The arrival of 2013 was supposed to bring a new dawn for Los Angeles. There were expectations for Los Angeles in all four of the major sports. The Lakers are a perennial powerhouse, the Clippers aren’t fully “believable” yet, the Dodgers and Angels have risen to the top of the baseball world in both payroll and potential, the Kings were last year’s Stanley Cup champions,and there is major talk of an NFL team moving to the City of Angels. However, one could argue that 2013 has not been kind to Los Angeles so far, despite apparent success, and that there is potential for disaster for the entire year as a whole.
To begin with, let’s talk about what everyone in the WORLD is talking about, the Los Angeles Lakers. A team that regularly plays well into the playoffs retooled this year, adding one of the best passing guards in the history of the game (Steve Nash) and the game’s most dominant center (Dwight Howard) since that Shaq character. This roster shift happened for two reasons. First, the Lakers needed more of a veteran presence while simultaneously getting younger; this way the franchise could ride out the amazing Kobe Bryant era while building around a new powerful piece in Howard. Also, Kobe and company needed to desperately make moves to not get left behind by the fast-paced and star-studded Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are now the stars of the National Basketball Association,and have pushed the Lakers to the brink of irrelevance. The Lakers needed to do something to keep up and adding Howard and Nash without losing major pieces seemed like the steal of the offseason. Who wouldn’t want to parlay a disinterested Andrew Bynum and Ramon Sessions into the premiere big man in the game and the most efficient passer around?
Still, there is trouble in Lakerland. Fast point guards continue to cause problems for a team that now has the top-ranked defender in the league in Howard. Nash simply cannot keep up and the other point guards struggle offensively, creating an uneven balance of skill-set. Kobe is having one of his best shooting seasons ever, leading the league in shooting at the “young” age of 34, but when he is double and even triple-teamed, no one is there to pick up the offensive slack. Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, two beyond-the-arc assassins, seem to have been assassinated. When Laker Nation is most excited about the play of Earl Clark, a throw-in in the Howard trade, the problems have effectively put the second-winningest franchise at rock bottom, and the unthinkable possibility of the Lakers missing out on the post-season with this team has become a borderline foreseeable reality.
Fortunately for Los Angeles sports fans, the Clippers are still in town, and the play of Chris Paul has the Clippers leading the NBA in wins. And the scariest part of the Clippers is their depth. When Chris Paul was down with an injury, both Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford “put the team on their backs” Greg Jennings-style and the team didn’t miss a beat. Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan have developed into consistent scoring threats while Lob City’s plethora of shooters in Matt Barnes, Willie Green and Caron Butler makes them a threat to score from beyond the arc on any possession.
Even with their success, they are not viewed nationally (or even locally) as a legitimate title contender. They are still “the Clippers”, an underachieving group of misfits who will never amount to anything in the post-season. In the world of basketball, despite the success of the Clippers so far this season, no one sees an NBA championship coming to Los Angeles.
Where the championship is to be found appears to be in America’s pastime, with the Dodgers and the Angels. Heading into spring training, there is widespread optimism in Los Angeles for both money-blowing squads based on their free agent acquisitions, and there is even talk about a World Series solely in LA, between the two monetary powerhouses. The Dodgers have added all-star caliber firepower in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin since the management changed to the Magic Johnson consortium. Likewise, the Angels have landed that Albert Pujols guy, CJ Wilson, and now Josh Hamilton, this year’s prize free agent. So why is everything not beautiful and sunny in downtown Los Angeles?
Compatibility. Comfort. The ability to mesh with new teammates. And the pressure of performing in a major market. Look at the slump Pujols had to start the 2012 campaign. That slump, combined with the unpredictable start by the rest of the team, was enough to keep the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim out of the playoffs. They still finished with an 89 win-season, which was good for only THIRD place in a suddenly talent-filled American League West. And for the Dodgers, they now face the same problem. With unlimited money comes unlimited possibilities,and unlimited potential for disaster. For the Dodgers and the Angels for that matter, any result short of the World Series (maybe the league championship series) will be looked upon as a travesty. Los Angeles is a city that expects to bring a championship home every year and if the Dodgers and/or Angels don’t make that vision a reality THIS season, 2013 will have been a failure as a season. A fast start is mandatory and a strong finish is equally necessary.
Interestingly enough, the lone success story of 2012 for the city of Los Angeles was the Kings, a bunch of scrappy fighters that no one could have predicted would rise up to become Stanley Cup champions. After serving as on-the-road warriors throughout the NHL playoffs, the 8th seeded LA Kings brought home the trophy, much to the delight of the city craving a championship. There, finally, was something to smile about last year. But then came the NHL lockout, because the NHL had to be just like the NBA and the NFL and shorten the season only to find that the sides would reconcile their differences after ruining the off-season. And now, with a 48 game schedule, the Kings have a small window to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The Kings rode a roller coaster of momentum into the postseason and in turn stunned the world with their postseason run. Now with the off-season being spent on figuring out a new player’s association instead of practicing power plays and defense, the playing field has been leveled, as all NHL teams are not fully prepared for this season. For the Kings, a slow start could also mean missing the playoffs, adding to the demise of the city’s sports fans.
Now there will be people who would disagree, and be blindly optimistic about the state of Los Angeles sports. But the sports fans of today are fans of instant gratification. The Lakers haven’t won a title since (gulp) 2009-2010. The Dodgers haven’t won a title since 1988. The Clippers have never won a title. The Angels haven’t won a title since 2002. And the Kings just won the title, raising expectations for a franchise that is undergoing the same trauma as all of the other teams that have experienced the lockout. As a Los Angeles sports fan, I hope to every God that I am wrong with my gut feeling. But as a writer and an objective observer, I can’t help but notice that it is a sad state for the Los Angeles sports teams. Hopefully Magic Johnson can work his namesake in all four of the major sports.
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