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BILL PLASCHKE

These Lakers really aren't his type

Despite T-shirt entreaties of love at Lakers' first home game in two weeks, it's impossible to do so as they replace excitement with dullness. The buzz is off, and the owners need to do something.

February 14, 2012|Bill Plaschke

Stuck here at Staples Center on Valentine's Day night, I might have been inspired to cite everything I love about the Lakers.

Except right now that would be nothing.

Before the Lakers' 86-78 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday, ushers handed out T-shirts that read, "I (heart) Lakers."

I don't. Not right now. I don't heart them. I don't soul them. I would, however, like to brain them.

How could they go from one of the most exciting shows in sports to the third-most exciting team in their own building? One year ago, they were fighting for a third consecutive NBA championship. On Tuesday at tipoff, there were Staples Center rows that contained all of three people.

How could the Buss family let this happen? The buzz is off, and the big-money fans who pay the bills are either showing up late or not at all. The Lakers had not played a game here in two full weeks, yet when they took the court against the Hawks, even chunks of courtside seats were empty, including those belonging to Jack and Denzel.

By the time the place did mostly fill up, it was so quiet you could heard Pau Gasol whine, as if Coach Mike Brown's offense has finally put the entire Figueroa corridor to sleep. By the end of the game, fans were finally on their feet, but only because the team actually ran something that resembled a fastbreak.

The evening was so deadly dull, ushers eventually passed out those noise-making Thunder Stix, with one small problem, and I'm not making this up. Some of the balloons were red and contained the words, "Go Chiefs Go."

As some fans loudly accused Lakers officials of trying to save money by borrowing another team's memorabilia — can you blame them? — your intrepid reporter discovered that, in fact, Staples Center employees simply passed out the wrong box of toys. But the metaphor stuck. So far this season, it's as if Lakers fans are cheering for a different team.

What was clearly not a mistake was the entrance of Vanessa Bryant in the third quarter, Kobe's estranged wife attending her first home game of the season by taking a prominent seat behind the Lakers bench. If nothing else, at least it took the attention off the floor, where watching the Lakers these days is like watching a Big Ten team … a Big Ten football team.

Each possession feels like a pulled tooth. Few shots are easy or attractive. The Lakers won despite going more than six minutes in the second quarter without scoring. They won despite committing 17 turnovers . They won with all of three fastbreak baskets.

"We're not a high-octane team," said Brown before the game in the understatement of the season. "We just don't have that type of player."

Yet a year ago, they were exactly that type of team. They were fast, they were fun, they were filled with hope. Does anybody else think these Lakers have hope? Does anybody reasonably think they can advance past the first round of the playoffs?

No, I wouldn't wear one of those T-shirts, because right now, I don't love the Lakers, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one.

I don't love that the moment the NBA wrongly rejected their trade for Chris Paul, the Lakers' front office seemed to throw up its hands on the season, giving away Lamar Odom and, so far, failing to address the glaring need at point guard. Gilbert Arenas? They were joking, right?

I don't love that, without that quick point guard, aging Derek Fisher is being exposed when he should be embraced. After all Fisher has done for this organization, he doesn't need to be constantly put in a position to fail.

I don't love that Kobe Bryant is having a career year in terms of leadership and strength, and yet he is forced to play so many minutes and throw up so many shots — more than 100 more than anyone else in the league — his game is being allowed to exhaust itself before the postseason.

I don't love that Andrew Bynum's redemptive season is being wasted. I don't love that previously traded Pau Gasol's suck-it-up season has had the life sucked out of it.

On Tuesday, I especially didn't love it that Metta World Peace was being allowed to dominate the locker room conversation when he barely makes a ripple on the court. In a recent story in CBSSports.com, World Peace questioned Brown's credentials by referring to his video coordinator past, accused Brown of benching him because he only cares about statistics, and openly wondered whether the coach knew what he was doing.

On Tuesday, Brown fired back by saying he told World Peace, "If I was a stats guy, you wouldn't be playing at all."

World Peace grabbed the last word against the Hawks by mindlessly throwing up a team-high five three-point attempts, one more than his number of rebounds. Yeah, it was ugly, and it's going to get worse unless the Buss family decides to make the commitment to make it better.

Until then, really, there is only one thing those longtime, forever-in-love Lakers fans can say.

Go Chiefs Go!

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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