Since the Toronto Raptors bottomed out in the 2010-2011 NBA season with a record of 22-60, the team’s winning percentage has improved every year. This past season was the first one since ’06-’07 above .500, but at least the trend line in the dry seasons headed in the right direction, albeit with excruciating slowness.
Contrast that with the record of the Los Angeles Lakers. Since ’06-’07, this team has won 2 titles, lost another in the finals, and always gone deep into the playoffs – until the ’13-’14 season, when the music stopped abruptly. To my eyes, the Lakers are in considerable difficulty. They have committed several supertankers worth of money to their injured and aging superstar, Kobe Bryant, for two more seasons. Any other organization would have cold-heartedly said to Kobe “Thanks for the memories” and cut ties, but they have a fetish about superstars there, and can’t imagine being without one. Steve Nash is owed some serious dough for another year. Whether he can drag his broken-down body onto the court, or be effective once he’s there, is anyone’s guess. Pau Gasol, who’s hardly a spring chicken, may leave. The only player of any skill who’s returning is Nick Young. It’s highly probable the legendary Lakers are about to enter a multi-season down period, in which playoff games are a fading memory for Angelenos. If so, one wonders how much longer Mitch Kupchak can remain as GM. I can’t imagine LA fans, or the Buss family, will tolerate another losing season without finding a scapegoat, and casting him out. The collective pressure forced the resignation of coach Mike D’Antoni, but no amount of brilliance with Xs and Os can fix a bad roster. The Lakers enjoy the #7 pick in next week’s draft, which should provide them a solid player for the future, but they still appear miles away from playoff contention.
Which coach’s name is inextricably linked with both the Lakers and New York Knicks? Phil Jackson, of course, who won 5 championships as Lakers’ coach, and is now head honcho with the Knicks, for whom he once played. New York hoops fans, who should be used to interminable rebuilds by now (42 years and counting since their last championship), were bitterly disappointed by sliding from 54 to 37 wins last season. In retribution, coach Mike Woodson was thrown under the bus, but interfering owner James Dolan should have fired himself.
The Knicks have no first-round picks this year or in 2016 (oops!). Carmelo Anthony, a free agent actively being courted by sound squads like Chicago and Houston, may decide his desire to win outweighs his love of the Big Apple. That leaves a Knicks core of Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudamire and Raymond Felton. How in the world is Phil Jackson going to craft a winner out of that bunch?
Raptors fans know what rebuilding is like (think root canal, sans anaesthetic). We realized a price needed to be paid in losses, and it was. Now our patience and trust is about to be rewarded. We have a young, talented and relatively inexpensive team, and a battle-scarred coach to believe in. By contrast, Derek Fisher, who’s never coached a game of hoops in his life, is the Knicks bench boss, and the Lakers don’t have a coach at all. The NBA’s marquee franchises in New York and L.A. are likely to endure several poor seasons. Will the fans and media in those cities allow management the time to draft and develop young players, or will they demand a fast rebuild? We in RaptorLand know which of those options works – and which doesn’t.