TrueHoop: Los Angeles Lakers

Revealing map of North America's NBA fans

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
7:23
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Twitter has produced an interactive map of NBA fandom based on the locations of people following official team accounts. The results give some insight into the predilections of NBA fans who use social media, if not fans in general. Here’s a rundown of interesting facts in the info.

1. Los Angeles is not Lob City
Check out Los Angeles County, home of your Clippers of Los Angeles. Actually, "your" might be stretching it because so few claim this team on Twitter. The Clips have a meager 6.79 percent following to the Lakers' 50.32 percent. In their own backyard, the Clippers have about as much traction as they have in certain Canadian regions (They’re at 5.35 percent in Queens, New Brunswick). Put another way, the Lakers are far more Twitter popular in Quebec (17.71 percent in Montreal!) than the Clippers are in Los Angeles.

2. Nobody cares where you played in college
The NBA likes its rookies to spend time playing college ball under the logic that it boosts league branding.
[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesNo matter which way Kobe Bryant points, chances are he will find a heavy concentration of Lakers fans.
Perhaps this is so, but we don't see college affiliation mattering much in these numbers. This is true for a few players, but Stephen Curry is a good example. Back in 2007 and 2008, he gained renown for elevating a plucky Davidson team. Despite that history and despite Curry leading all West players in All-Star votes, the Warriors register only 1.66 percent fandom in Davidson's home county of Mecklenburg, North Carolina.

3. The Great Purple North
Yes, the Raptors are the most popular team in Canada. The Lakers aren't far behind, though, claiming a fan majority in British Columbia and various counties scattered across the vast nation. Canada has yet to purge the Laker menace.

4. The Thunder Run Wade Hampton County, Alaska
Thunder fandom is largely confined to Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, but they do have a far-flung outpost. OKC is the favorite team (10.56 percent) of Wade Hampton County, Alaska. Sure it has only 8,000 people, but still, way to spread the word.

5. The Hawks don't fly at home
Hopefully, this recent Hawks on-court success can woo some fans. In Fulton County, where the Hawks hail from, we see slightly more Lakers followers (15.52 percent) than Hawks followers (15.42 percent). You'd think having an entire state to yourself would give you a hold on a local audience. Not so much -- yet.

Is Kobe Bryant right about AAU?

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
6:01
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Largely yes, says AAU coach and ESPN Insider David Thorpe.

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Sideline view: Thunder at Lakers

December, 20, 2014
12/20/14
11:53
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
video Notes and observations from working the Thunder-Lakers game Friday night:

Kevin Durant feared the worst. When he stepped on Marreese Speights’ ankle while driving to the basket near the end of that scintillating first half in Oakland Thursday night his first thought was that he had bent or broken the screw that was inserted into his right foot during his October surgery.

X-rays showed that the screw was intact. That was the big relief. But on Friday morning the ankle still felt too sore to play in that night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Durant took a few set shots about an hour before tipoff, then gingerly walked over and took a seat on the sideline. I asked him if he would be able to play in the Thunder’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans in Oklahoma City on Sunday and he said he wasn’t sure. The expression on his face could best be classified as “questionable.”

Given the Thunder’s penchant for caution when it comes to dealing with injuries, I would guess he’ll sit out again. The Thunder didn’t rush him back from surgery even while the losses mounted. They tried to limit his workload when he first returned after missing the first 17 games of the season following the surgery; he didn’t play more than 30 minutes in any of his first seven games back. But he played 35 minutes against the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night, and was on pace for 38 minutes Thursday against the Warriors. He also was on pace for 60 points, hitting 10 of 13 shots, playing so well that coach Scott Brooks was reluctant to take him out at all.

“I was on my way,” said Durant, who scored a career-high 54 points the previous time he played the Warriors.

Durant said it as he was on his way back to the locker room, where he remained for the game Friday night. He couldn’t watch the Thunder beat the Lakers from the bench because he didn’t have a suit or sport coat with him, so he couldn’t be dress code-compliant. (You try last-minute shopping to find a jacket to fit a 6-10 guy with outlandishly long arms). Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the dress code. Would it really be so bad to see Durant on the bench cheering on his teammates, even if he were dressed as outlandishly as Russell Westbrook?

