Welcome to Hoop Dreams, a season preview unlike any other. The premise is simple: We’ll be providing 30 of these fictional forays because it simply stinks that only one team can win the title each year. The list of contending teams seems to shrink with each succeeding campaign, and we wanted to provide something to those fans who only get to dream of Larry O’Brien during the offseason. Before October, every team can win the NBA title. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading. – Ed
It’s in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 20, and Kobe Bryant receives a text message from Magic Johnson. “I want you and Vanessa to sit in the car with Cookie and me,” the text message reads. Bryant grumbles, sets his phone down and decides he’s not going to respond. He’s in Newport Beach and needs to be in downtown Los Angeles in three hours. He has breakfast to eat, children to corral and a helicopter to catch. The Lakers are once again NBA champions, and he’s going to be in a parade.
Men and women in suits clog up South Figueroa every morning as they enter the city to conduct whatever business people in suits do in downtown LA. The street, from Vernon to 5th, is bumper to bumper like all of the worst highways in Los Angeles County. It’s a frustration that simultaneously rips the city apart while bringing everyone together — and the Lakers’ season served as a perfect metaphor for the traffic they stopped for a single day of celebration.
The city went into the 2016-17 season with high spirits and low expectations. The Lakers weren’t supposed to be good, but they were going to be better. It’s hard to qualify it better following consecutive seasons of posting the franchise’s worst regular season record. But Byron Scott was gone along with the antiquated hyper-masculine coaching philosophy he brought with him when he took the job. Scott spent a year coaching boys who he wanted to act like men and grown men who he wanted to move like the kids he threw under the bus. There was no happy medium; There was no happy, just bad basketball produced from a bad roster taking queues from a bad coach. But Luke Walton took over the team after Scott was let go, and brought with him a noggin full of learnings from Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr, the latter of whom spent several seasons watching Mike D’Antoni run one of the most efficient offenses in NBA history.
Walton, a coach on the floor when he played, coached with a player’s mentality. While he was able to relate to his young core in ways that Scott never could before the tip off of their first game against Houston, the Lakers would get blown out at home on opening night, allowing James Harden to go off for 45 points and nine assists. Walton, the players and the fans knew defense would be an issue for the team, but the Rockets’ ungodly efficiency on opening night would become a trend over the first month of the season. The team would learn in December that the defense was bad, but not as bad as we made it out to be when the Golden State Warriors inflated their numbers after three meetings over the first 17 Lakers games.