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Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: September 24, 10:32 AM ET
No. 77: Los Angeles Lakers

By Carl Carchia
ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 89
Title track: 16
Ownership: 39
Coaching: 111
Players: 65
Fan relations: 58
Affordability: 107
Stadium experience: 54
Bang for the buck: 104

Although the Lakers moved up 12 spots overall in our standings, almost everyone associated with the team would like a mulligan after last season. Clearly, this is a franchise at a crossroads. Since when do players give up $30 million to avoid playing for the Lakers? And since when do top franchises "beg" stars to stay via billboards? If you ask Dwight Howard -- and the fans -- a good place to look for answers is the sideline. Mike D'Antoni's system reportedly was a chief factor in Howard's decision to leave a max five-year, $118 million deal on the table. Since Howard's departure, the Lakers PR machine has been in full spin. Jim Buss claims hiring D'Antoni over Phil Jackson was a call made by his now-deceased father, beloved longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, and that Howard "was never really a Laker." Meanwhile, sibling Jeanie Buss said that her father may have been able to persuade Howard to stay and that her fiancé, Jackson, still has the urge to coach. With all that chatter, fans who pay the second-highest per-game prices in the NBA ($128) can't be too optimistic about the Lakers' direction (the team's bang for the buck ranking dropped 10 spots). Thus, next summer's free agency period -- when Kobe Bryant's contract is up and the Lakers could have just $12.6 million on the books -- will be pivotal. We'll find out if one of the NBA's most storied franchises can turn this mess around. Might take some Tinseltown special effects.