LAKER LETHARGY: Something looked off with Kobe Bryant throughout the game. When he was on the bench his head was down and he sucked in air like a Shop-Vac. On the court he kept squinting, as if his eyes had trouble focusing. I asked three members of the Lakers organization -- two who were seated on the Lakers bench and one who was in the locker room at halftime -- if Bryant was sick and they all said no.

Bryant told reporters after the game that he was fatigued, and he and Byron Scott wondered if practicing Wednesday had taken his legs from him. Maybe the Lakers need to adopt the Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo plan and hold him out of Wednesday practices from here on out.

The troubling thing for the Lakers is that Bryant’s fatigue seemed to drag some of his teammates down with him. In a timeout midway through the third quarter Scott implored his players to “suck it up” for the rest of the game, and he spent most of our interview after the third quarter discussing his concern about their lack of energy.

The flip side is that the Lakers’ reserves showed plenty of energy in the fourth quarter -- even after their scoring and spiritual leader Nick Young was kicked out for a flagrant two foul. The lineup of Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Wayne Ellington and Robert Sacre took the Lakers from an eight-point deficit to a three-point lead, which the Lakers couldn’t hold when starters Bryant and Ed Davis returned.

Boozer has responded the best way possible since Scott moved Davis into his starting role on Dec. 7. In the six games he’s played as a reserve Boozer has scored in double figures each time (he never hit double-digits in more than five consecutive games as a starter this season). He’s averaging 15 points and 9.5 rebounds and shooting 54 percent off the bench, compared to 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds and 50 percent shooting as a starter.

To go from a starter on a playoff team in Chicago last season to a backup on a losing team can be jarring. But Boozer has remained engaged. His behavior in the huddle is telling. Sometimes players who aren’t in the game spend timeouts hang out on the fringes, checking out the crowd or the dance team. Boozer spent a third-quarter timeout hovering over Scott’s shoulder, listening intently, staring at the play Scott drew up even though Boozer wouldn’t be on the court to execute it.

Small bits of professionalism like that are reasons the Lakers’ season hasn’t tumbled into a freefall. But the heavy legs of their highest-volume shooter, Bryant, are among the reasons they won’t leap into the playoffs.

Mamba Out (Of Control)

December, 19, 2014
12/19/14
2:43
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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Here's a look inside the numbers to show how Kobe Bryant's love affair with the contested midrange jumper has burned the Lakers.

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Kobe's shot selection ailing Lakers

November, 19, 2014
11/19/14
4:54
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Tom Haberstroh says Kobe Bryant is taking shots a historic rate -- and it's hurting the Lakers so much that, despite his incredible talent, the team performs better when he is on the bench.

Lakers legends too busy to be upset

November, 17, 2014
11/17/14
12:04
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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The Lakers’ glorious past and pathetic present were both well represented at Staples Center on Sunday night, and normally the confluence of such a disparity is disruptive, like the turbulence when two weather fronts meet.

I still remember Lakers legends Jerry West and Magic Johnson fuming when the Lakers were swept by the Utah Jazz in the 1998 playoffs. West called it “ridiculous” and said players “should be embarrassed.” Johnson said, “I’m really upset at this.”

There was no such anger Sunday night, not even as the Lakers were picked apart by the Golden State Warriors 136-115 to drop their record to 1-9.

Maybe criticism wasn't at the forefront of people’s minds because of the reason they gathered: to celebrate Elgin Baylor’s 80th birthday. Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens flew in from Seattle. Dick Barnett, one of Baylor’s teammates in the Lakers’ early years in Los Angeles, came out from New York. Former Lakers players Tommy Hawkins, Lucius Allen and Michael Cooper were on hand as well. All of the fans at the game received replicas of Baylor’s No. 22 Lakers jersey, and he was honored at halftime with a lengthy video tribute. All in all, a wonderful homage to one of the NBA’s all-time greats.

Maybe they abstained from criticism because their minds are occupied elsewhere.

When Magic chatted with Cooper, his teammate through five championship seasons in the 1980s, the topic was the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, which Cooper used to coach and Johnson now owns.

