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Lakers looking ahead. . .

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Los Angeles

Gary Montgomery

The Lakers fail to make the  play-offs for the first time in 10 seasons..... fans should be mindful of the past and excited about the future team!

All through the Southland, Lakers Fans gather at the office water coolers, coffee shops, and lunch counters in solemn refrain.  No matter  where the gathering occurs the topic quickly shifts collectively to “what’s wrong with the Lakers?

  What’s going to happen? How will they recover from this?”  It has been ten seasons since the Lakers last failed to make the play-offs and the Laker faithful is having trouble accepting it.

There’s Hope in History

Similarities between the 2004-05 season and the 1993-94 season are undeniable, yet at the same time the similarities and the differences both offer great promise.

That season also ended with an interim head coach at the helm.  Earvin “Magic” Johnson took over for Randy Pfund o­n March 23rd with 16 games games remaining in the season.

Johnson posted a 5-11 record giving the team a season record of 33 - 49 and 5th place in the Pacific Division.  Johnson resigned after the season.  The current Laker record is 34-43 with 5 games remaining.  The team is currently 4th in the Pacific Division standings.

Interim head coach Frank Hambein took over in February and has a current season record of 9-26. Hambein will step aside at the end of the season.

The 1994 season ending roster included a promising young shooting guard named Van Exel who had just established a Lakers record of 123 three-point field goals and appeared in the Rookie game during All-star Weekend.  It also included a young developing center named DiVac and a pretty good offensive player named Ceballos.

The local sports pages bemoaned the woeful status of the Lakers demise from the lofty days of showtime.   The talking heads of the time predicted the teams’ future as dismal at best... it would be years before this organization could right itself.

The 2004 Lakers’ roster features a young shooting guard with a resume that includes 7 All-star game appearances and 3 NBA Championship Rings.   He is accompanied by a host of young players who have shown flashes of excellence at various times during the season.

Two Year Plan

After its 5th place finish in 1994, the Lakers’ spent the following two seasons climbing back to the top of the Western Division.  The following two seasons brought third and second place Pacific Division finishes respectively.

By the 1996-97 season the Lakers’ had surpassed the 50-win milestone for the second season consecutive season and their 56-26 season record was the seventh best overall record in the NBA.  That year the Lakers’ became the first 55-plus win team in NBA history to have three rookies, Kobe Bryant, Travis Knight and Derek Fisher to play 900 or more minutes in a season. 

All three players appeared in the Rookie Game during All-star Weekend.  In his first season with the team, center Shaquille O’Neal led the team in scoring (26.2), rebounding (12.5), blocked shots (2.88) and field goal percentage (.577) and was named o­ne of the NBA’s all-time 50 Greatest Players during All-star Weekend.

Embrace the Future

The black cloud hanging over Southland basketball fans is understandable.  Lakers Fans didn’t have an opportunity to prepare for its teams’ lack of success this season.  Going from the NBA finals to non playoff status in such a short period of time is shocking at best.

But, fans must remember the past.  The 1994 team broke a string of 18 consecutive playoff appearances. The reason can be traced directly to the unexpected retirement of Magic Johnson o­ne season earlier.  In the 10 years since, the Lakers have won 2 Pacific Division Titles, 4 Western Conference Championships, appeared in 4 NBA Finals and won 3 three Championships.

If Mitch Kupchek can rebuild the 2004-05 team and come close to the kind of success of the last decades teams have achieved, the fans will soon forget all about “The Trade”.

With o­ne of the NBA’s best young players to build around, I’m betting that Mitch can get it done. 

At this point, Lakers Fans need to let go of the past, stop assigning blame, dry their eyes  and embrace the aniticipation of the “next generation” Lakers.’

Gary Montgomery can be reached at gmontgomery@att.net

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