Remember the days when the Los Angeles Lakers walked on rarefied hoops air, when all the breaks seemed to go their way and the rest of the NBA (save for the rival Boston Celtics, of course) was envious of their charmed existence?
The halcyon times have turned hellish, all right. And Thursday was the latest proof.
Just as Kobe Bryant was working his way back into form from his April Achilles tendon tear and his undermanned, under-.500 (10-11) team was trying to make the best of an already-bad situation, an MRI revealed a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of point guard Steve Blake’s right elbow that will keep him out at least six weeks. Now Blake will never find his way onto a Hall of Fame ballot, so this is not quite the same as the Lakers seeing big man Dwight Howard skip town like he did as a free agent last summer. But the ripple effect of the injury is brutal for Bryant, as it means he’ll be forced to play point guard at a time when he had made it abundantly clear that he wanted to do nothing of the sort.
And how’s this for timing? On this four-game road trip which follows the Lakers’ 0-2 start with Bryant back in the fold, the 35-year-old who has been wearing a heat pad during games on his left ankle because of continued tightness will have both ankles tested by the likes of relentless All-Star Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder) on Friday, young waterbug Kemba Walker (Charlotte Bobcats) on Saturday, slithery scorer Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks) on Saturday and superb talent Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies) on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Bryant, who recently signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension, told news reporters when asked if he was the team’s new starting point guard. “We’ll have some adjustments to make.”.
It’s good, old-fashioned bad luck, and that’s an entirely new concept in Laker Land.
To wit, the surprising acquisition of point guard Steve Nash two summers ago was seen by even the most discerning critics as a boon, but his two-season long struggle to stay healthy continues in the most unfair of ways and he last played more than a month ago (nerve root irritation). Offseason pickup Jordan Farmar was playing good basketball before he tore his left hamstring on Dec. 1, and he remains at least a couple weeks away from a return.
Everything that can go wrong is for coach Mike D’Antoni and his crew, and the sliver of hope out there on the horizon may only be reachable if things continue to get worse.
If the Lakers’ fortunes spirals so far South that they wind up as one of the worst teams in the NBA, now is the time to do it. They have their draft pick for this coming June, and the forthcoming crop of talent is widely seen as one of the best in a long, long time. If Bryant and a free agent superstar of his choice can be joined this summer one of the young elites, then maybe this will all be worth it in the end.
For now, though? The Lakers aren’t enjoying this comeuppance very much.