When the L.A. Lakers traded Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard and signed Steve Nash, expectations ran high. The whole 73-9 thing was kicked around a little, a championship was considered, and everyone figured the Thunder were doomed. Frankly, you were either unbelievably prescient or silly to say the Lakers wouldn't be very good. That's just too much talent to waste.
Or so we thought.
I'm looking back at my own preview of the Lakers in the wake of L.A.'s embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Spurs, a series in which the Lakers lost by an average of more than 18 points per game. How wrong was I?
Landing Steve Nash, the most creative point guard in the league and an impossibly good offensive player, would have been a huge boon for a team that can get predictable when it has the ball (especially under Mike Brown and John Kuester). Then swapping Andrew Bynum (elite for one season) for Dwight Howard (elite for about six years now) is like instant victory. You know how the Heat held a parade to celebrate their free agency triumphs? The Lakers should have held a parade.
Small problem: Nash was injured throughout and played fewer minutes than at any point in the past 12 seasons, and Howard -- though playing better than Bynum this season -- wasn't nearly up to his recent standard. Basically, instead of STEVE NASH and DWIGHT HOWARD the Lakers got a part-time Steve Nash and a Dwight Howard impersonator.
[Y]eah, the bench is a huge problem. No worries, though. It's not like the point guard is 38 years old, the top scorer has 50,000 NBA minutes under his belt and the center is coming off back surgery. Oh wait, it's exactly like that. One injury to Nash, Kobe or Howard won't exactly spell doom for the Lakers, but it'll hurt those ridiculously lofty predictions everyone is making about them.
Hey, that was pretty accurate!
Finally, there is the matter of the coach. I'm in the camp that considers Mike Brown one of the smartest coaches in the NBA. He doesn't just build great defensive schemes -- and holy moly, he has Dwight Howard?! -- but he knows where and when he needs help. He seeks out aid on offense, where his teams have struggled. That said, I do wonder if the catcalls are getting into his head. Hiring Eddie Jordan to implement principles of the Princeton reeks of desperation. You have one of the smartest line-ups ever. Trust them. This feels like Brown getting too cute, and I hope (for Brown's sake, because again, I think he's gotten a bad rap) it works or he switches gears quickly.
Brown lasted five games.
It will be miraculous if ...
Anyone remembers Pau Gasol exists.
We don't get a Phil Jackson rumor by Christmas.
Check and check. Little did we realize that not only would the wider audience forget about Pau, but so would every single Laker ... until Kobe Bryant was on Twitter during the playoffs grousing about what Lakers fans had been yelling about all year: Gasol needed the ball.
As for Jackson ... we almost had an actual Phil Jackson hire before Christmas! Alas, the Busses chose Mike D'Antoni (at a measure of peril) and fans would be forced to simply chant "We want Phil!" during Shaq's jersey retirement and again in the playoffs.
In that preview, I picked the Lakers to win the Pacific Division (they were third) and be the No. 2 seed in the West (they were No. 7). In my playoffs and awards preview, I picked Dwight for Defensive Player of the Year (he finished a strong 14th), Mitch Kupchak for Executive of the Year (oh man, we'll see), Dwight for first team All-NBA and All-Defense (that's not going to happen) and Kobe for second team All-NBA (that's probably going to happen). I also predicted L.A. to make it to the Western Conference Finals, where they'd lose to the Thunder. So I was really quite wrong about the Lakers, particularly Dwight, but at least my Finals pairing (a bold repeat of last year's Finals pairing) remains intact!
Everyone could have predicted that the Lakers would deal with crushing injuries, but no one could have predicted they'd deal with so many injuries. That Dwight's preseason debut kept getting pushed back should have given us some pause. But the strange Nash injury that cost him two months came out of nowhere. You could have guessed Pau would have suffered at least one nagging injury, but two fairly serious ones? And Kobe never sits; you just can't disobey a torn freaking Achilles.
There was a huge amount of bad luck this season for the NBA's luckiest franchise. That's what happened, no more and no less. The Lakers rolled the dice on a roster loaded with aging veterans and a younger star coming off of a major surgery with very little depth.
They rolled snake eyes. Better luck next year.