As West made his way out of the building, he said, “We’re a fun team to watch.” He was talking about the Warriors, whom he currently serves as an executive board member.

The Lakers are still part of their identities, but they’re no longer their business. West left the front office in 2000 and Johnson sold his ownership stake in 2010. You could make a case that the exodus of the valuable institutional knowledge of Johnson and West is one of the reasons the team is in its current state.

The older generation of Lakers felt more nostalgic than ornery. Hawkins sat next to Baylor and talked about the team’s early days in Los Angeles, when they played at a nearly empty Sports Arena and didn’t have a full-time radio play-by-play announcer. Hawkins recounted one of his favorite stories, the time he and Baylor combined for 78 points -- 71 of them by Baylor.

Jeremy Lin probably won’t have such fond recollections of Sunday night, when he and Kobe Bryant combined to score 44 points -- 44 of them by Bryant. Bryant took 34 shots to Lin’s two.

But watching Kobe shoot and score seemed to be enough to satisfy the fans, who were oddly complacent throughout the game. No boos rained down, not even when the Warriors went ahead by 38 points. Most of the fans even remained in their seats well into the fourth quarter, even after it became apparent that neither Bryant nor the Warriors’ starters would return to the court. Lakers games feel more like a tourist destination than a sporting event these days. Come look at the banners and the Laker Girls and Jack Nicholson, say you’ve seen Kobe do his thing, and don’t worry about the outcome of the game.

One of the patrons who stayed until the end was Shaquille O’Neal, who was “in father mode” and took his kids to the game at their request.

O’Neal said Kobe and all of the residents of Lakerland just need to hang in there.

“It’s not what L.A. fans are accustomed to,” O’Neal said. “Just got to weather the storm.”

There’s sunshine in O’Neal’s life. He has an ownership stake in the Sacramento Kings, who are 6-4. The Lakers legends have moved on. Even on a rare occasion when they were all in the same building again, there was no collective angst about the franchise’s descent to the bottom of the Western Conference.

It’s not their problem.

Lakers aren't attracting stars with Kobe

October, 20, 2014
10/20/14
2:18
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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The Lakers have long been a magnet to the NBA's biggest names, but it's getting tough to find elite players who want to share the court with Kobe Bryant.

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Did #NBArank overrate Kobe?

October, 17, 2014
10/17/14
12:44
PM ET
Webb By Royce Webb
ESPN.com
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It’s time to take “respect” out of the NBA vocabulary, and Kobe Bryant proves it.

Look at what is happening with the announcement that Kobe finished 40th in this year's #NBArank. The same thing happened a year ago when we predicted Kobe to be the 25th-best player in 2013-14. The reaction both years was easy to predict, and it was ugly. Many fans were outraged, even ESPN folks were apoplectic, and Kobe himself mocked us, saying anyone who thinks he’s 25th “needs drug testing.”

The most common reaction was that we were crazy. OK, hard to refute that one.

The second-most common reaction was that we had disrespected the Mamba.

And that reaction was just plain incorrect. In fact, our problem was that we overrated Kobe tremendously, out of “respect.”

But “respect” is one of the most useless concepts in the NBA when it comes to player evaluation. If we had treated Kobe like any other player, we would’ve said he was no longer a top-25 player, or even close to that.

Let’s be blunt: Kobe Bean Bryant was one of the very worst players in the NBA last season -- a $30 million disaster. He was closer to the 425th-best player than the 25th-best player.

He played six games, in which he was mostly just terrible, with negative win shares -- that’s right, he was taking wins off the floor. The Lakers had a winning record before he arrived and immediately hit the skids. The team played worse with him on the floor, and on top of that, he insulted his teammates.

And this was entirely predictable. More than 1,000 men have played the guard position in the NBA. You can count on one hand the number of guards, from all of history, who have been notably productive after playing as many NBA minutes as Bryant has.

So why did we rank him as high as 25th? Out of respect. Too much respect, really.

In the NBA, “respect” is often a code word. It means different things to different folks, but when it comes to evaluating players, it often means that we agree to lie. We don’t like the truth, so we lie and call it “respect.”

