On January 25, the Los Angeles Lakers moved to Brooklyn to face the Nets and showed unusual joy this season.
Their main stars LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were healthy, only 21 times this season. It was Davis ’first game to recover from a knee injury. It was James’ only appearance in New York. The team was penalized for a visit to Madison Square Garden in November, which is their favorite place to play.
Owned by the Nets on the back, James stole the ball and ran to the other side while the crowd murmured in anticipation. Every time James disguised himself they burst into applause.
After the second, James smiled. He laughed at Michael Strahan, the former NFL star, who was sitting on the court, and with a smile still returned to the Lakers chair.
“As we record more minutes, we continue to see how dynamic we can be,” James said after that game.
The Lakers were in eighth place in the Western Conference, and the night offered hope. It was unthinkable at the time that a team built to be the perfect super team could get stuck in a play-in championship, but the Lakers had plenty of time to move up in the standings. Many thought it could still be dangerous in any playoff situation.
Then few expected what would really happen.
The Phoenix Sounds were eliminated from the Lakers playoff game on Tuesday, though James is the second-highest point of his 19-year career this season. On Friday, James was sidelined for the final two games of the season due to a permanent ankle injury that has already left him out of the previous three games. The Lakers are likely to finish 11th in the Western Conference, a spectacular defeat for the team that was expected to compete in a championship this season.
This season was a big challenge for many teams, as the NBA tried to return to normalcy as the coronavirus pandemic was still happening and many teams were suffering from high-level injuries. But he won’t end the season in the league with a big gap between expectations and reality like the Lakers.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing on many levels,” Westbrook said. “But you can’t do much right now.”
Westbrook was introduced with superstar fanfare in August as Rob Pelinka, president of the Lakers ’basketball operations, stated that he had given them a chance to win the 18th franchise championship. But his arrival did not come without question.
How would he fit in, for example, to be a productive player who needs the ball in his hands with James, one of the best attacking dynamizers ever? Did it make sense for the Lakers to age – signing a bunch of veterans over the age of 30 – when they were already suffering from health problems that often come with age?
The preseason doesn’t always herald a regular season, but the Lakers went without a win in their own right.
When they stumbled at the start of the season, there was an easy way for the team to explain their situation: It happens. Superstars don’t always come out right away.
The pandemic offered an excuse: it made it almost impossible to keep track of any team in the first few months of the season.
Pandemic disruptions peaked in the Omicron wave in November and December, during which dozens of players joined the league’s health and safety protocols.
The NBA’s test system wasn’t perfect, and James suffered from it – he flew home from Sacramento on a quarantine plane because of a false positive test result in the coronavirus test before a game against the Kings. It was the 12th game in the Lakers that James lost in the first 23 games.
A few weeks later, the outbreak of the coronavirus spread to the team, and Lakers coach Frank Vogel even sidelined him by six games.
Many teams, however, were hit even harder than the Lakers, including the Chicago Bulls, who had 10 players in health and safety protocols at the same time in December, and had to postpone two games.
The injuries provided another explanation for the Lakers ’stumbles. James and Davis lost more than 60 games together, which was not an unexpected result, considering the recent history. Davis said he was “disappointed because we didn’t have a chance to be the whole team.”
“I don’t know how good we could be,” he said. “With me personally, I was left out for a while by two unfortunate injuries. That became part of the season. As one of the leaders of the team, especially on the defensive floor where the boys need me to be away, I feel bad, I feel bad for our team, our organization ”.
But this season, injuries have frustrated many teams.
The Miami Heat lost Jimmy Butler for nearly a month. The Phoenix Sun lost Chris Paul for a month. The Los Angeles Clippers spent the entire season without Kawhi Leonard and lost another star, Paul George, for three months.
Although they found ways to accommodate those teams and stay in the playoff conversation, the Lakers couldn’t.
This was partly due to a thinner list than needed due to the resources devoted to Westbrook.
To acquire Westbrook, the Lakers traded young players Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. They refused to re-sign Alex Caruso, who was an important part of the Bulls’ defense.
The Lakers defense has been among the top third in the NBA this season, with 112.8 points per 100 possessions. The only team to score more points per game is Houston.
The Lakers also struggled to defend themselves inside the paint, a symptom of the complicated rotation of big men.
In the championship season two years ago, the Lakers used JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard as the center-backs, occasionally asking Davis and James to play the role. This season they brought in Howard, two years older and more efficient. They signed DeAndre Jordan, 33, who also passed his time.
They did not have any more assets at the end of the trade to make a move that did not hinder them. Westbrook’s contract will be more attractive for other teams next year when he is in his final year, as he looks to take his player’s chances for the 2022-23 season.
Since it was clear that the Lakers ’list wasn’t working, it was even clearer that no repairs would come soon.
They were losing to the bottom teams in the league. Even the best teams were hitting. Young playoff teams like the Grizzlies and Timberwolves were making fun of them, throwing a regular dian at Westbrook’s poor.
“This was a season we didn’t finish,” Lakers striker Carmelo Anthony said. “We had the tools. Some things were out of our control. We could control some things, we couldn’t control others. We didn’t get it. We can’t make excuses for that. We just didn’t do it. ‘
In the last nine years, the Lakers have lost the playoffs seven times. The first unthinkable stretch is to compete in tournaments at one time, if not always winning, for a franchise that was used to it.
Adding superstars is a franchise that hopes to save them, and sometimes they do. This equation did not work this season.