Yesterday, ESPN's Michael Wilbon hit the nail on the head in an article explaining why the Lakers' recent "drama" is nothing too much worry about.
"In just one week, the Los Angeles Lakers manufactured as much drama as the "Real Housewives" of New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta combined.... But if you think all this drama is making the Lakers uncomfortable, think again. They're close to completely unfazed by any or all of it. It's not that they give the appearance of not caring; they frankly don't give a damn."
We Lakers fans should know this already. In the past few seasons we raised the same questions about Kobe Bryant's shot selection and its effect on the offense, Pau Gasol's bouts of softness, Andrew Bynum's injuries, Lamar Odom's inconsistency, Fish's defense and the every-so-often overall uninspired play. What do we have to show for our worries? Bragging rights for three straight trips to the Finals, and wins in the last two.
Debating whether there is real team turmoil and if we should be worried about their play are two very different questions. They're intertwined though. It's typically our reaction to these overblown issues that cause our concerns. Concerns that eventually get erased. Yet, we put ourselves through the same rigmarole every season. We let the team put us through it.
[rig-muh-rohl]–noun1.an elaborate or complicated procedure: to go through the rigmarole of a formal dinner.2. confused, incoherent, foolish, or meaningless talk.
The first meaning embodies the process of the Lakers' play during the regular season. They jump out to hot starts, level off, seem to struggle for a week or two, make indirect snipes at each other, then go back to kicking ass. Rinse and repeat. The whole time leaving critics and fans alike wondering why a team so good doesn't absolutely dominate all season long. They seem to make it so much harder than it needs to be. For a team with championship experience and veteran leadership, loss of focus or interest should never be an issue. Or so we think. How much does a full season's worth of muscle flexing even matter when you're back-to-back champs?
Wilbon: " ...This is how the Lakers roll." This is standard operating procedure for them...
'Only one of our championship teams shot out there and won more than 65 games,' Fisher said. 'That's not been the way we approached it. Even when Shaq was here, we'd have him coming back from offseason surgery and win 57, 58 games.' "
See? The Lakers know what is most important to them. It's not the 82 games played for our entertainment. No matter how frustrating it is to us fans.
That is why these Lakers make it so hard to enjoy the regular season. They aren't playing to their potential right now, and seem to be taking two steps back with every step they take forward. We can all tell ourselves that there's nothing to worry about; this teams turns it on when it counts; the regular season doesn't matter so much; it's about the playoffs; never underestimate the heart of a champion. Et cetera, et cetera. Apply any cliche you want to, add Los Angeles Lakers to it, and voila - instant spin job.
Now, there is truth in all of the above statements. I've always been slow to judge this team knowing that, for the most part, they ring true. They have earned and deserve a lot of leeway. They do step up when their backs are against the wall. Even when it seems they're just going through the motions at times, they'll respond with beautiful play that'll blow the doors off any team in the NBA, but it is frustrating. It feels like this team is holding us hostage throughout the regular season. We aren't even allowed to pass judgment for six months.
Going into this season, I told myself this season should be worry free. The Lakers have proven themselves so much, that nothing that happens will erase the fact this team always turns it on come May. On the flipside, doesn't that also make the regular season a moot point? We don't know how to feel. Not sure how we should feel. Are we truly that spoiled? This team is still 25-11 and coming off two straight championships! Do we even have the right to be upset with recent bad play? Is it just a bad stretch or signs of real cracks in the foundation? It feels like taboo to even entertain concerns since it always comes back to the same cliches that feel like the guns to our heads holding our feelings ransom for 82 games. It's sucks the fun of the regular season.
Our frustration leads to that second definition of rigmarole. The "confused, incoherent, foolish and meaningless talk." That constant worrying and spoiled expectations our proud fanbase has come accustomed to. We're all guilty of it. Whether we want to realize it or not. It's why we question Kobe's ability to realize his eventual mortality, Pau's "tissue-paper-soft" issues (trademarked by SoCalGal) or whether Lamar's show on E! will affect his great play. It's not merely enough that the Lakers still have one of the better records in the NBA, without playing at their best yet. It's not enough that history has shown us that they usually figure it out when it matter's most - in late spring.
Wilbon: "...The Lakers, meanwhile, work just inside the velvet rope and a few steps off the red carpet, their players likely to make the rundown of "Entertainment Tonight" as easily as "SportsCenter" -- which, no matter how much grumbling you hear in January and no matter how urgent the situation appears now, is a condition perfectly suited to them and their very dramatic ways."
So until the Lakers' last game ends in a loss (knock on wood), let's stop worrying some folks. Listen to Michael Wilbon. Don't worry about the in-season dramas, practice confrontations, reality shows, and sometimes bad play. It's hard, I know, but you know the saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But fool me three times?..."
Let's learn our lesson.
*Make sure you read Wilbon's article.
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