Is this a polite impulse? It can be. We respect our elders, and in the NBA, we respect our veterans, even boorish guys like Kobe.

But if “respect” becomes a weapon to shut people up, what’s that about? If “respect” is a word used to bully people, that’s not real respect.

Why did Kobe get a $48.5 million extension from the Lakers before he proved he could play after the Achilles injury? Why didn't they just cut him using the amnesty clause, given that he’s probably done as a winning player?

Because the team believed it couldn't afford to “disrespect” Kobe. They knew he could make life difficult for them by appealing to his fans and supporters around the league. They knew he could bully them into “respect.”

You know, we shouldn't be forced to “respect” Kobe any more than he earns our respect. We can respect his career, sure, if we want to reminisce about the good ol' days.

But respect is earned, and the current version of Kobe is not much of an NBA player.

And when it comes to an evaluation system like #NBArank, it should be just that simple.

Is Kobe's #NBArank right?

October, 16, 2014
10/16/14
11:23
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Last year, when #NBArank rated Kobe Bryant the NBA's 25th-best player, there was outrage. This year, he's ranked much lower.

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Can the Clippers own the future?

October, 16, 2014
10/16/14
11:00
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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ClippersNoah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Clippers, once L.A.'s indie darlings, have gone mainstream. Is the future theirs for the taking?
The Ballmerization of the Clippers and the rejection of “eternal Clipper hell” doesn’t mean Los Angeles isn’t still a Lakers town. Clippers fans know that, and many of the lifers wouldn't want it any other way. The team has long been an expression of sports counterculture, a dive bar for NBA-crazed Angelenos who can't tolerate the velvet-rope club, Team Bukowski. Tribal identities are difficult to shake, no matter how much history evolves.

One of Los Angeles’ newer tribal identities is “eastsider.” Much of the cachet that used to belong to the city’s westside has moved that way, and these neighborhoods on the downtown side of Western Avenue have caught fire. Westsider Baron Davis could see it coming three years ago.

This year’s cult television comedies, “You’re the Worst” and “Transparent,” are set in Silver Lake and neighboring environs, and their thirtyish characters claim eastside citizenship as an element of their urban identity. Ryan Gosling and James Franco have planted stakes in the neighborhood. Are these real and fictional people Clippers fans? Unknown, but spiritually that’s where they live. If they’re not, their kids, unburdened by the past, will be.

There has long been a civic obsession in Los Angeles about the future, probably because there isn’t as much of a past. The city has been playing a game of catch-up with its eastern brethren and San Francisco for more than a century, and has never stopped building. That’s a nice ethic for a city to have, but it also encourages Angelenos to get lost in a fantasy of what the city will look like. The most alluring feature of Spike Jonze’s “Her” last year was his imagination of Los Angeles’ near future -- a dense urban paradise, greener, walkable; a warmer, more communal place that still gets more than 300 days of temperate sunshine.

Given current trends, would the Clippers be a better representative of that future Los Angeles than the Lakers? It’s hard to say, but the normalization of the Clippers under Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul means this is a legitimate question for the first time. According to an ESPN Sports poll, NBA fans are far more likely to switch allegiances -- OK, bandwagon hop -- than fans of other sports. Los Angeles is a young and diverse market that's obsession with the future only compounds the possibility a championship-caliber Clippers team could make up ground, especially if the Lakers swing and miss on the league’s marquee free agents and stop playing basketball in May and June. At least that’s the thought.

The Clippers as the city’s team of the future isn’t a bad piece of casting. When a glossy mag wants to showcase the next-wave American athlete on its cover, it brings Griffin in for a shoot. With Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan in the leads, the product on the court is fast, physical ... modern. Meanwhile, the Lakers limp to the starting line with a couple of aging, brittle Hall of Famers seven seasons or so past their prime and a few adhesives.

