The 2013 Lakers and the wrath of the basketball gods
By Matt Moore | NBA writer
April 29, 2013 12:05 am ET
The Lakers have always been regarded as the favorite team of the Gods. If you buy into idea of mystical forces operating within the flow of luck and fate in the sport of basketball, then the Lakers have long been the most cherished of franchises.
This is the team of Magic and Kareem. They landed Shaq as the greatest free agent of all time. The 90's are forgotten, and the lore goes from Magic to Shaq to Kobe. Kobe Bryant, the second-greatest shooting guard of all time, demanded to be drafted there, and it happened. When moderately difficult times fell on the franchise after Shaq was traded, the team traded Marc Gasol (who at the time was nothing but a question mark), Javaris Crittenton and Kwame Brown, for Pau Gasol in his prime.
The Gasol trade was considered to be so lopsided that Gregg Popovich was complaining about it a year later. It baffled GM's that it could even happen, it was so one-sided.
The Lakers are the team of a thousand conspiracy theories, from the 2002 Western Conference Finals to the Gasol trade to a series of games late in the season that were profiled in YouTube clips. Most of it is completely ridiculous. But the total image does paint a picture of favor from the forces that be, at least, if not the forces that have offices in New York.
I point all this out for this next statement to stand in stark contrast.
No team was more unlucky this seasonthan the Los Angeles Lakers. Teams had worse injury luck (the Timberwolves, for one), but they also didn't have this kind of talent. The Lakers were built to be an amazing team when healthy. If they lost one of their aging veterans for a significant portion, it would be more difficult, but still very possible. Instead, the injuries came in waves.
Dwight Howard didn't miss many games, but was limited the entire season recovering from back surgery. It wasn't until after the All-Star break that he finally looked like himself, and even that was inconsistent. I saw Pau Gasol's foot in a game in January, and it looked like deli meat. He tore his plantar fascia and just had to come back and play on it. Kobe Bryant had ankle issues, knee issues, shoulder issues.
Steve Nash, historically invulnerable in Phoenix with their magic training staff, fractured his leg and had back issues related to the condition that was supposed to keep him out nearly ten years ago.
But as much as Lakers fans may want to make this into a matter of injuries, it wasn't just injuries. The Lakers didn't work together. They didn't work under the Princeton offense with Mike Brown. They didn't work under Mike D'Antoni's free-flowing offense.
They didn't work. At all.
Can the talent play together? It's hard to argue from a logical standpoint it can't. Basketball is complicated and difficult to udnerstand, though. But that's a question for another day.
For now, you have to consider the immensity of what went wrong this season. The future Hall of Famer tears his Achilles just when the team is closing in on a playoff spot. The star power forward tears his plantar fascia after feuding with the coach. A coach fired, an interim coach let go, and don't even get started on Phil Jackson.
The Lakers have also always had drama. Kobe demanding a trade in 2007, the feud between Kobe and Shaq. But this year was something else. From the preseason hype to the dischord between Kobe and Dwight to the dischord between Dwight and D'Antoni and Pau and D'Antoni, and the Phil Jackson affair, it was always a matter of not getting along.
Basketball has a lot of luck in it, it has a lot of effort and heart and toughness. It also has metrics, and physics, and the simple effect of age. But it's hard to deny that this season, everything went wrong for the Lakers at once. It was simply never meant to be.