This Lakers season was doomed before it even started

The best jokes have an element of truth. Which is why, when Danny Green sarcastically stated (before being traded) that LeBron James might not show up in the first month of the season after the NBA chose to give the defending champions just over two months. between winning the title and resuming the game, it was fun. That’s why when LeBron himself joked with Barack Obama that he could pick for the entire first half of the season, we laughed.

The ironic crackles were a bit hyperbolic, but real frustration escaped from behind their smiles. To paraphrase the great philosopher Lou Williams, they were never half-serious.

And to be fair, the short offseason isn’t the only thing that destroyed the Lakers, and ended their season mercifully in the first round after a Game 6 loss to the Suns. The short break didn’t derail LeBron’s MVP-caliber campaign by Solomon Hill undermining him as he dove for a loose ball, leading to the longest injury absence of his career just before the playoffs. They also never really understood the right mix in the middle after prioritizing talent upgrades on paper over the continuity in moves that were highly regarded at the time. In the days to come, there will be some real talk to be had about building this team’s roster at the center, and whether they had enough creativity in shooting or on the offensive to help lighten the gap. charge of their two stars.

But where is it important? Where were the Lakers at their best? The short hiatus absolutely wreaked havoc and really made any other concerns moot, denying us a real chance to dissect whether this mix might have worked when things started to count.

In that aforementioned exchange with Obama on HBO’s “The Shop,” LeBron and the 44th President joked about handing more of the charge to his Lakers co-star Anthony Davis.

“Let Anthony Davis do all the work, man,” Obama said with a smile.

“Yeah, that’s why we got it,” James spat, laughing.

But it turns out that a 6’10 power forward with guarding skills and the size to play center while defending every position was not designed for the job of such a short turnaround. Davis tried to limit the physical toll by playing 10% of his regular season minutes at center, but still injured his Achilles tendon and calf in a relatively common basketball collision with Nikola Jokic. .

Davis came back and started to find his rhythm in the playoffs, but hypertensive his knee in Game 3, resulting in groin strain in Game 4 while overcompensating and trying to overcome the pain to help his team through. to win. He tried again in Game 6, and his body literally gave in under the stress of the attempt. So Charles Barkley and other pundits can make classless jokes about Davis’s injuries whatever they want, but those who paid attention know how badly those bumps and bruises burned him and how bad he was. wants to play.

Now I am not a doctor. Maybe the short offseason didn’t cause her body to collapse, but it sure couldn’t help. The other conference finalists struggling with illnesses similar to their stars all season long doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

On the other hand, Davis’s absence has shown his worth. Without him in the playoffs, the Lakers were lost to center and their best defense in the league started to show cracks. They didn’t have the offensive punch to catch up and get over the hump, or to survive horrific and frightening shots. When things counted last season, Davis at center was the X-factor to solve for every possible problem, their little ace in the hole that led them to the title, eating everyone who came near him alive in defense and scoring. at will on the other end. The team got a brief glimpse of that dream again to close Game 2, but no amount of glue, staples and prayers could keep this version of this team’s title contender together. Without Davis, they had no answer to what the Suns brought.

Injury: The 2021 Lakers Story.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

This missive is not intended to put an asterisk on this season. Sports media lazy people have this talk about every champion, every year, and every year it’s the saddest talk, the lowest common denominator. The Lakers didn’t win the title, and someone else will. Injuries affect the championship race every season, and this year is no different. As they say, the best capacity is uptime.

But what will long burn in hearts that pump purple and gold blood is that the Lakers haven’t really had a legitimate chance to defend their title. This team, when it was complete, was championship caliber. And while the NBA Players Association voted to endorse this extended season-long mess to save the league and themselves billions of dollars in revenue and avoid a lockout, it has been hard not to feel like de money and desperation to get back to a normal schedule won over the mind of basketball.

That’s no guarantee the Lakers would have repeated as champions, of course. The Suns are good and deserve credit, and have dealt with their own injuries in this series. The Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are looming in the East, and there are other legitimate contenders in the West as well. But with a little more time between their long title run and this accelerated regular season, maybe the Lakers would have had a real hit rather than having too many injuries cascading over them at once to make their way through. out of the first round. Or maybe a team built around two superstars – one 36-year-old with huge miles on his tires and the other with no history of stellar uptime – was still a calculated risk. It paid off last season, but not this one. It happens.

Now, should we mourn over the millionaires who fail in a cinch? Does it make sense and be ethical to want the NBA to lose billions late, which could lead to a shortfall to which the billionaires who run the league would have responded with layoffs and layoffs of lower-level employees in the arenas and on the field that make the game possible, and ripping up the ABCs and blocking out the players we’re all looking for? No.

But sports fandom often doesn’t make sense or ethics, and in a vacuum, as someone who enjoys basketball from every fiber of their being, it’s hard not to feel like something has happened. lost here, fantasizing about what-if scenarios that might have allowed LA to get the rest they needed to prepare for a real title defense. It will always feel like a missed opportunity, although it may have been inevitable to keep the league we know and love alive. I’m not smart enough to fully reconcile which was the right option out of a lot of the bad ones, but the reality the NBA chooses will always leave a bitter aftertaste.

Yet if not being able to repeat because they physically collapsed was the price of Banner # 17, you are definitely paying it every time. The Lakers won a title with this duo, making Davis’ trade a success. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if they can start over at some point. They couldn’t this season, and it might have been inevitable no matter how they built their roster, if Davis wasn’t going to be able to sustain the pounding.

But I think back to that conversation James had with Obama on “The Shop,” as the star laughed at what was surely some frustration about everything he knew was coming, and the former president has dropped a line that basically summed up what was wrong for the Lakers this season.

“Hey, you gotta save yourself for when it matters,” Obama said.

“Yes sir,” James replied.

James might be kidding, but there was some truth to his goal of staying healthy for the playoffs, and the Lakers as a whole couldn’t achieve that. In the end, that was all that mattered.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on itunes, Spotify, Stapler or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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