The once-mighty Los Angeles Lakers are tanking their 2014-15 season.
They just don't know it yet.
While our Denver Nuggets have opened the 2014-15 season with one win and one loss (and not looking particularly good in either game, I might add), the always hated Lakers are 0-4 while giving up a NBA opponents-best 118 points per game while producing just 101 points per game themselves.
The Lakers aren't just bad, they're f---ing terrible!
And based on the comments offered thus far at Denver Stiffs and among other die-hard Nuggets fans I've spoken to in regards to the Lakers' recent demise, Nuggets fans worldwide seem more excited about the Lakers embarrassing play than they are concerned about the Nuggets mediocre play. It's hard not to blame Nuggets fans for feeling this way, as the Lakers have routinely tortured pro basketball fans in Denver since the Nuggets joined the NBA in 1976. In 1979, 1985, 1987, 2008, 2009 and 2012 it was the Lakers who stood between the Nuggets and post-season advancement, twice (1985 and 2009) preventing the Nuggets from getting to their first ever NBA Finals. Not only have the Nuggets played the Lakers more in the post-season than any other Western Conference opponent, but they've never once beaten them in a playoff series. Ugh.
So, admittedly, it is a joyous day indeed in Nuggets Nation when the usually dominant Lakers are relegated to the basement of the Western Conference standings alongside the likes of the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves. And no one is rejoicing in the Lakers' dramatic downfall more than I, having long ago detailed my absolute hatred of the Lakers and their "fans" (a column that never gets old, by the way).
But Nuggets fans should be careful what they wish for. Because the worse off the Lakers are, the more likely it becomes that they'll get a top-five pick in next year's NBA Draft Lottery. Should such a thing happen, the Lakers get to keep their pick (should the pick be lower than fifth, it goes to Phoenix as a remnant of that fantastic Steve Nash trade) while also likely receiving the Houston Rockets' 2015 first round pick (the Rockets owe the Lakers a first rounder but it's protected 1-14). That means the Lakers could potentially have two first round picks in 2015 in addition to the return of injured lottery pick Julius Randle and oodles of salary cap space as the salaries of Nash, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill and Carlos Boozer can come off the books next summer.
And while it has been very convenient for members of the national media to pile on and trash Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant as of late, he's still competing at an incredibly high clip as an individual. As my Benedict Arnold Lakers fan of a brother aptly put it recently, 2014-15 Bryant is not the 2001-02 Washington Wizards version of Michael Jordan. Don't be surprised if after two consecutive seasons of humble, non-playoff pie, Bryant turns out to be a halfway decent teammate / mentor to the youngsters the Lakers will re-load with in 2015 while Bryant pursues Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record for most points scored ever. (Okay who am I kidding? Kobe will always be a crummy teammate but his ludicrously large contract runs out after next season anyway, meaning theoretically the Lakers should have even more cap space beginning in 2016.)
I guess the point of all of this is that while it's fun to show off an ear-to-ear grin when thinking about the Lakers' sudden art of utter ineptitude on the basketball court, I see storm clouds on the horizon for Lakers opponents - including our Nuggets. While you can't read much into a 1-1 start to an 82-game NBA season (I remember pushing the panic button when the Nuggets went 0-3 to start the 2012-13 campaign only to finish with a NBA franchise-best 57 wins), it seems pretty clear to me that the Nuggets won't be a dominant player in the ultra competitive Western Conference nor a crummy afterthought this season. They'll be, as they've been for decades, somewhere in the middle ... the toughest place to build a champion from in the NBA.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are accidentally tanking their way to a top-five 2015 draft pick. Byron Scott is proving to be the perfect coach as his "Benjamin Button" coaching career reaches new reverse-order heights (remember, Scott began his coaching career with two NBA Finals appearances in New Jersey, followed that up with a few playoff runs in New Orleans, followed by a disastrous run in Cleveland and now this. Pretty soon Scott will be coaching a WNBA team alongside other well known "Benjamin Button" coaches like K.C. Jones and Paul Westhead). The aforementioned Randle managed to break his leg on opening night, ending his debut NBA season. New acquisitions Boozer and Lin are amp'ing up their matador defense on a nightly basis. And Bryant is basically saying "screw it, my teammates suck so I'll just shoot until I pass MJ on the all-time scoring list." Thus far this is the perfect recipe for a 20-win season and top-five lottery selection.
So if anything, Nuggets fans should be rooting for the Lakers to start winning some games and barely miss the playoffs. Because the more the Lakers bottom out, the more they get to reload on high-but-cheap draft picks while spending their vast reserves of Time Warner Cable money on big name free agents and quality role players to possibly give Bryant a swan song NBA Finals appearance before his career comes to an end.
Which, if that actually happens, will be Bryant's eighth NBA Finals appearance. And eight more NBA Finals than our Nuggets will have been to.