Sunday, April 22, 2012

Purple, Gray, Blood, and Gold. (Part-1)

Last summer, things at Lakers Nation started spiraling downwards in an uncontrolled manner. The Dallas Mavericks swept the Lakers in the Western Conference semi-finals, and went on to win the championship; ending Lakers' hopes of a Threepeat, something that Phil Jackson has done three other times. This was Phil Jackson's last season as a coach, and it was the worst exit possible - swept for the first time in his post-season history as coach. One of the best coaches the league has ever seen has been shown the exit doors in the most disappointing manner. Ever.

The league soon went into lock-out.

After a long, long lock-out, after many days of over-night discussions between the league and players' association, the two parties finally agreed to get the season started on X-Mas day. I remember the late-November afternoon (here, in India), when the news came up. I was too excited, to say the least. I was lying on a sofa, watching cricket, and this got me sit upright. Greetings were exchanged. Gratitude shown to everybody who spent sleepless nights working on this, sacrificing more than we know about. The result was that the season was saved and a 66 game schedule was to begin in a month's time.

Well, the universe has its own way of striking off every smile with a frown, and healing every sorrow with happiness. The former would apply for the Lakers.

By the time the Lakers family met for the first practice, this is what happened (since WCF SF vs Mavs, 2011 season) :-

Mike Brown took over as coach, brought in his team of assistance coaches. Brian Shaw would leave (Pacers). Lakers ditched The Triangle, but continue to focus on defense,

Lamar Odom lost his cousin in July.

Derek Fisher arrives with near-zero practice. He was the face of all the players in the league, being the President of the NBPA, and was hence the man who had to work on ending the lockout. Whilst doing that, he got no time whatsoever for other things in life.

Kobe Bryant had a surgery in his knees, in Germany. And he was coming to terms with playing minutes and the energy that would be consumed in doing so.

Ron Artest had a ridiculous off-season. He changed his name to "Metta World Peace", and was on a diet of Martinis, and added a bunch of pounds to his body when he arrived back as a Laker for the truncated, but congested season.

Pau Gasol, probably the most ready-to-play of the Lakers, had a good summer at the Eurobasket, and spent most of the summer in his back-yard, playing one-on-one basketball with his brother, Marc.

Andrew Bynum had treatments on his own knee, and had to visit doctors several time to get the pus out of his knee, which would be filled again every time he played.

Shannon Brown left the Lakers, and would join the Suns later.

So, before the first day of practice, the Lakers' starting line-up was disjointed.

Trade window opened up. Laker fans had their heart sliced open and trampled upon, as David Stern pulled the plug on a near-done trade that would send Pau to Rockets, Odom to hornets, and Lakers would acquire Chris Paul and others. This was nearly done, when Dan Gilbert, owner of Cleveland Cavaliers (whose history of whining is well known to everyone), along with others opposed the deal. Whether or not the '29 owners of the New Orleans Hornets' were influenced by this or not, David Stern decided to veto the trade on the table for 'basketball reasons'.

Basketball foot!

Pau Gasol showed up at the practice. Mitch Kupchak spoke to him. He continued with the practice. Lamar Odom showed up at practice. Spoke to Mitch Kupchak, left the building in half an hour. Lamar Odom was traded to Dallas Mavericks, in exchange for trade exception money.

What's more. Chris Paul got traded to Clippers. God knows how that improved the Hornets, who are sitting comfortably at the bottom of the Western Conference, losing atleast one of the traded-from-Clippers newbie and managing with an unhappy other, and banking on future picks of the ever unfortunate Minny Timberwolves.

The Clippers, who share the same arena as the Lakers - the Staples Center, looked at this as their best chance to raise a banner of their own among the dozens and dozens of Lakers'. To fuel to flame, the two pre-season games would be between the intra-city teams.

Without Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom, Lakers had to fill in a HUGE void. Ex-Pacers men - Josh McRoberts and veteran Troy Murphy were signed in. Two rookies - Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock were given contracts. The Lakers looked a shadow of the past. Really. And the two pre-season games showed that.

The whole chemistry had changed. Players didn't understand the new offense, and were slow in learning it. The Lakers were slow, and were getting beat-up on transition. The new offense school also meant that the Lakers were turning the ball over many, many times. And to make things just that much worse - Kobe Bryant has injured his wrists. His legs are better, but now has torn ligaments in his right wrist.

The fans were getting impatient. They were excited too, but the fact that the Lakers had been betrayed by lady luck multiple times in the recent history meant that there was more anxiety and worry than excitement. At Lakers, there is no substitute for a win. Jerry West would remind you how much he hated being the Finals MVP in a season he lost to the Celtics in the Finals.

It is December 25th. The game starts at 5 pm. The Chicago Bulls are at The Staples... The Lakers start what can potentially be a very nasty season, against the team led by the reigning MVP - Derek Rose. Lakers are without Andrew Bynum (4 match ban to start this season for his flagrant foul on JJ Barea, the then Maverick guard.)

I get up at 3.30 am, and chant "Go Lakers" to nobody echo, and set myself up for the season... A season I waited for so long, only to walk on a path of thorns.

With a broken, bleeding heart, and with the blood boiling from last season's humiliation, Team Purple & Gold and its fans get ready to tip the season off...

(Part 2 : The season, coming next week)

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