Under an owner who, as a matter of principle, believed that capital investment is a gimmick, the Clippers lagged behind most of the league in areas of innovation. With Ballmer and Rivers presiding, the organization has expanded its analytics operation, pushed its way to the front of the line for snazzy tools that used to be the domain of the Texas triumvirate and are listening to cutting-edge health specialists. With no real guiding principle other than the preservation of tradition for its own sake, the Lakers were the lone holdouts at the 2014 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and still regard the European market as a novelty.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP Photo/John LocherCan Blake Griffin become the face of Los Angeles sports once Kobe Bryant cedes the throne?
Los Angeles’ core is more dynamic than most, but power and wealth are still concentrated in the 310. The Clippers are beginning to gentrify the basketball landscape in town, but it’s not as if Paul, Griffin and Rivers are moving next door to Jimmy and Gretchen from "You're The Worst" or hanging out on York Boulevard -- they live west. And no matter how unsightly the freak show gets, the Lakers will continue to rule, at least for a good while. Fifty-two percent of NBA fans in Los Angeles call the Lakers their favorite team. The Clippers draw only 12 percent. Kobe Bryant is the favorite of 55 percent of those fans, while Griffin checks in at 4 percent. Those numbers will move in the coming years -- and they already are. The Clippers clocked in at only 2 percent to 3 percent just three seasons ago, while the Lakers have tumbled considerably from 70 percent. But turning Los Angeles into a Clippers town still might not occur in Ballmer’s lifetime.

The Loy Vaught-Michael Cage contingent in Clippers Nation might not care if the team closes the gap, but the silent majority would love to see counterculture turn mainstream in Los Angeles -- and so would the organization. Pioneering new territory is all well and good, but you still need somewhere to eat in the neighborhood, a reliable grocery, some decent coffee and a dry cleaner that’s worth a damn. Ballmer didn’t spend $2 billion for a boutique storefront; he wants to own the block.

What will that take? Aside from hanging some fabric alongside the sleek new LED fixtures at Staples Center, Griffin evolving into an iconic star. As the old trope goes, the NBA is a superstar league and the Lakers’ dominance is as much an expression of Magic and Kobe as it is the rings. Bryant will soon retire, and when he does that 55 percent will come off the board and it’s Griffin’s for the taking if he can parlay his crossover appeal into broad approval.

Demography and rivalry aside, maybe the better question is whether it matters at all. Does a team need to win the popular vote in its market to affirm itself or its fans? The revenue from a more robust local cable deal would be nice, especially since Ballmer figures to be spendy, but Clippers fans might just prefer to keep the chains out of the nabe, and Griffin as their indie hero.

Swaggy P rankled by his #NBArank

October, 8, 2014
10/08/14
5:11
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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What’s beautiful about Nick Young’s statement that we’ve wronged him on #NBArank is it’s all part of Swaggy P’s charm. While I would disagree with his assertion that ESPN voters were on, ahem, banned substances, who can fault Young for his self-belief? He’s the rare athlete whose ego is endearing rather than grating. His confidence is contagious without being sickening. The man gave himself a ridiculous nickname, and you know what? It works. Who can hate on the athlete who’s always smiling?

In fairness to the Laker wing, he did finish 103rd in PER ( 207th in RPM). In fairness to ESPN voters, PER rewards those who shoot, and Nick Young certainly loves to hoist. Last season he had more than nine times as many field goal attempts as he did assists. ESPN voters might also be factoring in how Young played in former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni’s spread floor system, getting better looks at the basket than in years prior. They also might be factoring in defense, an aspect of Young’s game that’s hardly lauded.

None of that matters to Young, though, who sees himself as a star. He carries himself that way on the court too, dribbling mazes into step-back jumpers. He’s a throwback, a reminder of an era where isolation scoring was nearly the singular measure of prowess.

The sport has moved on, though, and there’s a new statistical focus on moving the ball quickly, and helping your team’s defense. Fans are less inclined to point to scoring totals when arguing which player is best. You can expect this analytical movement to shed light on what wins basketball games, but you can’t expect it to sway a man blinded by his own talent.

Nick Young believes in Nick Young far more than he believes in our assessments of Nick Young. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be Swaggy P, and Swaggy P’s a pretty cool person to be.

Future Power Rankings highs and lows

September, 9, 2014
9/09/14
11:08
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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The future of the Spurs and Cavs looks bright. Not so for some of the marquee franchises, including the Lakers, Knicks and Nets.

