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Lakers traveling under the radar

Posted: October 23, 2013 - 11:15pm

It was a Lakers game so, naturally, there were legends attached to it.

But then the pregame show ended, James Worthy and Byron Scott stopped talking and Shawne Williams and Wesley Johnson started playing and all we kept thinking was, “No, seriously, where are the real Lakers?”

Back in the trainer’s room?

Jetting off to Germany again?

Still sledding down the Great Wall?

Once Dwight Howard left, everyone knew the Lakers were entering some sort of transition. But now, just days before the season opener, the reality of that transition is settling in and the images are, to be frank, rather unsettling.

So it was during the telecast Tuesday of the Lakers’ exhibition against Utah that Bill Macdonald - the play-by-play man charged with only the impossible, making this team seem entertaining until Kobe Bryant returns - was heard to shout‚“Xavier!”

Macdonald once called his job “a dream come true,” but that was before he knew the Lakers would become a team reliant on the likes of Xavier Henry.

Now, in trying to be fair, Henry is probably a nice guy. But so is Macdonald, and we wouldn’t want the Lakers’ fate riding on the play-by-play man’s ability to get to the rim, either.

The whole scene around this franchise feels unreal right now, as difficult to grasp as the fact the Clippers, according to one Las Vegas oddsmaker, are projected to win 23 more games this season than the Lakers.

Twenty-three more! At their shared home of Staples Center, these two teams are separated by a stretch of hallway. On the court, apparently they’ll be separated by a stretch of freeway.

The LVH SuperBook has placed the over/under on Lakers’ victories at 331/2, and isn’t this the franchise that once won 33 in a row?

Sure, that was different era, but this is still the same planet. The Lakers projected as losers? The last time that happened was the 2004-05 season, when they finished 34-48 and their starting point guard was named Chucky.

No wonder Magic Johnson is spending so much time around the Dodgers.

Particularly with Bryant hobbled and his return date uncertain, this team is generating zero buzz. Such a thing once seemed inconceivable for the Lakers, whose fans are more recognizable in NBA arenas than most other team’s players are.

The biggest news lately has been Chris Kaman’s gastroenteritis, which is a form of infectious diarrhea. Since we like our job and intend to keep it, we’ll allow you to make whatever bathroom joke you feel fits best right here.

It never has been clearer why this proud franchise swayed from tradition by installing those “Stay” billboards directed at Howard this summer. The message wasn’t a plea for just one man’s services but rather a cry for an entire franchise’s relevance. And its future.

The Lakers’ fall has been staggeringly sudden and steep. This year, not one NBA general manager picked them to win the Pacific Division. Last year, only one didn’t, Mitch Kupchak, and that’s just because GMs weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams.

Those results were revealed this week by the league’s website in an annual survey of club executives. The Lakers, in general, were a no-show in nearly every category, good or bad, another sign of just how overwhelmingly average they‚Äôre expected to be.

The two most telling Laker-related items from the survey:

1) For the first time since the poll began 12 years ago, Bryant wasn’t selected as the NBA’s best shooting guard. James Harden won the honor instead, and how much will that thought be pressing on Bryant’s mind the next time he faces Harden?

2) In identifying the best power forward and the best center in the league, the GMs came up with 13 names, including Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol. Noticeably absent was the name of Marc’s big brother, Pau.

Everyone knows how the Lakers have reached this point. But that knowledge still doesn’t make the end result any less jarring.

The simple presence of Bryant will keep the Lakers from becoming the Toronto Raptors, but for the record, the Raptors’ over/under on victories is three games better than the Lakers’ total.

On Tuesday, Macdonald and partner Stu Lantz opened the telecast by announcing that the Lakers still faced some “significant roster decisions.” Then they talked about whether the team would keep 14 or 15 players and who, exactly, that 15th player might be.

They did mention a few names, but honestly, we weren’t listening close enough to remember. We were too busy staring at the players trotting through layup lines behind Macdonald and Lantz, looking at their faces and wondering what they’d done to the real Lakers.

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