Being a Lakers fan has lost quite a bit of luster over the past five years or so.
Since Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to back to-back-championships during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 NBA seasons, Los Angeles has become a hotbed for poor decisions and mediocrity.
There was the 2011 implosion that led to a shameful sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks and the departure of quite possibly the greatest coach of all time in Phil Jackson.
Then there was the glimmer of hope that was Chris Paul. The Hornets upper management had agreed to a trade that would send the Point God himself to the Lakers, only to have the dictatorship of David Stern rip him from the Buss family’s grips and deliver their dreams to their cross-court roommates.
The vetoed trade did nothing for the Lakers but disgruntle their star crossed sixth man, Lamar Odom, who requested a trade upon hearing his name involved as a piece in the would be Paul trade.
A few seasons passed, and the Lakers refused to begin a complete rebuild while an aging, yet still very championship-or-bust Kobe remained on the roster.
Lakers fans had been spoiled for generations, and the franchise just couldn’t accept looking up from the cellar of the Western Conference.
So they did what any other desperate, big market team would do. They traded away several future assets for a couple of aging, oft injured stars in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
The championship parade was already being planned in Tinsel town.
But, with the gift of hindsight we all know how that fairy tale (Dwight-mare?) ended. And last May we all saw Kobe drop the mic for the last time, walking away from the game he gave so much joy and inspiration.
There is no doubt that the thrills of the Kobe-show will be missed, but his retirement brings an exciting new chapter to the most storied franchise in sports.
The last few seasons in particular have been tough for Lakers fans, but those that managed to survive the ride came out of the other end better for it, boasting multiple lottery picks, including a pair of number 2 overall’s and a few late first or second rounders that have become bonafide draft steals.
When was the last time Lakers fans were bragging about their young talent?
Now heading into a fresh season things are finally beginning to look up for Los Angeles.
D’Angelo Russell seems to have found a groove playing under new head coach Luke Walton, who looks to bring Golden State’s up-tempo, three-pointer heavy offense to Los Angeles.
The young core is really buying into Walton’s philosophies, and even the raucous Nick Young has emerged as a defensive stalwart throughout the preseason.
Julius Randle has elevated his game, honing in on his ball control and mid-range jumper. The former Kentucky stand-out spent much last summer in the weight room, and is sure to be a double-double machine this year.
Larry Nance is still jumping out of the gym, and Jordan Clarkson seems eager to lead the team in any way after signing a new contract, accepting a sixth man role in order to bolster the Lakers’ bench.
Then there is Brandon Ingram, the Lakers humble number 2 overall pick, who’s slight frame and silky jumper has drawn comparisons to KD from scouts around the league and even Durant himself.
While the Lakers won’t be competing for championships anytime soon, they will at least be fun to watch for the first time in years.
There is a buzz around Staples Center that has dissipated in years past. The fans are excited for the future, no longer scared of a life post-Kobe.
It will be interesting to see how the Buss family handles the situation moving forward. With several assets the Lakers may be tempted to trade a few away in order to land the increasingly valuable NBA superstar. The problem with that is Lakers fans are so excited about the future, most don’t want to see the promising core of Randle, Russell, Clarkson and Ingram get split up for a lone superstar to take the reins by himself.
Lakers fans are invested in this new team, and that is a great sign.
With opening day just around the corner, one thing is for sure. It’s exciting to be a Lakers fan once again.