Sans Kobe, fans encouraged by Lakers’ future

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Isaiah Freedman Sports Editor

The Black Mamba may have slithered into the shadows of retirement, but hope is just starting to crack through the darkness that the last three years have brought.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the second-most championships in NBA history. Their identity has always been defined by star players and rings; lots and lots of rings. Their fanbase is as accustomed to winning as the NFL is accustomed to fining players for touchdown celebrations.  

That must make the Lakers’ recent three year dip (a combined 65-181 record) hard to stomach for a fan base spoiled by a disproportionate number of victories over the past decades. My two cents worth: Try being a 76ers fan.

However, to quote Harvey Dent from the Dark Knight, “the night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”

The Lakers had been suffering from a three-year hangover period of the golden days, when Kobe had a clean achilles, Phil Jackson was the coach and Pau Gasol was still a Laker. Even after losing so many pieces since then, the Lakers had been clinging to their old image.

Now, entering year one without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have finally accepted their fate as a young team with a small chance to make noise in the playoffs. It is prime for them, since it eases expectations within the coming years.

“We have so much young talent and potential for growth from all our players. [Point guard] D’Angelo Russell especially. He has been having a great preseason. [Shooting guard] Jordan Clarkson is killing it behind the arc and [Power forward] Julius Randle is also a beast,” Lakers fan Ben Nourafshan said.

It’s true that the young guns have shown wonderful bursts of potential, but that probably will not come to fruition this year. Russell is 20, Randle 21 and Clarkson 24. These guys are babies by NBA standards. According to Ballislife.com, the average age at which an NBA player is at the peak of his athletic and mental prime is age 27.

Most Laker fans are excited to watch this new group of players hopefully coalesce into another superteam. However, the Kobe hangover is still looming over the whole operation, especially to boys varsity basketball guard Jason Mehraban, an avid Laker fan.

“I am excited, but sad to not see Kobe there because I have seen him play my entire life. I cannot wait to see how D’Angelo plays in the regular season, because he has been doing so well in preseason. I hope [Brandon] Ingram grows and improves as a player to become a star in the league,” Mehraban said.

It is going to be odd to live in an NBA world that does not include Kobe Bryant, or Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett for that matter. A changing of the guard is taking place across the league, and this up-and-coming Lakers squad is an embodiment of that metamorphosis.

Not only is there a new team vibe, there is also a new coach, former Laker Luke Walton, hired away from the Golden State Warriors this offseason.

“I think coach Luke is bringing a good atmosphere to the team,” Laker fan, and a family friend of Jordan Clarkson, Jonny Perez said.

Walton used to play for Jackson, a legendary coach who was a power forward with back issues. Walton, in his time in the NBA as a nifty passer, was a power forward with back issues. If he can live up to those coincidental similarities, watch out.

Probably the Lakers’ two biggest rivals are the Los Angeles Clippers, since they battle over the same city, and the Boston Celtics, since they are neck-and-neck in the all-time championship race, in which Boston leads 17-16.

Even fans of the Clippers and Celtics are conceding that the Lakers are on the upswing.

“I think they are getting better and will be good in a few years,” Clippers fan and varsity basketball guard Grant Gaon said. It was a hard sentence for him to say, for obvious reasons.

Celtics fan Emanuel Harouni actually believes that Kobe’s departure will only help the Lakers.

“I think that now that Kobe is gone, the Lakers are set to take a step forward because Kobe has been really bad the past three seasons. He has been holding back the team,” Harouni explained.

However, Harouni is still not worried about the Lakers making the playoffs.

“The Lakers just do not have the pieces needed to be a playoff-caliber team.”

A fact to remember is that not too long ago, the Lakers were in a similar predicament of hopelessness. Kobe was stuck on a floundering team with Smush Parker, then the Lakers landed Pau Gasol and the result was back-to-back rings in 2010 and 2011.

So the verdict is settled among even squabbling fanbases: the Lakers are doing their due diligence to be really good, but it may take a while. All worthwhile things do.

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