Unthinkable! The Lakers' thrill is gone
We're halfway through the NBA season. Do you know where their buzz is?
No Phil Jackson.
No Lamar Odom.
No Chris Paul (wink).
A lingering hangover from the sweep by Dallas in last season's playoffs.
No Ron Artest.
No return to form by Pau Gasol.
No more Brian Shaw on the bench.
Very little contender talk.
Could this be the end?
Infighting between Mike Brown and Metta World Peace.
Kobe and Vanessa apparently separating, then seen kissing on Valentine's Day.
Gilbert Arenas (Gilbert Arenas?! As savior?) brought in for a tryout.
Jeremy Lin going off for 38 points against them.
The Clippers eclipsing them as the talk of the town.
There used to be a time when all things Lakers mattered. When anything about the second-most love-to-hate/hate-to-love franchise in sports (the Yankees still rule in that department) was news in L.A. When the sports conversation on the court and off the court began and often ended with what was going on with the franchise.
Now, doesn't it seem as though no one really cares anymore? Even the people I speak to all the time living inside Los Angeles are like that. It isn't just the "trill"; the buzz is gone, too. Light-years from what it once was. The needle is no longer moving.
Irrelevant? Never the Lakers! This can't be happening. Is this the end? Not of the team, but of its pertinence. Its appeal, its "it" factor, of them?
Kobe Bryant, after being disrespected as the seventh-best player in the NBA in an ESPN.com ranking, is making a you-all-are-idiots statement by leading the league in scoring, and no one seems to be talking about it. Even a disputed report about Matt Barnes dating Eva Longoria -- headline material in the old days -- got its legs taken out from under it so fast with a nobody-cares undercurrent that TMZ didn't even seem interested in attempting to legitimize the rumor.
The 2011-12 Lakers in sum: At the season's midpoint, they're being overshadowed by how the compressed schedule is hurting the League, the "As The Dwight Howard Turns" trade saga, Derrick Rose's back, the Jeremy Lin fairy tale and how brilliant the commissioner looks for scheduling the All-Star Game on the same night and at basically the same time as the Academy Awards.
That's how bad it is.
In any other season, the Lakers' un-Lakers-like play (if the playoffs started now, they'd be a 5-seed) to open the season would be the talk. The semidysfunction, the internal questions about confidence, the failure to erase that Mavericks embarrassment from our consciousness would be generating seminational concern. Yet the last time the Lakers were a part of the national conversation (before the loss to the Knicks) was when Kobe overtook Shaquille O'Neal on the NBA's all-time scoring list. And even then, Shaq made more headlines and highlights with his statements that Kobe is the greatest Laker ever.
Even in a rebuilding year (remember when Phil Jackson left and Rudy Tomjanovich took over?), the Lakers were the alpha and omega of most NBA public and private conversations. The inside joke was always something like this: The Orange Roundie revolves around the Lakers, not the other way around.
Now, it is the other way around.
And we're all witnesses and victims. Witnesses because we're watching it unfold; victims because something seems wrong when the Lakers aren't the scene-stealing, dream-snatching, media-hogging drama kings of the NBA.
It's as if the League itself is off its axis, as if normalcy is no longer the norm. The game isn't so seductive anymore.
Yes, we know the Lin story is sexy. But we also all know it's Kate Upton-in-the-moment sexy, not sexy in a Sofia Vergara way that is going to last for years and years. It's not Lakers sexy. Or what Lakers sexy used to be.
(And saying that "Lob City" has taken over L.A. is too easy and inaccurate. It's much deeper than just that.)
Ice Cube infamously said: "L.A. without the Lakers is Detroit."
Seems apropos. Because basketball without the Lakers as a focal point is depressing. Sort of like watching the Knicks before Linsanity.
When a team goes from ruling the world to being perceived as not having a chance in hell to win a ring, loud becomes quiet. Inconsequence meets inevitability.
For the Lakers right now, even Dwight Howard joining them probably wouldn't stop that from happening.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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