The Lakers are back


By Ramzi Maducdoc
          It is April 12, 2013.
           The Los Angeles Lakers have two games left in the regular season, and are vying to make the playoffs. A team that had won the NBA Championship just three years prior, are on the verge of missing the postseason.
          Many critics doubt their chances. Even if the Lakers do make the playoffs, they would be matched up against the first seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, or the second seeded San Antonio Spurs, two unfavorable matchups.
          Even though the Lakers had a disappointing season, considering their additions of former superstars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers are still the Lakers.
          The Lakers are sixteen time champions, and are always resilient in the postseason.
          The Lakers have been championship contenders for over five years.
          The Lakers have Kobe Bryant.
          In the 2012-2013 season, a thirty-three year old Kobe Bryant played more minutes than any player in the NBA.
          As his body ages past his prime, the black mamba only grows colder.
Chasing the ghost of a certain former Chicago Bulls player, Bryant’s hunger to match his six NBA championships is greater than ever.
          Going into the season, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were supposed to coast through the regular season, dominate the playoffs, and square off in a battle for the ages against Lebron James’ Miami Heat in the NBA finals.
          Instead, there are two games left in the season, and they might not even make the playoffs.
          However, Kobe Bryant has different plans.
          Going into a home game against the Golden State Warriors, before their transformation into the juggernaut of a basketball team that they are today, the Lakers are determined for a win.
          Kobe Bryant played virtually almost the entire game, despite hyperextending his knee in the second half. Bryant made shot after shot in the fourth, giving the Lakers an advantage with three minutes left on the clock.
          With the game on the line, and after carrying the weight of Los Angeles on his back for an entire season, Bryant made a seemingly innocent move towards the basket against Harrison Barnes.
          He was fouled, felt a pop in his left ankle, and the superstar grimaced.
          Lakers fans held their breaths for a moment, but practically all of them expected the indestructible, unkillable mamba to get up and continue playing as if nothing had happened.
          Except this time, he did not get up so quick. The pain was bearable, but slowly building. Kobe Bryant had torn his achilles tendon.

         He could no longer carry the weight of Los Angeles on his shoulders.
          Despite the injury, Bryant got up, went to the freethrow line, swished two perfect shots, and walked to the locker room.
          Aside from a nuclear sixty point retirement game in 2016, Kobe Bryant was never the same, the Lakers were never the same.
          For five years the Lakers endured losing seasons, a first for the franchise.
          After Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away in 2013, the franchise was passed along to his daughter Jeanie Buss.
          For four seasons the Lakers were content with the leadership of Jim Buss as president of basketball operations and Mitch Kupchak as their general manager.
          Suddenly, midway through the 2016-2017 season, the Lakers replaced Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak for former player and icon Magic Johnson as well as Robert Pelinka.
          The change in management was blunt and unexpected, but in retrospect it was necessary.
          The voices who ran showtime needed to be more gutsy, and who else would be a better fit than the epitome of showtime basketball himself, Magic Johnson.
The upcoming offseason would be the most eventful in recent Laker history.
          Their high profile moves of that summer would be drafting Lonzo Ball with the number two overall pick in the 2017 draft and trading away promising starting point guard D’angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov for Brook Lopez and a first round draft pick.
          The 2017 draft haul for the Lakers would be one of the most significant in the team’s history. The Lakers picked Lonzo Ball at #2, Kyle Kuzma at #27, Josh Hart at #30, and Thomas Bryant at #42.
          All three of the Lakers’ first round picks would play significant roles in their 2017-2018 season, adding on to their already bustling nucleus of young players.

         The Lakers endured a shaky start to the season, which was reasonable considering they were one of the youngest teams in the NBA.
          After losing an abysmal nine games in a row in late December and early January, the Lakers have since had one of the highest win percentages in the league and are set to have their most wins in a season since their 2012-2013 campaign.
Their source of hope?
          Head Coach Luke Walton’s emphasis of improving as a team and embracing their youth. Along the way the baby Lakers have developed a close relationship with one another, which is visible through the infectious hilarity among them in their Snapchat and Instagram stories.
For the first time in years, the Lakers have something to play for.
         The Lakers have had consistent losing seasons since Bryant’s 2013 injury. They would end the season with a record worse than the next in hopes of drafting a future star in the NBA draft.
          They ended up with haul after haul of young players each season, fans thinking to themselves, “This is it. This guy is gonna bring us back to where we were.”
          Year after year this sentiment had been felt throughout the fanbase.
          Julius Randle had a monster year in Kentucky in 2014. As the Lakers’ seventh pick of the 2014 draft, he was expected to do great things under the tutelage of a recovering Kobe Bryant.
          Except tragedy had struck, and in the very first game in Julius Randle’s career he broke his leg going up for a rebound. He would not play again that season, though his play would improve drastically as the seasons went on.
          In 2015, it was D’angelo Russell that would give Laker fans hope. After lucking out and gaining the 2nd pick in the draft, the Lakers’ highest pick since they drafted James Worthy in 1982.
          The crafty guard from the Ohio State University had stellar vision and a great shot. He would play reasonably well in his rookie and sophomore season, but an incident with then teammate Nick Young would leave his public reputation in shatters.
          In 2016, Brandon Ingram would be added to the mix. The Duke Blue Devil had received compliments from Kobe Bryant himself about how fluid his game was. He drew comparisons to Kevin Durant for his skinny frame and silky shot.
Ingram would have his ups and downs in his rookie year, but it would not be until his sophomore year when he really got to showcase his talents.
          Then comes along a certain Ball boy.
          The Lakers’ third second overall pick in three years, a hometown talent from UCLA, a self titled rapper, and a father who’s arguably more famous than him, Lonzo has it all.
          There exists the same feeling of  “this guy is it,” among fans, but this time it feels more real than ever.
Lonzo Ball is surprisingly stellar on both sides of the spectrum.
          A floor general on the fastbreak, a pickpocketer on the perimeter, and a high flyer on the half court.
His talents ooze showtime.
           With all of the Lakers’ current young pieces, and no incentive to lose whatsoever as they do not have their draft pick this year, they seem to have a certain goal in mind when it comes to closing out this season.
          Prove to high profile free agents that they are legit. Names such as Demarcus Cousins, Paul George, and even LeBron James come to mind.
With less than twenty games remaining, the Lakers also want to prove something else to the rest of the league: that the Lakers are back.