LOS ANGELES – I knew Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers would be the talk of this town all weekend, but now it’s for all the wrong reasons.
A small group of us stood in the doorway of a downtown hotel sports bar to watch the final seconds of the Lakers’ stunning loss in Cleveland Wednesday night wondering if this was the final dagger for a team that’s taking a beating from all directions for their recent struggles.
“It’s a good thing it’s All-Star Weekend,” one hotel employee muttered as the crowd dispersed, “because these guys [Lakers] need the break.”
They are in need of something. And perhaps something more than what a few days of rest can provide. There have been some disturbing signs for Phil Jackson‘s crew through the pre-All-Star run, including this latest skid (three straight losses and a .500 mark in their last 10 games).
Instead of celebrating the weekend with the league’s ultimate star-driven showcase, there will be plenty of debate here about whether or not the Lakers are capable of defending their title for a third straight year as presently constituted. The Feb. 24 trade deadline is starting to look more and more like a drop dead date for the Lakers, who limped off the floor in Cleveland last night with a much uglier shiner than the 55-point beating they administered on the Cavs last month.
Rumblings that they might not be able to fend off challenges from the Spurs and Mavericks in the Western Conference and from either the Celtics or Heat in the NBA Finals are growing louder by the second.
On a busy night around the league with tons of Carmelo Anthony rumors that could have dominated the conversation, the Lakers found a way to steal that thunder with their inept performance against the league’s worst team.
My main man Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times nailed the mood we witnessed here last night from Cleveland:
Maybe this team can’t win the championship.
Their defense is horrendous, their legs are getting older by the possession and their interest level fluctuates between bored and horribly bored.
Lakers fans will be apoplectic with the last few losses, but it could be worse. Talk-radio host and Lakers sideline reporter John Ireland said over the airwaves last week he would walk home from Cleveland if the Lakers lost to the Cavaliers.
It’s a 2,300-mile trek. He’ll be home by the end of the playoffs. Maybe.
Then again, a quick glance at Twitter feeds might make Ireland feel better about himself. “Lakers hit ROCK BOTTOM,” wrote one fan in mourning. Another was more somber, simply writing “dead.”
It’s only February. Seriously.
On the other hand, Kobe Bryant looked incredibly irritated as he walked off the court, head down, all alone after the latest loss. He then ignored reporters for a second consecutive game, his second mini-boycott of the media this season.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson actually spent a full 2 1/2 minutes with reporters in the wake of Wednesday’s debacle after providing five terse seconds of his time in Charlotte.
“I think they took the [All-Star] break before the game,” he said, declining to name names though it wouldn’t spoil anything to provide some clues (RonArtestLamarOdomAndrewBynum).
Maybe the Lakers are in need of a makeover.
Maybe it is time for Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to work the phones and move somebody (or, better yet, somebodies) to get this team back on track.
Who knows? The Nets are apparently back in the ‘Melo sweepstakes. Maybe the Lakers want back in, too?
What was already going to be a wild and crazy weekend of All-Star drama and fun got a whole lot crazier and dramatic last night, courtesy of Christian Eyenga and the rest of those suddenly resilient Cavs, with a huge assist from the suddenly hapless Lakers.