Titles were the goal. Dynasties were the expectations. Cornerstones were plentiful. Now, the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in the early stages of rebuilding, and heading into the 2014-15 season, their loftiest goal is to merely make the playoffs.
While the playoffs might be too much to ask, Lakers fans should be excited about the process.
Even the most casual of NBA aficionados are aware of the storied Lakers franchise. The common phrase heard describing how the Lakers put their dynasties together is, “they don’t rebuild, they retool.” So, Lakers fans have never really seen the process of putting a team together and watching young players grow alongside each other.
Magic Johnson joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most storied period in franchise history, but at that point, Abdul-Jabbar had already won a title and was entering his seventh NBA season and second legal name. When the Lakers drafted Kobe Bryant, he was joining Shaquille O’Neal – entering his fifth season. After O’Neal’s departure and Bryant’s trade demands, they traded for Pau Gasol – eight years into his career.
While titles came from all of those pairings, expectations were already sky-high, and as such, never grew along with the team. The downside, especially with Bryant’s teams, was how short-lived the success was. Not even including the infamous Bryant-O’Neal feud, O’Neal’s prime was behind him. Gasol and Bryant only enjoyed a few years of playing at the peak of their powers together. Even before Johnson’s HIV diagnosis, Abdul-Jabbar had retired and much of the Show Time core were past their respective primes.
Don’t get me wrong, those title teams were everything a fan could want. They were exciting, interesting and obviously most importantly, historically successful.
Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers revolutionized how fans watch the game. I recently argued that Johnson is the most influential player in NBA history. Bryant and O’Neal reignited the city’s passion for the game, and Bryant is arguably among LA’s favorite athletes of all time. While Bryant and Gasol flamed out pretty quickly, they restored and added another chapter in the league’s most historic rivalry.
If the Lakers are indeed trying to build through the draft, success will not only last longer, but – if and when it finally happens – will feel all the sweeter. You need the lows to appreciate the highs. Lakers fans are just so spoiled that what qualifies as “low” is a “high” for just about any other team.