It appears that Lakers fans are in the second stage of grief.
First came the shock surrounding the Lakers’ 2012-13 season unraveling in every way imaginable. A star-studded lineup featuring Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace believed as a championship contender morphed into a team falling out of the first round, riddled by overlapping injuries, competing agendas and a swift coaching change. Now it appears Lakers fans are reaching denial. The Lakers field plenty of uncertainty ranging from health concerns surrounding Bryant (Achilles), Gasol (knees) and Nash (hamstring), departures to key defenders in Howard (free agency) and World Peace (amnesty provision) and a star-studded Western Conference (Oklahoma City, Clippers, San Antonio, Golden State, Houston). Yet, a 31.85 percent plurality in a recent Los Angeles Newspaper Group poll voted that the Lakers will win the 2014 NBA championship.
That’s the usual gold standard the Lakers operate on, an understandable attitude considering the team’s 16 NBA championships only trail the Boston Celtics (17). The Lakers have universally scoffed at a panel of ESPN writers ranking them 12th place out of 14 teams in the Western Conference. But it’s clear the expectations have changed. The Lakers front office talk more about maintaining cap flexibility for the 2014 offseason than promoting championship-or-bust aspirations. Magic Johnson expressed skepticism the Lakers could even make the playoffs. And in fairness to some Lakers fans, 22.2 percent of voters believe the Lakers will fare no better than a first-round exit.
Should such a season play out, it will be interesting to see how quickly Lakers fans adopt the next level of grief: Anger.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org