Thursday, December 29, 2011


The post holiday blues had nestled into the folds - it's that time of year again. The season drifted across three lanes before realignment peeked its bright face in – the Lakers notched their first win and in doing so, chased the gathering storm away. This was not a switch being thrown, simply a team adjusting to a system, finding their range, finding each other.

A prolonged work stoppage benefits nobody. It’s not a rest-cure, it did nothing to promote parity and with the full knowledge of missteps pulling like a wound, David Stern stepped deliberately and awkwardly over the line. He can bluster about being a caretaker for the New Orleans Hornets but his stewardship, along with equal partnership from the 29 other teams, should have been a step removed. Executives are in place for the Hornets - it is their job to run the ship, regardless of ultimate ownership. The commissioner backhands your concerns like a mad mood child and stalks away.

We haven’t heard much about the hardliners lately. They’ve withdrawn into the shadows, as a season they didn’t want, begins to unspool. Dan Gilbert became the public face of a certain cadre and it was curious from step one because he’s such an utter failure as a team owner. The only one worse is Donald Sterling who at least knows which side his bread is buttered on – he stayed out of harm's way during the lockout and somehow wound up with Chris Paul. There is no lesson learned here, no parable, no rhyme or reason. It’s a strangeness that simply exists all on its own.

The love-hate relationship that much of the country has with the Lakers, mirrors the attitude toward Los Angeles itself. Top on the hit list is the catch-all "Hollyweird" description, easily one of the most unimaginative phrases ever coined. Fortunately, weather patterns and foliage discussions can often be used to charm hinterland creatures - mention blue skies and waving palm fronds and wait for the wistful "some day" sighs, followed invariably by "I've got a great idea for a TV series, it's kinda based on me."  Thanks for that, always.

That Jerry Buss and his family-run business are somehow synonymous with entitlement and rings on a silver platter, escapes me. An odd family, yes. But not nearly in the same financial stratosphere as most of the so-called hawks. Dan Gilbert’s worth scads more from selling retail loans and Paul Allen’s fortune is somewhere around $23 billion, depending on how much he’s spending on his super-yacht 'Octopus' in any given week. Allen was chief among those who wanted to either cancel the season or corral more of Jerry Buss’s earnings, to compensate for their own teams’ failure to launch.

Regardless of past Lakers precepts, this year’s model under Mike Brown’s direction is more lunch bucket than showtime, an amalgamation of aging stars, second-round draft picks and journeymen role players. Kobe Bryant had the ligaments in his right wrist torn during a preseason outing against the Clippers. The ligaments aren’t necessarily important, they only hold the bones in place. Taking this all into account, Bryant has decided that the proper course of action is to continually drive hard to the basket and offer his mangled arm up for retribution. And make no mistake, opposing players are drawing a bead. Nobody's better than Kobe, at Russian roulette basketball.

With three games in as many days, the Lakers have been a work in progress. They blew a late lead against the Bulls on Christmas, imploded against the Kings and demolished the Jazz on a night when their legs should have been dead. They face the Knicks tonight and get Andrew Bynum back from suspension in time for Saturday’s game against Denver (the first of a Nuggets back-to-back). It’s a brutal first stretch in a compressed season but it's welcome after a year gone wrong. The system restores, the cathode ray tube warms and blurs and the season embraces us, once again.

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