As a purple and gold fan, it’s frustrating enough to see how the guy who made a choice after the Lakers picked Lonzo Ball second overall in the 2017 NBA draft led his team to the NBA Finals. Knowing he idolized Kobe, so deeply in love with the purple and gold that he occasionally accents his already emetic green uniforms with Bryant’s signature armband only sickens me.
No more 19, but still only 24 years old, Jayson Tatum will be a fixture in the NBA for a very, very long time as one of the NBA’s most important superstars. And if Brad Stevens can actually walk and chew gum at the same time, he’ll do everything in his power to uphold longstanding franchise traditions and Make sure Tatum is a Celtic until the second he’s no longer useful (even if his sporting degradation comes from injury for the benefit of the franchise like they did and are doing with Kevin McHale, Isaiah Thomas with Robert Williams).
But regardless of whether the Celtics can actually finish the job this time, Tatum’s rise to legitimate superstardom — along with Jaylen Browns, btw — gives Boston a much better chance of winning their 18th championship ahead of the Lakers, as it currently does .
Alternatively, prior to July 29, 2021, the Lakers again looked like potential championship favorites as long as their top duo could stay on the court. They had a large reserve of homegrown talent that suited their stars well, giving them defensive infrastructure to keep them in games long enough for LeBron and AD to lead — and in the fourth quarter, a top-three Net ratings maintained in both 2019-20 and 2020-21 along with a top 3 defense in both years.
Rather than lick their wounds and roll back with it as it is after injuries to LeBron and Anthony Davis eroded their championship chances in 2021-22, the Lakers decided they’d had enough and opted to do things differently . Bold from the franchise’s record-breaking 17th championship just the previous season, the Lakers’ front office finally gave in to LeBron’s constant demands for more playmaking to ease his regular-season burden.
In retrospect, eliminating the entire supporting cast for Russell Westbrook has to be one of the most destructive single transactions in NBA history. Coupled with LeBron’s public preference to play more off the ball and the franchise’s decision to take the cheaper route to a shallower roster build, the Lakers’ disastrous 2021-22 campaign feels like the result of a certain organizational complacency. In addition to the collective entitlement, the Lakers were looking for seasoned veterans who wanted to add some championship hardware to their trophy cases already filled with individual awards. The Lakers produced a lineup unable to do the small things necessary to win possessions, quarterfinals, and ultimately enough games to even make a play-in appearance, let alone an actual one Mooring after the season.
As the team collectively began to understand the immeasurably large gap between their aspirations and reality, these vets lacked the night-to-night motivation needed to keep things competitive. 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 pulled out of games only to pull themselves together after already falling behind through an insurmountable deficit were.
After what I can safely describe as one of the most disappointing campaigns in professional sports of all time, members of the organization seem to be saying exactly the right thing as the Celtics move closer to another championship. Just before the Celtics earned a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss sat down with the LA Times’ Bill Plashke to share her heartbreak, frustration and impatience at the team’s precipitous fall. And as the Celtics left Boston tied with the Warriors at two games apiece in the Finals, LeBron posted this Patrick Bateman Instagram Story to signal his excitement for his 20th NBA season.
Now three games to two, with Game 6 tonight at the TD Garden, the Celtics are on the verge of elimination with the Warriors winning their fourth championship in twice as many years. While any sane Laker fan who isn’t ruled by an overwhelming sense of masochism would probably love to see Golden State shut the door in the next game in this series (or two, if need be), it’s possible that the shared pain A Celtics comeback leads to a greater sense of urgency for the Lakers to go out and capture their own 18th championship.
Of course, I’d rather see the Lakers level with the Celtics at 17 championships than fall behind by one, but if another Celtics chip would give the Lakers the fire they need to get the job done, I’ll take 18-18 17 -17 every day.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered it Yanks in SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley – no, he’s not a Cowboys fan too. You can hear him on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.