With the Lakers aging and having decreased depth, center Andrew Bynum (17)… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
It tugged at them during the off-season, made their vacations less enjoyable, the lockout less bearable and the millions they earned slightly less tolerable.
Losers in four games to Dallas last May, the Lakers were bounced from the Western Conference semifinals without any hint of existence from a two-time NBA champion.
As crash-and-burns go, it was one of the worst in team history.
Andrew Bynum lost his cool, Kobe Bryant lost his touch and Phil Jackson lost his last four games as the Lakers' coach.
Jackson is no longer here, replaced by the doggedly ebullient Mike Brown and a roster that aged another year.
Derek Fisher is 37. Pencil him in as the starting point guard. Bryant is 33 and already fighting a wrist injury. Pau Gasol is 31, along with Steve Blake, Luke Walton and Matt Barnes. Metta World Peace, 32, made four of 21 shots in two exhibition games.
Maybe the embarrassment of last May will serve as a flash point this season, much like the Lakers' 39-point humiliation in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals against Boston spurred them to two championships.
"It's good to go back and picture what we went through and how that felt to prevent that from happening again," Gasol said. "That's what I did, personally. I'm eager to have a really good year and help our team be a strong candidate."
Not much has happened this month to the Lakers.
They had a deal in place to acquire Chris Paul. The NBA struck it down. They had talks with Orlando to acquire Dwight Howard. The Magic struck them down.
Lamar Odom asked to be traded and the Lakers accommodated him, saving $34.2 million in salary and luxury taxes while irritating teammates and fans by sending the popular forward to Dallas, of all places.
Gasol was AWOL for a day to analyze his tenuous place in the Lakers' food chain after hearing he was included in the nixed Paul trade.
Kobe Bryant's wife filed for divorce. Then he sustained a torn ligament in his right wrist this week, though he practiced Friday and made a driving right-handed layup as the doors to the team training facility opened for reporters. He will play in the season opener Sunday against Chicago at Staples Center, saying he was "just really ignoring" the wrist injury, which happened when he tried to break his fall in an exhibition loss to the Clippers on Monday.
It was hard for him to ignore the off-season after he showed shades of mortality in the playoff losses to Dallas, including quiet 17-point efforts in the last two games.
He went to Germany to have a minor but innovative procedure on an arthritic joint in his ailing right knee and proclaimed he was healthier this season. Of course, that was before he injured his wrist.
"He'll prove right away probably from the first possession [Sunday] that he's fine," said Fisher, his longtime teammate. "I wouldn't doubt him catching it, shooting it from 22 feet the first time when he touches it, just to make sure you're all clear that he can make a shot."
The Lakers broke down from outside in the playoffs, making a pathetic 15 of 76 three-point attempts (19.7%) against Dallas, so they added veteran shooters Jason Kapono and Troy Murphy to try to spread opposing defenses.
Their most expensive free-agent acquisition was power forward Josh McRoberts, a hustle player already being called McRambis by some fans.
They're putting a lot of faith in Devin Ebanks, who was picked midway through the second round of the 2010 draft and will start at small forward. Ebanks barely sniffed 20 games as a rookie but worked on his outside attack during the off-season by hoisting 1,000 shots a day.
World Peace will come off the bench after averaging career-lows across the board last season, including a puny 8.5 points a game. He wasn't exactly off to a nimble start in exhibition play, shooting 19%.
Reserve guard Blake, the Lakers' main free-agent pickup a year ago, can't be as inaccurate as he was last season (35.9%) … or can he?
Everything points to Bynum and Gasol needing huge years if the Lakers want to get out of the Western Conference and overcome the youth of Oklahoma City or the experience of Dallas.
Bynum was part of the embarrassment against the Mavericks, body-slamming guard Jose Barea, ripping off his own jersey as he left the court and getting pounded with a five-game suspension by the NBA that was reduced to four Friday to correspond with a lockout-shortened season that shrank 19.5%, from 82 games to 66.
"It makes sense mathematically," Bynum said Friday.
Bynum won't play until Dec. 31 against Denver, but he's talking a good game.
"In order to get back to prime time, everyone's going to have to buy into the system," Bynum said. "We can't rely on talent alone anymore kind of like we have in the past."
Gasol, practically traded away three weeks ago, was somehow the Lakers' voice of reason, saying there was only a "little parallelism" between their flameout against Dallas and their humbling exit against Boston three years earlier.
Dallas was worse, in his opinion.
"You lose 4-2 to the Celtics in the Finals, OK, I think you can accept that," he said. "But then losing 4-0 against Dallas in the second round with the team that we had, it was probably a little tougher."
With 66 games in 124 days, the Lakers have ridiculously little time to show they're serious title contenders.
Compressed schedules, complete with back-to-back-to-back situations, generally don't benefit older teams. Plenty will be discovered about the Lakers between now and April 26.
Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.