Welcome to the Lake Freak Show

August, 5, 2014
8/05/14
10:33
AM ET
Verrier By Justin Verrier
ESPN.com
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Carlos BoozerAndrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Lakers' hopes of rebounding from a franchise-worst 55 losses rest on the likes of Carlos Boozer.
On a Friday afternoon almost two years ago, the Los Angeles media hastily assembled in El Segundo for the official announcement of the next great era in Lakers basketball. After coming out of nowhere to win the Steve Nash sweepstakes, the Lakers had now just rubbed together Andrew Bynum, draft picks and loose change and wound up with the best center in basketball. General manager Mitch Kupchak pointed to the retired jerseys up on the wall at the team’s practice facility and openly dreamed of a decade later, when Dwight Howard’s purple and gold No. 12 would be among them. The Lakers had done it again.

Two Fridays ago, with the ink dry on nine new player contracts and the NBA calendar settling into a warm snuggle, the Lakers capped off a three-day run of showing off the spoils of another busy summer with the cherry-topping to it all.

First came Jeremy Lin. Then Ed Davis. New coach Byron Scott would be put through the wringer four days later. But on this day, Kupchak, dressed not in a suit but a crisp white polo with dark horizontal stripes, took his place at the dais and expressed his surprise that the Lakers had gotten lucky once again. With a cool $3.25 million, they had won the amnesty bidding for Carlos Boozer, at least the third power forward the team acquired this offseason.

"This is a little bit early for us -- 10 o’clock," Kupchak said as he took his seat at the podium. "But it’s a Friday and I know you guys appreciate getting in and getting out a little earlier than you normally do."

This is where we find the Lakers heading into their 54th season in Los Angeles. After 11 championships (16 overall), 47 winning seasons (54 overall) and all those legend-building moments, one of the most successful franchises in all of sports is now a don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry sideshow as unpredictable as the guy chosen to lead it last season. Fresh off the worst season in their L.A. tenure, one that ended with Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Wes Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Kendall Marshall in the starting lineup, the Lakers whiffed on all the big free agents and ended up with a pu pu platter of middling holdovers, prominent castaways, a pair of intriguing young bigs and Nick Young. Four years removed from their last title, "That sounds crazy, but …" might as well replace the Jacob Riis quote once plaqued next to Kobe Bryant's corner locker.

It would be an appropriate scarlet letter for the Lakers' Sith Lord. By signing a two-year, $48.5 million extension at age 35, Bryant not only hung a millstone on the Lakers' salary cap, he effectively posted a "BEWARE" sign to ward off any player capable of providing the high-caliber help they so desperately need. The problem isn't merely having to play alongside a ball-dominant, domineering, past-his-prime alpha dog, though that was enough to drive Howard right past those "Stay" billboards and into the arms of Daryl Morey. It's that so much of the Lakers' worldview still revolves around that guy, to the point that the team's brass -- despite so very much evidence that the on-court product would continue to suffer should they continue to do so -- bought back in, at a hefty price, for two more years.

And so the Lakers remain stuck in a Kobe-induced purgatory: Beholden to Bryant to cobble together a contender, but without the ability to do so as long as he insists on operating like the Bryant of old; apparently committed to an honest-to-goodness reboot in the summer of 2016, but limited to deals that keep their books as clean as possible past that point. They're the type of team with the brand power and influence to score one of four sitdowns on Carmelo Anthony's free-agency world tour, but not one he would ever seriously consider playing for. They're a big empty suit in a town full of them.

But say this for the Lakers: They're selling it. Maybe hands are being wrung over the team's viability behind the scenes, presumably in some vault with dollar sign-adorned bags scattered about. But the Lakers unabashedly feed into this great mythos about Hollywood life -- celebrities, glamour, winning, pomposity. They dim the house lights at Staples Center, use a house band for in-game jock jams, blare Randy Newman without any hint of irony and call black alternate jerseys "Hollywood nights" -- and they've so far refused to break character, even in the face of the biggest threat to their big-swingin'-franchise way of life.

