x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Spurs sweeping Lakers out of play-offs may lead to changes being ushered in at Los Angeles

Tumultuous season ends with Lakers swept away by the Spurs, writes Steve Dilbeck.

Kobe Bryant, left, will be back next season but Pau Gasol may have played his last game with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kobe Bryant, left, will be back next season but Pau Gasol may have played his last game with the Los Angeles Lakers.

These things do not happen to other NBA teams. Not melodrama piled upon melodrama.

Even for the never-dull Los Angeles Lakers, the 2012/13 season seemed one long lurch from crisis to crisis.

Asked to sum it up, Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers coach, said: "You want me to cry right now?"

They began the season as a dream team and ended it swept out of the first round of the play-offs Sunday, humbled, broken and with an uncertain future.

"It was like a nightmare," said Dwight Howard, the brawny centre who was to help make the club a super team. "It was like a bad dream and we couldn't wake up out of it."

From that highly anticipated beginning to their rapid decline at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers packed in enough subplots to sate most teams for decades.

Their season began when Mitch Kupchak, the general manager, added the veteran point guard Steve Nash, and Howard, to a Lakers team who already featured Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Four elite players on one team, and a record US$100 million (Dh367m) payroll to match.

The next six months saw coach Mike Brown fired after five games; Howard struggle to recover from off-season back surgery; D'Antoni arrive with his high-flying offence; D'Antoni benching Gasol; the death of Jerry Buss, perhaps the canniest owner in the league; and, after finally hinting at stability and competence as they surged into the play-offs in the final two weeks, losing Kobe Bryant to a torn Achilles tendon. Then swept by the Spurs after injuries to Steve Blake, Metta World Peace, Jodi Meeks, Nash and Bryant forced them to play San Antonio using five unknowns, two who were not on the team two weeks ago.

"It's been a disaster," said Brent Barry, a television pundit.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the former Lakers guard and part-owner, tweeted: "I'm sooooooooooo happy the season is over. With the talent on this team, this could go down as one of the worst seasons in Lakers' history!"

The NBA's pre-eminent team over the past 35 years now face a transition. They are a slow and old; Nash is 39, Antawn Jamison 36, Bryant 34, Peace and Blake 33, Gasol 32.

The first issue is Howard. He can become an unrestricted free agent and has given no hint at whether he will re-sign. Asked if he would return, Howard said: "You're reading too much into it."

If Howard does re-sign, the Lakers are expected to trade Gasol who would like to return for youth, athleticism and salary-cap relief.

"I would be pretty surprised if there were no changes made," Gasol said. "It's always interesting here."




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