by Marcel Mutoni

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The promise and anticipation of a new season usually brings with it feelings of hope, joy, and in most cases, fantastical visions of glory.

Except for fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, that is …

Three times in the past year, the Lakers have had a realistic shot at landing three of the most prominent planets in the NBA’s galaxy of stars: It started with Jason Kidd, then Kevin Garnett, and finally now, Shawn Marion. And three times, they have failed to move a single muscle in the way of respectability. At the heart of it all, we find Andrew Bynum, a gifted, entirely likable, nineteen-year-old center with moxie to spare. Management seems convinced that he is going to be a superstar in this League someday.

Listen, I’m all for patience with youngsters, and waiting to see potential fulfill itself … But when you have the chance to couple a talent like Kobe with one of the 15 best players in the NBA (thus giving yourself a legitimate shot at winning a title), to hell with potential! After all, the idea is winning as much as possible, right?

The people in charge of making personnel and business decisions for this franchise – that is to say, Jerry Buss, Mitch Kupchak, et al. – have it made it clear that they’re perfectly comfortable with a stunningly average team. As long as Kobe keeps playing the way he has over the last three years (and there’s no reason to believe he won’t); if the team gets a couple of home Playoff games in the spring (they will); and should the A-Listers keep showing up at Staples (what, you think Jack Nicholson suddenly picked up a hobby over the summer?), nothing will change.

While everyone else in the already-loaded Western Conference seems hellbent on improving and competing for a title, either through free agency, smart trades, or the draft, the Lakers have remained stubbornly stagnant. And I’m sorry to say, but as much as everyone in Lakerland loves the guy (myself included), Derek Fisher is quite simply not the solution.

I know that NBA trades are hard to make. Especially when they involve stars. It’s a lot closer to rocket science than most people realize. That being said, with this team being in such a large media market, led by one of the great coaching minds of all time, and possessing the League’s most awesome offensive weapon, “trades are hard to make” is no longer an acceptable excuse. It was four years ago; not anymore.

Fellow Laker fans, people whose judgment I respect, talk about the team making improvements on the defensive end; overcoming injuries; guys figuring out their roles offensively; and Kwame Brown learning how to catch a basketball when discussing the upcoming season. To which I say: That’s all fine and well, and could even happen in 2008, but you still need the horses to make anything happen out West, and we don’t got ‘em.

Management has shown that they don’t care about wins and losses nearly enough to make the personnel moves necessary to ensure Playoff success.

Since they don’t care, then neither will I …

So, when the team goes into its inevitable midseason slump – no doubt aided by a crippling inability to close out tough road games, nagging injuries, and the inescapable fact that they suck – I won’t pull any hair out.

When Lamar Odom shatters an ankle and is forced to miss two months, I’ll sigh and casually flip the channel.

I’m not going to get bent out of shape when my squad plays in games they should win, but fall painfully short. I don’t have it in me to pen hateful missives when the guys start crapping the bed; we already have someone around here who does that sort of thing, and does it well.

There’s a strange but comforting peace when you’re expecting less than stellar results – Somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 wins (largely due to another superhuman effort from ol’ #24) and a first round Playoff exit for the third consecutive year.

After all, there must be a better way to spend one’s winter nights than watching nationally-televised games featuring a maddeningly inconsistent team bleed into the wee hours.

I’ve heard good things about indoor golf. And scotch. Lots of scotch.