[+] EnlargeLos Angeles Lakers
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesThe Lakers can sell a championship history all they want. This current iteration will not come close.
So even though it's puffed-up superstars in name only such as Lin or a 32-year-old former All-Star power forward coming off the worst of his 12 NBA seasons taking a seat at the dais instead of some of the more traditionally "Laker-worthy" players the club has lusted over from their ivory tower, they still roll out the red-carpeted media blitz with their $3 billion cable deal, still lead the players up to Jeanie Buss' second-floor office at the practice facility and let them gaze at the glistening Larry O'Brien trophies, all while projecting this idea that this is what it's all about. This is the Laker Way. It's the same company line being trotted out for the decision to hire Scott, a fourth-time retread with a 416-521 coaching record, or to pay an injured Bryant a then-record sum half a year before he hit the free-agent market.

It's delusional, really. But also, somewhere deep down, a bit endearing.

Spend enough time in the city and you'll run into your share of Los Angeles stereotypes. The waitress-actresses. The friend of a friend trying to drag you to see his improv troupe on a Wednesday night. The sprawl is large enough here that you can make this city whatever you'd like it to be, but it's impossible to forever avoid the big dreamer packing an Ivy League education and a whole lot of determination. You'll scoff -- you will scoff -- but maybe you'll applaud the bravery, too. It takes guts to be that self-deceiving. Maybe it won't happen for this person -- it won't happen for this person -- but it's hard to be the one to strip away hope when maybe hope is all there is.

You cringe when Scott, flanked by his Showtime buddies, reaches back into the history books and blatantly neglects reality with talk of championship expectations. But appearances are all that's left ever since last December, when the Lakers committed to a player who at this point in his career is defined by just that. The team may not even sniff the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference with Lin, Bryant, Young and Boozer all vying for shots and blame on blown coverages, but a lineup like that is a special kind of crazy. In August, long enough after all those losses and before many more begin, that's enough.

It may not be the sort of "Lake Show" the fan base is used to, but given the position the franchise has put itself in for the next two years, a freak show will have to do.

Carlos Boozer and the Lakers' offseason

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
9:12
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Amin Elhassan take stock of the Lakers offseason after the acquisitions of Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis.

Delonte West, going for it again

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
10:00
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Delonte WestDominic DiSaia for ESPNAfter two years out of action, Delonte West is attempting a comeback with the Clippers in Vegas.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ summer league squad has just beaten the Miami Heat’s summer iteration 91-85, in part because of Delonte West’s heady play. As West strolls off the floor, he’s besieged by well-wishers, players and former players alike. It’s unclear if West notices, but a young man in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey starts screaming, “LeBron James! LeBron James!” at West from seats overhanging the locker room tunnel. The heckler shouts downward at West, from directly above West’s head, as the 30-year-old point guard continues to the locker room, surrounded by friendly faces.

As LeBron is returning to his Ohio roots, his former Cleveland teammate is attempting to reboot his NBA career. West hasn’t played in the league since 2011-12, after a fraught divorce with the Mavericks. It appears he has a window of opportunity with the Clippers this summer. Doc Rivers says he’s considering West for a spot on his roster. It would be a resurrection of a career that has an almost haunted quality, given how associated West is with a time and place in LeBron’s saga that ended so abruptly. A combination of West’s personal struggles and misinformation about those struggles has fueled the sense that a promising career went irrevocably astray.

Life doesn’t seem so bleak when you talk to West, though. He’s engaging, hopeful, introspective and reflective. Now a father, his world has grown beyond the next game. It’s unclear if he will get to reprise his NBA role, but West appears to have gained an improved perspective regardless of whether that happens for him.


Is it hard to mesh your style of play in summer league, where everybody’s trying to show off?

Actually, it's not, because we don't have a consistent go-to guy, and therefore you have to use your team and your offense to create most of your offense. And collectively, we have to win games offensively and defensively. Somebody has to be from whatever position more of a creator, like a point forward or a point shooting guard. If my pass leads to a bucket, that's what all this is about.

I read the Slate article about all that you've been through. Would making the league again be an even bigger accomplishment than the first time you made it.

Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause, since, I mean, since I, I've pretty much taken care of my body over the years. I feel like I'm in the Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher boat, not as far as age just yet, but as far as can play eight more years. Those guys played 'til 38. I feel almost like a rookie again, and it feels great because you have a whole different perspective because my game done changed, introducing it all over again. It's fun for me. I'm more confident. So I'm just enjoying this, like I said. This time around will be better than last time around.

[+] EnlargeDelonte West
Dominic DiSaia for ESPNWest is trying to overcome past issues with taxes, bipolar disorder and more in eight NBA seasons.
What kind of different perspective have you gained?

I'm putting pieces together off of my complete game. I've been successful in this league being able to be a piece on a puzzle. And now I'm coming back. I'm giving teams the whole puzzle, and therefore I think I'll be a real asset.

Do you think with what you've added that you're better than you were on those Cleveland teams?

Yeah, definitely. You know, I'm confident in my ability, growth. All those things off the court. I preach this to young guys all the time. That translates on the court. How good was Joe Schmo All-Star when he first came out of college or high school, and look how good he is eight to 10 years later. He's a phenom now, but look at him then. Pulling up 3-pointers, everything, so, that's that age range where you go from a phenom and a super talent to a super player, and super players win championships.

Does LeBron returning to Cleveland evoke any nostalgia for you?

You know, Cleveland is still home for me. Cleveland is one of those cities. It's blue-collar, it's been through so much, and I can relate to all that. Anytime I been anywhere in the world, I ain't been to too many places, tell 'em I go through Cleveland. Clevelanders, you know, they just good people, man. And they deserve some greatness. And LeBron knows that and he's doing the right thing. It's great, man. It's great.

Has being a father changed your perspective immensely?

Well, you just can't make the same silly decisions. Everybody gets frustrated when a call don't go your way or something and you want somebody to know you're mad. See that's my thing -- I always wore my emotions on my sleeve. You just want someone to know I'm upset. Injustice! Didn't y'all see that?! But, as you get older and wiser, you learn everybody gets technical fouls. Last season I played, I might have had two techs the whole season. For me, if those little things like that are causing teams' second-guessing, then out the window. And that comes with growth and maturity.

[A few players congratulate West on his game.] It seems like you get a lot of love here.

I'm a team player, man. I think when I've been out there, even in the past, I want to see a smile on my face. And that's how you should compete. If you look back at the days when gladiators were athletes. People would probably chop somebody up, and then after winning, they put their sword down and have a cocktail or something, you know? So as a point guard I compete and battle, but I want to show the teams that I can compete with a smile too if that's a problem.

In Dallas, what didn't exactly work out? Why wasn't the fit ideal?

It was ideal. Obviously it had nothing to do with the team. I kind of, in the summer, put all my eggs in one basket. In my own thinking, this next contract was going to be a step up for me. But that's my own thinking then. Like, that was probably going to be that situation, which the organization explained to me if certain pieces fell into place, like Dwight Howard, or this guy or that guy. So, it was almost a rebuilding, and they had a lot of young guys. And at 29, 30, I just wasn't receiving that well. I was looking for more stability.

You know, [Mark] Cuban used to talk to me all the time, talk to me all the time, even afterward. He would call me, "Whatcha got going on? You still working hard?" And that's what's up. He was a mentor to me for a while even after I left Dallas with the whole Twitter thing, finances and tax situation. He'd go, "I know you're in a tough financial spot, but you can't focus on the contract. You should focus on basketball. He told me once or twice. The third time he was like, "Look dude, this is the direction we're going to go." So I understood that.

It seemed like you were misunderstood, and it contributed to this stigma that wasn't exactly fair. What are your thoughts on that now?

Life is not fair, and I'm so thankful and blessed for these last two years of my life. That's for real. The hardest thing about being, is when you set yourself up. And then it hurts you more when you set yourself up, know what I mean? If that situation forced me to take control, to grow up, to fight through, not accepting being bipolar and fighting through it and talking to the right people and making sure I am understood and I'm not the only man in the world that has to do that. People in all walks of life have to go to work and prove themselves every day. It helped me grow as a person and a man, so I'm very grateful for that. And sometimes you gotta learn by bumping your head and going through it, and that's what I did.

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