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Patrick Hruby

Laker Hater's Ball

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on the glorious schadenfreude of the Los Angeles Lakers' train-wreck season

The Atlantic online

Dwight Howard. Steve Nash. Pau Gasol. Kobe Bryant. Some other guys. As the latest NBA superteam, the Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be great. Or at least pretty good.

Thing is, they're neither.

In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we discuss where it all went wrong, and the sheer giddy joy of Laker Hatin':

Jake Simpson: ... Forget laughing at Lance Armstrong, or Manti Te'o, or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (Jon Stewart seems to have the last one covered anyway). Sports fans in need of a good chuckle at someone else's misfortune need only look to Los Angeles, where the Lakers are doing their best impersonation of a slow-speed train wreck.

After adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, the Lakers were supposed to be unleashing Showtime 2.0 by now. Instead, the Clippers have raced to one of the the best records in the league while the Lakers look a lot like the Clippers did about 10 years ago. A 17-25 record has coach Mike D'Antoni's team 12th in the Western Conference—realistically, the Lakers have to go 29-11 or better the rest of the way to make the playoffs. That's not going to happen, no matter what midseason trade magic GM Mitch Kupchak tries to pull off.

Unless you live in L.A., this is a perfect storm of schadenfreude. The Lakers are the Yankees of basketball, universally loathed by everyone who's not a fan ...

Hampton Stevens: ... yes it's fun. Delightful from the start of the year, when Jim Buss inexplicably snubbed Brian Shaw. Everyone knew Shaw was the guy to coach this team. He won rings in LA. He preaches the triangle offense. Instead, for reasons still unclear, Buss hired Mike Brown, which was bad. Then Buss fired Brown five games into the season, which is almost worse. Hiring D'Antoni—a coach whose up-tempo offense seems explicitly designed to exploit an aging team's weaknesses—was definitely worse. Simply baffling. By the way, in the team-meeting/bickering session you cited, Jake, the LA Times reported that D'Antoni told the team to start playing better defense. Try to stifle your guffaws.

It's difficult to believe that Buss would let his feelings for Phil Jackson, whatever they may be, carry over into a hatred for the triangle offense. Maybe Buss is just one of those owners, like Dan Snyder, who seems to run his real world team like a fantasy roster, adding and subtracting big name players as if he thought he could plug in stats, never taking the human element into account. Maybe Buss just had too much faith in the surgeons who worked on Dwight Howard's back. Oh well. At least someone in the Buss family likes Phil Jackson. Jeanie Buss recently announced on Twitter that she's about to become Mrs. Zen Master ...

Patrick Hruby: ... a word of caution: This won't be a joyride for long. Oh, sure, it's satisfying to see the big, bad Lakers get some overdue comeuppance. But if they stink for a whole season ... or two ... or five ... then they'll end up worse than lousy. They'll become irrelevant. And that would be a shame. Jake, you compared the Lakers to the Yankees, and in one important way you're exactly right. They're both polarizing franchises, big-spending, big-results glamour squads that non-fans love to hate. And ultimately, that's good. Sports spectators cannot live on scrappy underdogs and inspiring heroes alone. We need Goliaths. We need villains. We need something and someone to root against. Laugh now, Lakers haters, but be careful what you wish for—today's glorious, flaming train wreck is tomorrow's rusty debris strewn across an overgrown field, unremarkable, and forgotten. Or, as we call it here in the nation's capital, the Washington Wizards ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online