusional/biased) to believe anything different. This is a team that was cherry-picked, handcrafted, computer-generated to win. But like we've seen from numerous NBA teams throughout the years, teams need time to develop chemistry before reaching their full potential. Even The Big Three in Miami struggled out the gate in their first season together. It wasn't until Year 2 that Miami fully meshed and won a championship. In my opinion, it couldn't hurt for the Lakers to spend a significant amount of time doing un-basketball related things together. Grabbing a beer. Team field trip to a strip club. I don't care. Hopefully then there can be some kind of continuity, comfort, and understanding amongst this squad. The Lakers, despite the way it sometimes looks, aren't so far away from where they need to be. Eventually, they'll be a force to be reckoned with. As a New Yorker, it may be engrained in my soul to hate the Lakers, but as a basketball fan, I hope the Lakers right the ship and provide us with the quality hoops we were expecting when this team was constructed in the offseason.