For a team in the NBA, the ultimate goal is to be the last team standing to hoist the Larry O’Brien championship trophy in June. The Los Angeles Lakers have done just that 16 times—good enough for second best in league history.
When the Lakers signed LeBron James last summer, the franchise worst six-year playoff drought appeared to be coming to a glorious end until the unthinkable happened. The team stunk.
Gone are the years of Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson who contributed to 10 of the Lakers championships. The Lakers have only returned to the playoffs three times since its championship run in 2010 and will be missing the playoffs yet again this season.
The Lakers season started with an unexpected struggle, finishing the first 20 games at a mediocre 11-9 record, with six of those losses coming from Western Conference foes.
James and the Lakers appeared to find their chemistry and by Christmas, things started to turn around for the team. However during the Dec. 25 victory against league powerhouse Golden State Warriors, James was seen in visible pain, and could be seen holding his groin and mouthing to the trainers, “I felt it pop.”
A strained groin sidelined James for 17-games, the longest stretch of games in his career.
Just before James was set to return, highly touted point guard Lonzo Ball severely sprained his ankle and has been shut down for the remainder of the season, missing over 30 games. In the weeks since his return, the team has shut James down for the rest of the season with the same injury still nagging at the 15-time all-star.
As much as injuries derailed this Lakers season, they managed to hang in there and be close to an eighth seed position. But to this Lakers fan, what ruined the teams chances was the horrendous dealings of the NBA trade deadline.
For what seemed like months, rumors swirled around NBA superstar Anthony Davis and how much he wanted to be traded from his current team, the New Orleans Pelicans and the rumors were confirmed when Davis himself released a statement requesting a trade.
LA’s front office reportedly jumped at the chance and offered almost the entire team, plus over six draft picks and unfortunately for the Lakers, every single player’s name was released to the media and the trade was never made.
It was obvious to anyone watching that the trade rumors bothered the young Lakers, when the team lost by over 40 points to the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 5. The loss was the biggest margin of defeat in James’ storied career.
Perhaps for the Lakers, the most memorable night of the season was March 6, when James scored his 32,293rd point, which put him into the top four of all time in NBA scoring, passing one of the greatest to play the sport, Michael Jordan.
To me, the night felt all too familiar. I was brought back to when Bryant did the same thing toward the end of his career, giving us fans one thing to celebrate in one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
But it wasn’t supposed to be that way with James. The Lakers were supposed to return to the bright lights of postseason basketball, but they aren’t. The Lakers entered a freefall, and fell so low the team could never recover.
Every night watching the Lakers, you can witness the exact moment—usually with five minutes left in the fourth quarter—the team just stops giving any effort.
For a player who welcomed the challenge of helping a young team develop, James sure has struggled with leading his teammates, which makes the team no longer run like a team and more like just five grown men standing on a court.
Just when it seemed like the Lakers season couldn’t get any worse, 21-year-old star Brandon Ingram was sidelined with shoulder soreness. Following testing, the injury elevated into deep venous thrombosis in his arm. A similar injury is what caused former NBA player Chris Bosh to retire at 33.
Ingram will be placed on blood thinners, and if the injury returns, he most likely will not be able to continue his playing career.
As the NBA season comes to a close the Lakers will be presented with many questions, including the possibility of re-engaging trade talks for Davis or how the team will act upon free agency. But most importantly, James and the rest of the Lakers can take its extended offseason to focus on getting healthy and better.
After watching his streak of 13 straight playoff appearances and eight straight finals appearances come to a disastrous end, “King James,” welcome to the Western Conference.