- by Matt HurstIt sucks being a Lakers fan.
Yeah, it feels weird to write and I doubt I'd ever actually say those words. You're probably thinking "Boo-hoo, Matt, you root for the Lakers. Why don't you just root for the government on tax day?" Some Golden State Warriors fan is looking at me and thinking "Really? Really?!"
Yes, it sucks being a Lakers fan.
I've been a loyal Lakers fan since I can remember. It's the blessing of growing up in Southern California where the Lakers are A-1 and everyone is interested and emotional about the team. There's always something to talk about with the Lakers.
And, that's the problem. The Lakers always make news. I don't care if it's for Lamar Odom's TMZ-type of episodes or what name and number Ron Artest is going to go with next year.
The issue is that when the Lakers aren't playing for a title - let alone winning one - something is wrong. The team needs to be blown up, changes need to be made, a new coach has to come in.
Those were all the suggestions following the Lakers' loss to Oklahoma City and why everyone is bitter that the Lake Show isn't starting the Western Conference Finals tonight.
It's Mike Brown's fault. Pau Gasol needs to be stronger. Andrew Bynum needs to be more mature.
All relevant points. But, sometimes a team just isn't as good as their competition. The No. 1 and 2 seeds in the West are playing for a trip to the Finals. Isn't that how it should be?
Whenever the Lakers fail to win a title, everyone wants to make ridiculous trades and bring in a new coach. Dwight Howard would help. No, he was hurt. Chris Paul would have helped. No, because Kobe needs the ball at all times. Gasol needs to stop being soft. Well, the Lakers won two titles with him playing the way he's been playing. Bynum needs to mature. He's been in the league seven years; I think he is what he is.
Rooting for the Lakers my entire life has brought me 10 NBA titles in my lifetime. That's about a third of my years celebrating a title. I'm entirely happy with that.
An online columnist once wrote that whenever your team wins it all, you then get a five-year grace period to not complain about that franchise, unless they go all 1998 Florida Marlins and start selling players for washing machines.
I am a firm believer in this. I am ecstatic to be a Lakers fan, but it sucks because no one else can ever be happy.
"Oh, the Lakers should have beaten Oklahoma City. They were better."
True. But, they blew two late-game leads and OKC took advantage and deservedly won. If the Lakers were really the Lakers, they would have won that series. Now, we have an entire offseason of "Let's trade Pau, Mike Brown is on the hot seat, let's build around Kobe."
And there's the problem.
The Lakers have to build around Kobe, but how many franchises build around a player entering his 16th year in the league?
The Spurs don't build around Tim Duncan. They complement him.
The Celtics don't build around Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They give them several pieces. They got a dynamic point guard to help.
Kobe Bryant is still an elite player, but for how much longer?
The Lakers have gotten themselves into such a situation where they cannot push Kobe to be the number two player and start building around a younger talent who can blossom. In fact, that's the worst possible way to do it since it was the Lakers who started building around Kobe Bryant when he was young, traded Shaq to make it "Kobe's Team" and gave Kobe the tools to succeed. What has he done? Well, he's won two titles with "his team." Two titles are awesome, but when you have two seven-footers and other complementary guys, that's dynasty material.
He needs those complementary pieces. Jordan had Pippen. Magic had Kareem. Bird had four guys around him.
Kobe has become synonymous with the Lakers and that's fine. He's a Hall of Famer. He's brought scoring titles, MVPs and a few titles to L.A. But, his ego and everyone's willingness to bend over backwards for him is the reason the Lakers are at home right now.
When the team hired Mike Brown everyone wanted to know what Kobe thought. Are you kidding me? He's a player, not the general manager. He doesn't need to make decisions. He needs to accept them.
If someone openly criticized Kobe for taking as many stupid shots as he does the way Kobe verbally slapped Pau Gasol across the face, everyone would be in an uproar. That's not what leaders do. His pig-headedness is the reason the Lakers are now forced to trade Gasol.
I'm sorry, but how many 7-footers have Gasol's skill set? Bynum certainly doesn't. Gasol may be soft, but he's smooth. The reason Gasol and others are afraid to shoot is because Kobe will yell at them, give them pissy looks and act like a petulant child. Sure, it's OK for Kobe to shoot 40 times a game and the one time Gasol passes up a shot, it's an issue? How about when Kobe threw a terrible pass that Durant intercepted and changed the outcome of the game? When a player is not in the flow of the offense, they hesitate when they shoot. That's what Kobe has done. Steve Blake had a great look at a game-winning three-pointer in Game 2 and everyone was worried about Kobe. Well, Kobe was double-teamed, couldn't get open and Blake was wide open. Sometimes people just miss shots. Had Kobe missed a wild, off-balanced shot, Lakers fans would have been better with that somehow than a good shooter taking a wide-open 3.
Weird, isn't it?
Let us also not forget that Kobe was caught on camera a few years ago wanting to trade Andrew Bynum.
Shaq kept Kobe in check. Kobe would try to prove a point and not shoot during games when Shaq criticized him. The issue was that Kobe was young and the veterans tried to teach him things and keep him in check. Kobe has not matured to that level and still feels he's 25 and can do whatever he wants on the court. When the Lakers had Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Shaq and Kobe, it was Kobe who sabotaged that team. Nice show of respect for guys like Payton and Malone trying to win a title.
Since he was given the keys to the franchise, Kobe has made it hard to be a Lakers fans because everyone still views Kobe with rose colored glasses. Problem is, he's old (by NBA standards). He has a ton of mileage on his tires and it shows. He's already played more years than Jordan. More than Bird.
The Lakers will not win another title with just Kobe in charge. They need another younger, uber-talented player to complement Kobe and hope that he is OK with it. If not, he will sabotage the team, never pass to the new player and cause an uproar forcing the Lakers to do something else.
And, that's why it sucks to be a Lakers fan. Yes, they're good. They're a team worth investing in. But, when a player runs the show, there are problems and that's why the Lakers are not in the Western Conference Finals.