For the first time in nearly a decade, it's late April and Lakers fans everywhere have nowhere to be. It's a strange feeling for a fanbase that hasn't seen a television set bereft of purple and gold more than a half dozen times in fifty years. Even as I sit and watch these incredible playoffs unfold, with titanic matchups like this spectacular Memphis Grizzlies/Oklahoma City Thunder series or the "no holds barred" battle between the Clippers and Golden State Warriors, I know there's still a very foreign feeling of basketball emptiness in the hearts of the Lakers fans everywhere.
I feel you, brothers and sister. I really do. So what is there to root for? Is there anything to root for? Why should we care after the worst season in Los Angeles Lakers history?
Well, that's why we're here, kids. After a couple of weeks reconstituting myself from too many minutes of Wesley Johnson throughout the year, I finally recollected all of my hoophead passion and redirected it towards all the hate and bile in my heart. No, there are no Lakers to cheer on this spring. However, that doesn't mean that Lakers fans don't have anything to root for.
Going through the playoff bracket, I found ways for us to be collectively emotionally involved with hate binding us together. Is this the most positive exercise in the world? No, it's not. This is pretty much the worst thing we can do karmically. But my friends, the hate will sustain us through the long summer. Let's hit it: who can Lakers fans root for in these playoffs?
In perhaps the most tangential of exercises, Lakers fans can get on the Bobcats bandwagon to cheer for Steve Clifford, an assistant coach on last year's LA team. It's a reach to be sure, seeing as Clifford was merely on staff for a 45-win cratering disappointment. But when we're grasping at straws of NBA relevancy, a one-year coach of a horrid squad is almost as good of a connection as we're going to get. The Bobcats look like they're going to be the first ones eliminated from the postseason, so this one may be the most shortlived.
Golden State Warriors
Though this partially has to do with the sad sack Warriors who rarely have won throughout their history, this is mostly just an old friend alert. Steve Blake performed admirably for LA for three and a half seasons, so to see him win on a squad that most Lakers fans don't really see as a true rival wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
Anyone playing... the Oklahoma City Thunder
Let's follow the dominoes here my friends: the Thunder squeak by the Memphis Grizzlies after a 2-1 deficit, make it to the Western Conference Finals but lose to the San Antonio Spurs. Scott Brooks is allowed another stay of execution to continue and screw up OKC, including in next year's playoffs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook become more and more disillusioned. Both start to think about leaving for greener pastures that aren't in the middle of Oklahoma. Some place warm. Where the beer flows like wine.
Hmm. Where could that be? Let us root on against the Thunder.
Anyone playing...the Dallas Mavericks
As long as Mark Cuban owns the Mavs, there will always be someone for the Lakers to root against.
Anyone playing...the Miami Heat
On the surface, this is an easy answer: any fan anywhere can root against the two-time reigning champs. You don't have to be invested in much to do that.
However, let me raise a more important question: if LeBron James, he of two Finals MVPs and four regular season MVPs, wins his third NBA title...how close is he getting to usurping Kobe's place in history? Does this get him closer? Or does this put him past the Mamba? Does the massive weight of four MVPs and three titles eclipse the accomplishments of one MVP and five titles?
I'm not saying it's one way or the other right now. I'm just saying that it becomes a very, very valid conversation to have if the Miami Heat three-peat...just like Kobe and Shaq's Lakers did. And that is enough for me to root against James and company this spring.
Anyone playing...the Houston Rockets
Because Terence Jones is just the worst, AMIRIGHT???
Well, also there's the flippy-floppy James Harden feigning surprise at every foul call and playing zero defense. And Patrick Beverley acting like a punk, all of the time. Or eternal Celtics arch nemesis Kevin McHale steering the ship. And the fact that Chandler Parsons could steal your girlfriend, like, today. And their center, whatever his name is. Whichever your reason, I have no doubt that there's a ton of hate you can summon up in your heart for the Houston Rockets.
Anyone playing...the Brooklyn Nets
Generally, the Nets are pretty benign to Lakers fans. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee are all fairly harmless figures to Southern California at large.
However, after an offseason makeover, owner Mikhail Prokorhov seems to have loaded up on a trio that summons as much rage in me as Mike Bibby's face does. In general. No matter what the time or place.
The Brooklyn Nets are led by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They are coached by Jason Kidd. The colors might be black and white, but I smell that putrid green odor beneath their jerseys, and that Dallas sweep lingering in the air. No matter the tones on their uniforms, I know who the enemy is. You should too.
Anyone playing...the San Antonio Spurs
As I wrote during the NBA Finals last season, the competing legacies of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have always run at a dangerously close pace. With Bryant sitting out essentially and entire season and Timmy poised to make another NBA Finals run, the race between the two for historical significance has never been tighter.
Besides the respectful rivalry that's seen the two teams win nine championships and twelve Western Conference titles over the past 15 seasons, I still maintain that it's absolutely imperative that the Spurs not win the title this year. It not only jeopardizes the standings I see involving the purple and gold: the fake title of "Team of the Millenia", as well as Kobe's historical superiority over Duncan. Whether or not you agree or disagree with this two statements, there's no denying that this becomes a perilous conversation for both the Mamba and the Lake Show.
Let's just avoid giving the Pro-Spurs argument more ammunition.
Anyone playing...the Los Angeles Clippers
If I need to explain this, I'm not quite sure why you're even reading down to this point.
But to really punctuate the point, just imagine Donald Sterling with a shit-eating grin on his face, standing up on a podium in front of the world, hoisting that beautiful Larry O'Brien trophy over his head. The worst owner in all of sports will have won the NBA Title. Imagine that. Imagine that and feel the nausea roil through you. Even if he wasn't there--and at this point, how could he be?--that man would be sitting up in the second floor of his mansion, happily smiling despite all the controversy around him right now. I couldn't think of anything I'd enjoy less this playoffs.
Don't get me wrong: I hope the NBA Finals end in a tie, so that no one wins this year and everyone is as unhappy as me. I really, truly wish that. But with that probably--PROBABLY--not in the cards, we as Lakers fans have to root for whatever will least harm the still pristine reputation of the franchise and its players. The teams we should be cheering against are those that may potentially muddy the great legacy of the Lakers and of course, Kobe Bryant. To me, nothing else matters at this point. I'm grateful that the team I love so much still gives me a stake in this postseason, beyond the fact that there has been some spectacular basketball on my television.
So...how does a Toronto Raptors vs. Memphis Grizzlies NBA Finals sound to everyone?
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino