What a difference a few months make

Every year, ESPN The Magazine publishes its Ultimate Standings, a ranking of every team across the four major sports based on the results of fan polling data. (Andy and I have worked on the project for years, though we have nothing to do with the gathering of data).

The polling centers on a variety of issues, including championships, ownership, coaching, fan relations (how well a franchise listens and responds to its constituency), stadium experience, affordability, and a measurement called Bang for the Buck (basically, how much value is returned to fans for their financial investment). You'd think the Lakers would rate fairly favorably in most of these categories. They have 16 titles, are still relatively close to three Finals runs in three seasons, and for all intents and purposes never miss the playoffs. Dr. Jerry Buss is the most successful owner in modern team sports. Watching a game at Staples, with the theatrical lighting and voice of Lawrence Tanter, is a very cool, classy, and dignified experience, particularly when compared to other NBA venues. They always have star players.

Only in cost-related questions would the Lakers logically be perpetually dinged, given how incredibly expensive it is to get into the building.

So what is this year's ranking for the purple and gold?


Eighty-nine. One spot above the Houston Astros, baseball's worst team this year and last, and a full 18 below the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are the Minnesota Timberwolves.

If the results seem overly harsh, keep in mind polling was done near the tail end of last season, when title chances were thinner than Paulie-sliced prison garlic, prospects for quick summertime improvement seemed grim, and (while not necessarily fair) skepticism about Jim Buss was still running very high. Then came the July 4 signing of Steve Nash, and subsequent additions of Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, and Jodie Meeks, along with the re-signing of Jordan Hill. The Lakers went from relevant only on the fringes to a legitimate title contender for at least the next two seasons.

Once again, it's starting to look like a triple rainbow around these parts. No question, if done today the polling would reveal significantly different results.

Still, it's a great reminder of where the collective mood was only a few months ago, how fast things have changed, and how harshly Lakers fans will judge when believing their franchise is headed in the wrong direction. To use the parlance of stand-up comedy, L.A. is a tough room.