The Los Angeles Lakers watched the trade deadline pass them by like a furious sandstorm in the desert. There wasn't much action for L.A. leading up to the deadline, with more NBA gossip surrounding their team than actual movement, and much like the rest of the league the outlook hasn't changed for Los Angeles. With only a handful of minor moves being made at the deadline, the league remains widely unchanged. All that sand was just to get in everyone's eyes and cause a bunch of fuss that amounted to very little.
For the Lakers though, the message is clearer than ever: you need to make it work. There wasn't a godfather Mitch Kupchak swindling, there wasn't a panic trade... there was nothing. While Mitch may have been searching for temporary cap relief in the form of a second round draft pick for a bench player (we're talking end of the bench you're not coming in player. Except you, Steve Blake. You're not in that group), he was unable to find a partner willing for even that. Heck, the Lakers weren't even able to pry (I use that term loosely) Daniel Gibson out of the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There wasn't much room for the Lakers to wiggle, and thus, they stood still with their team as constructed. This is it. Believe it or not, it could be a lot worse than it is right now for the Lakers. Look no further than Andrew Bynum, who hasn't played a minute this season. Even further, look at the lack of a starting power forward, as Earl Clark came along in the Howard trade. The injuries have been detrimental to the team, but there's still time for this team to grow under an immense amount of distress. They are only 3.5 games out of the playoffs, after-all, which isn't a mountain to climb so much an ant-hill to hop over. Losing Jordan Hill for the season, Pau Gasol for few more weeks at least, and Steve Nash for the first portion of the season has been an obstacle to say the least.
The Lakers reached a critical juncture in the season over the All-Star break, though, as Kupchak repeated himself till he was blue in the face that Howard is the future. It was decision time for the Lakers, and they did exactly what they should have done: they remained patient. Dwight obliged and said just about the only thing he could, that he has felt the same way since day one when he was beaming and showing off his Lakers jersey to the media in Los Angeles. We don't know what's going on in his head, or his heart, but we know what he has been capable of. His back injury leaves more questions than answers, but there has been no indication from either Dwight or the Lakers that he won't return to form in due-time.
He is the Lakers future, and the organization made that clear when they held onto him. The Lakers are a team to swing for fences, not ground balls along the foul line hoping to squeak in a single. This is a high pop-fly right now that looks like it could still make it over the fence as the ball glides through the ballpark. Or, it could fall right into the outfielder's glove. Maybe this season just wasn't meant to be while Howard is severely hampered as he rehabilitates his back, but should he return to even nine-tenths of what he once was, this is still a walk-off home run for the Lakers.
In a world where every comment, every quote, and every sigh on the court is turned into the end of the world, it's difficult to stray away from the rampant sensationalism. Howard hasn't been perfect, heck, he hasn't even been close to perfect. There's a certain level of responsibility and prestige that comes with being a part of the Lakers organization, and it was on full display during Jerry Buss' memorial service. A room filled with legends from far beyond just the basketball court. Magic Johnson asked the past and present Lakers players to stand, and that alone was company many would never dream of being a part of.
Two men stood up in that group though that are presently the most important two for the Lakers: Kobe and Dwight. A part of something much larger than "Kobe versus Dwight", and silly speculation. They are franchise Lakers, together, and the challenge is on them to live up to the expectations that come with it.
There is no easy path to a championship, and this season, there isn't even an easy path to the playoffs left for the Lakers. Too many dropped games to sub-.500 teams. Too many mistakes, too little growth from it. If there is any chance of this group of Lakers being something more than one of the most disappointing groups of talent ever brought together the Lakers need to rise above the "me" and "I" mentality and stick to "we" and "us". In the face of adversity, and agendas, they must stop waving a white flag of surrender and push back.
When the Lakers dominated the Boston Celtics while the lights shone down on the empty seat of Dr. Jerry Buss it was one of the few times this season the Lakers not only refused to lose, but also fought to win. Even with a roster that has severe flaws, a 39-year-old point guard who is having the world asked of him as he battles against much quicker defenders, and an only partially healed franchise center who has been plagued all over again with questions regarding his future, the Lakers showed they can still do it.
From the box-scores, to the post-game interviews, we're here because we breathe purple oxygen and dream of golden Larry O'Brien trophies of the past and in the future. This is the Lakers team that will be riding out the season as imperfect it may be, and this is the team that has to play at a level we have yet to consistently see from them. Perhaps it's the spoiling we've had in recent memory-- five titles over the last 15 years certainly puts a great deal of pressure on any team that has more than Smush Parker and Kwame Brown on it to wow us with greatness.
While Jerry Buss had made many tough decisions for the Lakers, what stood out most was the importance of two specific qualities that many speakers at the memorial echoed. Patience. Trust.
It isn't easy to be patient, but nobody said this would be easy. While Kobe and Dwight may not have forged a bond, they must forge a future together. The Lakers franchise depends on it, and while Howard has been slow to pick up on the intricacies of representing the Lakers, Bryant knows it all too well. Kobe is about the legacy of the game, and his legacy which will someday come to an end. Was Bryant about the legacy his first season as a Laker? Even if Dwight has been reluctant to buy into what it means to be considered the face of the Lakers franchise, we must trust that he will get there. We must trust that the empire Jerry Buss built is too strong a force to pull away from, and Dwight must trust that this is the ultimate opportunity to become more than just another name in the books.
More importantly though, this is it, Lakers. Mitch Kupchak is tapped on making roster movements aside from trying to find a free agent (or waiting on a buyout candidate like Raja Bell) to plug into the roster. The front office has brought you men together to do great things, and there are only 27 games left for the Lakers to do just that.
Don't play for the last name on the back, play for the name on the front, play for the city that loves you, and play for the man up above who loved what you're supposed to represent more than anything in the world.
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