October 3, 2022

Watching the guy pick a pick after the Lakers picked second overall Lonzo Ball in the 2017 NBA Draft leading his team to the NBA Finals is frustrating enough as a purple and gold fan. Knowing that he grew up idolizing Kobe, so deeply in love with purple and gold that he sometimes accentuates his already emetic green uniforms with Bryant’s signature armband only makes me sicker.

It’s not 19 anymore, but at just 24 years old, Jayson Tatum is going to be a staple in the NBA as one of the NBA’s top superstars for a long, long time. And if Brad Stevens can actually walk and chew gum at the same time, he’ll do everything in his power to maintain the franchise’s longstanding traditions and make sure Tatum is a Celtic until the second he’s no longer needed (even if his athletic degradation comes through injury power for the good of the franchise, like they did with Kevin McHale, Isaiah Thomas and are currently doing it with Robert Williams).

But regardless of whether the Celtics can actually finish the job this time around, Tatum’s rise to rightful stardom — along with that of Jaylen Brown, for that matter — gives Boston a much better chance of winning its 18th championship before the Lakers, like now.

Alternatively, before July 29, 2021, the Lakers once again looked like potential championship favorites as long as their leading duo could stay on the field. They had a large stash of homegrown talent that meshed well with their stars, giving them the defensive infrastructure to keep them in games long enough for LeBron and AD to take over in stride – maintaining a clean rating among the first three in the fourth quarter. in 2019-20 and 2020-21 with top-three defense both years.

Instead of licking their wounds and rolling them back after injuries to LeBron and Anthony Davis sapped their championship chances in 2021-22, the Lakers decided enough was enough and opted to make it right. differently. Fat from the franchise-record 17th championship just the previous season, the Lakers front office finally gave in to LeBron’s constant demands to up the game to ease his regular-season burden.

In retrospect, purging their entire supporting cast for Russell Westbrook has to be one of the most destructive single trades in NBA history. Taken against the backdrop of LeBron’s public preference to play further off the ball and the franchise’s decision to take the cheaper route to shallower roster construction, the Lakers’ disastrous 2021-22 campaign appears to be the result of a certain organizational complacency. Adding to the collective entitlement attitude, the Lakers sought out proven veterans looking to add championship material to their trophies already replete with individual accolades. The Lakers released a cast unable to do the small things necessary to win possessions, quarterbacks and ultimately enough games to even make a play-in appearance, let alone a true playoff spot.

As the team collectively began to understand the immeasurable gap between their aspirations and reality, these veterans lacked the motivation to maintain competitiveness. With the defense ranked 24th in the NBA, but still the 11th best net rating in the fourth quarter, it’s fair to say the Lakers disengaged from games, only to then fall back after already falling behind by an insurmountable deficit. .

Coming off of what I think can be called one of the most disappointing campaigns in professional sports of all time, members of the organization seem to be saying all the right things just as the Celtics inch closer to another championship. Just before the Celtics won a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss sat down with the LA Times’ Bill Plashke to discuss his grief, frustration and impatience with the team’s precipitous downfall. And as the Celtics left Boston tied to the Warriors in two games apiece in the Finals, LeBron posted this Instagram Story by Patrick Batemanesque to signal his excitement for what will be his 20th NBA season.

Now three games to two, with Game 6 tonight at TD Garden, the Celtics are on the verge of being eliminated, with the Warriors winning their fourth championship in twice as many years. While any sane Laker fan not ruled by an overwhelming sense of masochism would probably love to see Golden State close the door in the next game of this series (or two, if necessary), it’s possible the shared pain of a Celtics comeback gives the Lakers a greater sense of urgency to come out and grab their own 18th championship.

Of course, I’d rather see the Lakers stay tied with the Celtics at 17 championships than fall behind by one, but if another Celtics chip gave the Lakers the fire to get the job done, I’d take it 18-18. on 17-17 every day.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not a Cowboys fan, too. You can hear it on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.