L.A. Lakers preview: Now this might actually be fun

Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With the drama surrounding Dwight Howard gone, the "We Want Phil" chants dissipating and expectations as low as possible, L.A.'s old baller crew might actually smile a bit this year.

When the L.A. Lakers landed Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012, the last adjective anyone would have tacked onto the roster was "ugly." Despite a dilapidated supporting cast in Phoenix, Nash ensured the presence of pretty, efficient basketball. And despite the popular assertion that Howard has no moves, he has always been a top-notch pick-and-roll finisher in search of a great point guard.

Now add the best passing big man in the league, Pau Gasol, and an action hero scorer, Kobe Bryant. Then, for good measure, to make that infamous Sports Illustrated cover really pop with potential, replace defensive-minded Mike Brown with speed totalitarian Mike D'Antoni.

Fun wasn't just promised. It was the ineluctable denouement.

Unfortunately for Laker Land, the fun came largely at the expense of the team. Howard's recovery from back surgery was not superhuman. (Shaq was right all along.) Nash went down with an injury early. Pau struggled with his own ailments. And D'Antoni suffered embarrassment after embarrassment at the hands of, well, T.J. Simers and a horde of loud Lakers fans at STAPLES Center. Howard and Bryant feuded away from the cameras, working reporters in the dark corners of the arena. Kobe plugged through it all, and had a really fantastic season. Dwight was pretty good once January hit. And in the end, those two and Jodie Meeks were good enough to get the team into the playoffs.

For a team picked by many to challenge the Miami Heat for NBA supremacy, that was a catastrophic failure. The bad vibes led to Dwight rocketing out of town in free agency, an unprecedented insult to the Forum blue and gold laundry. Further, Kobe suffered a torn Achilles in the final days of the disastrous season, leaving the 2013-14 campaign looking uncertain from the start.

But that's actually OK. Because stripped of expectations -- no one expects much from this edition of the Lakers -- and the 6'11 drama magnet, this year might actually be fun for Kobe, Nash and Pau. There is no power struggle at this point: Kobe's here, and the future of the franchise is not on the roster. It's either on another NBA team, in college or in high school.

That, in part, depends on how L.A. performs in 2013-14. If Kobe's supernatural body can't recover early, the Lakers could be pretty bad this season. The free agent reinforcements (Nick Young, Chris Kaman) do not instill much confidence, and Nash and Pau can only do so much on their own. And gosh, the L.A. defense was No. 20 in the league with Dwight Howard last season. Take him away and, yes, I can see the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar open letter to D'Antoni already.

But bad is OK in 2014, because of that draft. So as long as the bad is moderately entertaining, no one in L.A. (except, well, Simers and that horde of loud Lakers fans at STAPLES) will thrash. Even the City of Angels can recognize hope.

In a more realistic scenario, Kobe's adamantium core repairs his Achilles and whatever else aches in time for the season opener, and he, Pau and Nash go out there with the expressed mission to stick it to that turncoat Dwight. The defense will still reek, and the team will still be one injury setback away from "Nick Young, leading scorer" or "Robert Sacre, starting center." But Kobe, Pau and Nash, with D'Antoni (technically) calling the shots, a lack of championship aspirations and no high-maintenance $20 million pivot before which to (pretend to) genuflect ... that's an actual recipe for fun.

Further, a fun season that turns into a playoff bid and a not-totally-embarrassing ejection from the tough-as-ever West bracket might help supply the future of the franchise so desperately chased. Free agency in 2014 promises to be fun, too.

If Kobe, Pau and Nash are healthy enough to fight this season, there'd be no sweeter solution than to clear the bitter taste of the Dwight year and show potential future Lakers how fun it is to be a part of Showtime.

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