Where Have You Gone Ced Ceballos?
It’s not even worth bringing up his name anymore. The story got old about two seconds after hit the air the first time, and about four weeks before all of this ridiculous war of words, MySpace baiting, YouTube disparaging business became headline news. Trade him. Don’t trade him. Whatever.
All I know is that I miss the old Lakers.
I’m not talking about the Showtime Lakers of the 80s (though those were some of the most spectacular teams of all-time) or even the Big Aristotle-centric Lakers that dominated just a few years ago. I’m talking about the post-Magic (I’ll pretend like his “comeback” didn’t actually happen), pre-Shaq Lakers. The Ced Ceballos leaner in the lane Lakers. The George Lynch dive after loose balls Lakers. The Eddie Jones blow-by for a throwdown Lakers. The Vlade flop when it was still cool Lakers.
I miss cheering for likable players that had some game. I miss following a team that was enjoyable to watch on the court together, rather than a disjointed one-man gang and his lackeys. I miss watching a young team full of promise, though still flawed and vulnerable, hungry to prove themselves rather than coming in with a sense of entitlement. I miss having a front office not satisfied with mediocrity but actively putting together a roster to achieve success in the short-term and the long-term instead of expecting fans to patiently wait for “a few years” to get the ship turned around.
Not that those teams weren’t without faults. You had talented but mercurial Nick Van Exel taking a swing at ref Ron Garretson and going at it with coach Del Harris. There was also the frustrating Elden Campbell, at times an unstoppable force in the low post, but possessing the focus of a St. Bernard puppy chasing its tail. And they lacked some of the personality and charisma of other Laker teams that we hold dear to our hearts. But with those mid 90s teams, you could focus on solely basketball, rather than the drama surrounding the team, even if the basketball was only good enough for 45-50 wins and an early playoff exit. They were teams worth supporting. For those of us that love the sport as much as we love the Lakers, rooting for this current Lakers team is becoming about as fun as going to the dentist.
Sure, we're occasionally treated to the amazing 81-point games, insane game-winning shots, and flashes of the most devastating offensive set in modern basketball history. More often, we have to suffer through absurd 12 for 40 nights, guys who play defense with the enthusiasm of a 7-Eleven clerk working the graveyard shift, and role players that wet their pants in big moments or are too lousy to put themselves in a position to be too scared to screw up. We have to watch a front office putz around without any discernible plan (unless wasting draft picks on chumps, throwing money after washed-up free agents, and making lousy trades can be considered a plan). And maybe worst of all, we have to put up with these celebrity personalities (players, coach, and owners) who seem to think that their ego and Q rating should supercede the good of the team and franchise.
Without question, LA thrives on celebrity, and the Lakers have always been about stars, from Elgin to Jerry to Wilt to Kareem to Magic to Riles to Shaq to P-Jax to that guy. And it's the star power, both on the court and in the stands, that have made the Lakers the marquee franchise in the NBA, irrespective of the team's success (though there's been a lot of it). But at what point does the incessant fawning over the team's stars become too much?
Look, there's no denying that the Lakers possess the singularly most talented player in the game right now (haters, you need to get your eyes checked if you think we have "witnessed" anything to suggest otherwise). He's spectacular to watch, adored by the vast majority of Laker Nation, and puts a lot of butts in the Staples Center seats. He's also one of the most alienating figures in team sports that doesn't necessarily elevate the level of his teammates and gets frustrated easily when others don't step up their game. And with the crummy, though mostly well-meaning, teammates that Mitch Cupcake has surrounded him with, it's not all that surprising that he's throwing a tantrum.
When you're winning, these distractions are a compelling story, part of the personality of the team. When you're losing, they become a tired sideshow act. No matter whose side you support right now, I think any reasonably-objective Laker fan will acknowledge that the team doesn't have a prayer of contending for a championship in the foreseeable future. So if you're not going to put a team together that is equipped to win a ring, at least give us a team that won't cause us to reach for the Tylenol every time SportsCenter comes on.
I'm not saying there's any easy answers. If Cupcake pulls the trigger on a deal for that guy, the team is not going to get equal value back in talent. If Jerry "I dig chicks that could pass for my grandaughter" Buss is adamant about holding on to his cash cow, the aura surrounding the team promises to get even more toxic and destructive. The years of dysfunction and mismanagement that have plagued the franchise but were hidden from view by the tail end of the team's successes are finally building up to an inevitable implosion. But it sure would be nice if everyone in the organization stopped pointing fingers and started looking back to how they rebuilt the team after the Showtime era ended. Losing sucks. Losing without dignity sucks even more.
Sedale Threatt? Tony Smith? Please come back. We're lost without you.