NBA: LA Lakers' Brook Lopez on weight of expectations at the franchise, LeBron James' potential arrival and more
In an interview with Firstpost, LA Lakers centre Brook Lopez discusses the weight of expectations at the legacy franchise and what went wrong in the last season.
In his autobiography, 'My Life', the legendary Earvin 'Magic' Johnson makes a special mention of the demanding nature of the Los Angeles basketball fans. "When I first came along," Johnson writes, "the Lakers fans had a reputation for showing up late and leaving early."
Johnson's arrival at the franchise in 1979 had also coincided with the appearance of a new owner in the form of Jerry Buss, a man who went on to fashion the Lakers into the glamourous team that they would become.
As Johnson adds in his autobiography, "Buss saw the Lakers as more than a sports team. He knew people wouldn't drive to the Forum just to watch a game, they wanted to be entertained."
That's how the Showtime Lakers came about, a team which — spurred by the talents of Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy — played their basketball with a fast-paced, run-and-gun style and landed five NBA Championships in the 1980s alone.
The next decade saw the Lakers in decline, but before the fans started showing up late and leaving early again, the LA franchise were propelled to five more championships — including a ‘threepeat’ — in the first decade of the 21st century by the towering figures of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
The Lakers haven't won the championship in eight years. They haven't made the NBA Playoffs in five.
“There are obviously a lot of expectations that come with playing for the Lakers given the kind of players who have played for the franchise and the championships they have won over the years. Eight years with a championship for the Lakers feels like hundreds of years without a title. The last five years have been a tough phase,” Lakers centre Brook Lopez tells Firstpost during a visit to Mumbai earlier this month.
Lopez, who at 7-feet towers over most ceilings in India, was in the country to attend the Reliance Foundation Junior NBA National Finals and ACG-NBA Jump Finals at the NBA Academy India.
Lopez, a 10th season veteran in the league, has just been with the LA franchise for one season, but the difference between the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, where he spent the first nine years of his career, and the Lakers could not have been starker.
“It's amazing that winning their last title just eight years back would be a good thing for most teams. But that just speaks to the success the Lakers have had and the weight of expectations that are there on them," he chuckles.
The Lakers’ challenge for a Playoffs spot this season faded away with an 11th-spot finish in the Western Conference after a regular season record of 35-47. Despite this, Lopez is keen to emphasise that they are in good shape for the next season.
“We took care of a lot of goals we had set at the beginning of the season, but we had a rash of injuries in the middle of the season. Or else, we would have made the Playoffs. But for the next season, I have a lot of confidence in the group that we have right now,” Lopez says before adding, “I think we grew a lot this year, we have a lot of youngsters in the team. We had a great start, and we built a great foundation.”
The off-season promises to be something that could change the face of the franchise. With the team already possessing a promising young core with the likes of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart on the books, talk in the NBA is that the Lakers could lure LeBron James or Paul George — who will be free agents after this post-season — to LA.
Just as James has dominated teams in the league in the Playoffs on the court, speculation about him moving base to LA has dominated news and conversations. During his time in India, Lopez is repeatedly asked about it. It has also not escaped notice that a legacy team like LA, which has historically tasted success with superstars like Wilt Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Bryant and O'Neal, currently lacks a superstar around whom the team can be built.
Lopez, who is a free agent himself, reportedly told the franchise during his exit interview that he would be keen to stick around should the franchise be title contenders next season.
“It'll definitely be an interesting off-season,” Lopez says before adding, “It's a very exciting possibility. Having LeBron or PG would be a good problem to have, in terms of figuring out how they fit in. Both of them are intelligent players.
“They both can change the face of the team.”
The 25-year-old Antetokounmpo becomes just the third player in league history to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, joining only Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
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