The most accurate reserves of modern memory teach us that if something can go wrong with the Lakers, it almost certainly will, and that’s not based off a small and quirky sample size.
Was it just me, or had it started to feel things were about to break a certain, uplifting, overdue way for the Los Angeles Lakers, with the scramble for playoff spots now firmly in full grapple?
A pretty solid deadline trade brought in D‘Angelo Russell and took out the lingering awkwardness of the Russell Westbrook situation, albeit merely moving that particular saga a few steps down the Crypto.com Arena corridor.
LeBron James was continuing to stack up numerical improbabilities on a nightly basis, passing Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s all-time scoring record and celebrating it by scoring and scoring and scoring some more.
There was even more than a hint of the kind of inner steel this squad has long been accused of missing, when it rebounded from a 27-point hole against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, the largest overhauled deficit in the NBA this season.
Corner turned? Not necessarily, but at 29-32 and in 12th in the Western Conference, yet only 2.5 behind Dallas in sixth, it felt like the Lakers might be coming. After all, it is the Lakers, the franchise with enough shining moments and permanent banners to feel like good times are never far away.
And then … pop.
Pop is what James felt in his right ankle when he landed after a lay-up on Sunday. “Pop” is how he described it to medical staff while being attended to. And, with the revelations that he is expected to miss several weeks, pop just went the balloon of the Lakers’ season and the possibility of anything productive coming from it.
Honestly, the only surprise should be that this comes as a surprise at all. Sure, James has been remarkably resilient on the injury front the past two decades, a part of his resumé not talked about or credited enough, given the preparatory work needed each summer to keep him in optimal shape.
But the most accurate reserves of modern memory teach us that if something can go wrong with the Lakers, it almost certainly will, and that’s not based off a small and quirky sample size.
For the purposes of conversation, disregard for a moment the 2020 championship the Lakers won during the Orlando COVID-19 bubble. That triumph was worthy and deserved, but difficult to evaluate given the strangeness of the time.
That removed, the Lakers of this generation have generally been a poor team that just doesn’t win much. 2020 excluded, there has not been a single playoff series win for 11 years. A median win tally of 33 since 2012-13. Winning seasons in downtown L.A. have been in shorter supply than a courteous driver in the same parts.
While supposed new dawns have been abundant, each of them has found disappointment to be a tireless pursuer.
There was no real reason to think it would be different now.
For the Lakers plan with a viewpoint cloaked in endearing optimism. Maybe it is the balm of the California sunshine, but they transact their business as if they have a crystal ball that everything’s just going to turn out OK. Things mostly don’t. This is basketball, and shutting your eyes and hoping for the eyes is franchise poison.
Trading away your future for Anthony Davis? Sure, of course his history of injury problems won’t flare up as frequently in Los Angeles. Hmm …
Of course, Westbrook’s style and ego would fit neatly alongside James and Davis, despite his issues elsewhere, because hey, why not? Well …
Same thing this year, with any sniff of success incumbent on James continuing to conjure statistical heft right up to the postseason, and then presumably once the playoffs had actually begun. Something had to give. It did.
With James sidelined it is hard not to see the Lakers‘ final 21 games as a forlorn enterprise. The weird, weird West sees just 8.5 games separate second spot and 13th, but the Lakers need to find some inspiration if they are to avoid getting cut adrift.
When everything is so centred around James and his abilities, as it has been all season by both necessity and design, taking it away leaves an impossible void.
Maybe a Hollywood story beckons. Without their leader, perhaps Los Angeles makeshifts its way to a run and struggles into the postseason, makes some waves, and leaves purple-and-gold smiles all over the city.
A more realistic outcome, however, is another void. In the form of an empty schedule, more sunken expectations and a long, bare summer.