Lakers fans, you better sit down for this one.
Exploring the worst-case scenario for the Lakers this season can get pretty ugly, pretty quick.
Even before the Lakers have played a game things are pretty unbearable if you live in Los Angeles and root for the purple and gold.
Kobe Bryant and Paul were supposed to form one of the best backcourts in NBA history. The Lakers were supposed to finally have a young, quick floor general to combat against the NBA’s new wave of dynamic guards dominating the game in Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry and John Wall. The 26-year-old Paul and 24-year-old Andrew Bynum were supposed to give the Lakers a backbone to build upon for the next five years as the 33-year-old Bryant hit season No. 16 and beyond.
Instead? Well, just follow these four events in the course they occurred. Each one seems worse than the last.
1. NBA commissioner David Stern vetoes the trade -- In an unprecedented flex of power, Stern quashed the deal citing “basketball reasons.” Lakers general manager was left with little options for recourse, telling reporters, “We did the best we can to express our displeasure.” Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, in the hospital being treated for blood clots in his legs at the time, had to have felt punched in the gut after supporting Stern throughout the lockout and even going along with the commish’s revenue sharing model, even though it meant $50 million being plucked from the Lakers’ coffers and redistributed to their opponents every season.
2. Lamar Odom is traded to Dallas -- After the trade fell through and Odom got wind of it, he felt so betrayed that he decided he couldn’t come back. The Lakers scrambled to find a deal that returned a sizeable trade exception for Odom, instead of a player, because that’s what they would have gotten in the New Orleans deal and that’s what they thought they would need to make a run at Dwight Howard. And yeah, they end up trading him to the Mavericks, the team that put an embarrassing end to the Lakers’ back-to-back title reign by sweeping them out of the second round.
3. Howard is taken off the trade market by Orlando -- That $8.9 million trade exception isn’t looking exceptional at all. Trading away the Sixth Man of a Year in order to get the three-time defending Defensive Player of the Year is one thing. Trading him away for nothing but salary relief when you’re supposed to be contending for a championship? Ouch.
4. Paul is traded to the Clippers -- It’s was going to sting bad enough to have Paul traded anywhere after the Lakers deal was nixed, but the Clippers … Really!?! Where are Amy and Seth when you need them to break this one down? With one fell swoop, the Lakers’ redheaded stepchild in the Clippers became a legitimate crosstown rival. To make matters worse, the Lakers play both of their preseason games against the Clippers so Blake Griffin & Co. get to trot out their sexy new lineup in front of L.A. hoops fans while the Lakers will still be driving the same old car, only with the car stereo (Odom) and rims (Shannon Brown) missing and with a driver (Mike Brown) who doesn’t know how to get around the city as well as the old one (Phil Jackson).
Is there any reason to think that this series of unfortunate events will suddenly be halted and everything will be back to normal in Laker Land? What if this is just the tip of the iceberg?
Because pondering the worse-case scenario fundamentally requires one to be pessimistic, let’s move beyond the four terrible things that have happened so far before the Lakers have even tipped off on Christmas Day and pile on four more.
1. Bynum gets hurt -- A major injury has knocked Bynum out of the lineup for a significant chunk of time in each of the last four seasons. At this point it’d almost be more surprising if he made it through an entire season healthy than it would be if he hurt one of his knees and missed 30 games (he has missed an average of 31 games the last four years). Not only would Bynum getting injured decrease the amount of games the Lakers would win this season, but it would also severely diminish Bynum’s trade value. If Howard still hasn’t signed an extension come March, Orlando will be itching to trade him, but not for an injured Bynum they won’t.
2. Gasol mentally checks out -- Gasol has handled the news of the nixed Paul trade remarkably well and has impressed everyone around him – teammates, coaches, front office staffers, media members – with his professionalism. But the last time Lakers fans saw him play, he was stinking up the court in the playoffs in part because of undisclosed off-the-court distractions that he admits took a toll on his performance level. What if he starts off playing poorly this season and the Lakers aren’t winning games? What if Bryant makes a quip by saying something like, “I’m glad we still have Pau, but I wish we could have traded his White Swan side away”? What if he decides he can’t take it and demands a trade, just like Odom did, but his trade value has plummeted because opposing GMs now look at him as the guy that disappeared in the playoffs and struggled at the start of the season instead of the guy who was a four-time All-Star?
3. Kobe doesn’t buy in to Mike Brown -- Not only does this scenario leave you with a disgruntled superstar, but it leaves with you with a lame-duck coach. If their marriage doesn’t work out, the organization will ask itself if one of them has to go.
4. Kobe demands a trade -- Is there any more extreme worse-case scenario than the Lakers going from a team pursuing a three-peat with legendary coach Phil Jackson at the helm just eight short months ago to a team with no championship hopes in jeopardy of losing a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Bryant who decides he can’t waste whatever’s left of his talent on a team that can’t help him capture that sixth ring to tie Michael Jordan?
It’s not too hard to get sucked down that rabbit hole. Think about the Lakers’ future too long while looking for the bad side to every coin and you can easily find yourself in the midst of a nightmare.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.