When the offseason started for the Los Angeles Lakers (and it started very early because the team did not make the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season), there were traces of hope, rays of purple and gold optimism their vast fan base could cling to. Despised head coach Mike D’Antoni had resigned. The team held a 21.5 % chance of landing a top 3 pick in a loaded draft, a better than 1-in-5 shot at acquiring a potential franchise-altering talent such as Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. And there was also cap space, heaps of cap space, around $26 million to offer free agents this summer. A swift rebuilding process—think the Boston Celtics in 2007—seemed within their grasp. It no longer appears likely.
The coaching search has dragged for months, the names eliciting a gamut of emotions ranging from intrigue (Derek Fisher, Lionel Hollins) to confusion (John Calipari), apathy (Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott) to despair (Mike Dunleavy). The lottery also did not go as planned with the Lakers moving one spot down to the seventh pick; nice, potential complementary players such as Randle, Gordon and Smart have replaced the Embiid, Wiggins and Parker fantasies.
Then the reality of free agency swooped in. LeBron James isn’t signing with the Lakers, nor is Carmelo Anthony. Pricey third-wheel options (Greg Monroe, Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng and Chandler Parson) will be available, but are available for a simple reason: all are pricey third-wheels. Adding to the gloom, the Minnesota Timberwolves seem eager to trade Kevin Love before he enters free agency in 2015, making Love—born in Santa Monica, balled at UCLA—a long shot to sign with his hometown team.
But with the NBA Finals tipping off this evening, Lakers fans should put planning for next season on hold. Stop ogling prospects, which means no more talk of Zach LaVine’s vertical. Give the absurd trade scenarios a rest—Russell Westbrook will not be a Laker next year, sorry. Focus on the games for the next two weeks. Unfortunately, with the San Antonio Spurs facing the Miami Heat, the Finals matchup is a heads-they-win-tails-we-lose proposition. Tim Duncan and the Spurs have been the Lakers’ chief adversary for the past fifteen plus years. How can any self-respecting Lakers fan root for Tim Duncan and the Spurs? Then again, the Heat are led by LeBron James, the man who usurped their beloved Kobe Bryant a few years back as the game’s best player. So, which side should Lakers fans take?
THE CASE AGAINST THE HEAT
LeBron James: If the Heat win, James, a four-time NBA MVP, adds a third NBA title and possible third Finals MVP to his resume. With that, the case can be made that he, and not Kob (just Kob to Lakers fans), is the greatest player of the post-Michael Jordan era.
Dwyane Wade: Once broke Kob’s nose. On a borderline dirty play. In an All-Star Game. Never forget.
Chris Bosh: Is Chris Bosh
Three-peat: The 2002 Los Angeles Lakers were the last team in any of the four major professional sports to three-peat, a bragging right Lakers fans aren’t ready to surrender
THE CASE AGAINST THE SPURS
The Drive for Five: A fifth Spurs championship would equal the Lakers tally since 1999. With that, the case can be made that the Spurs, and not the Lakers, are the top franchise of the post-Michael Jordan era. (Even though, as Phil Jackson recently pointed out, the Spurs aren’t really a dynasty having never repeated as champions, and, as Phil Jackson pointed out years ago, the Spurs 1999 championship should have an asterisk attached as 1999 was a lockout truncated season.)
Playoff History: Two brutal playoff losses to the Spurs bookended the Lakers 2000-02 three-peat with the Spurs sweeping the Lakers in the 1999 Western Conference Semifinals and taking a six game series in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals.
The Spurs Once Made Kob and Derek Fisher Cry:
Tim Duncan: A fifth NBA title would tie Duncan with Kob and give him one more than Shaq.
Though accepting LeBron James as the best player post-Michael Jordan is a tough ask for Lakers fans, the fact remains he has never prevented a Lakers championship. The Spurs eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs in 1999, 2003 and 2013 (though last year was more of a mercy killing). The Spurs closed the Great Western Forum in 1999 with a Game 4 drubbing of the Lakers. The Spurs made Kobe Bryant cry. Gregg Popovich whined following the Pau Gasol trade in 2008. It all adds up to this: Lakers fans should root for LeBron James and the Heat over these next two weeks. It might sound unappealing, but look on the bright side: At least the Celtics aren’t winning the title.
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