The Morning Column: December 1, 2021
The Lakers had a championship team but instead of bringing the band back this season, the Lakers took a sledgehammer to the tightknit group and assembled the oldest team in the league.
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1. One of my favorite quotes about winning a championship came from Bill Parcells, who said he was actually paraphrasing Pat Riley, when he said:
“When you hoist that championship trophy over your head, and I don’t know what happens, but some mystical blood kinship is formed, and although it’s a fleeting moment, that kinship lasts for the rest of your life… It’s like a blood transfer. You get theirs and they get yours.”
I thought about that phrase after the Lakers won the 2020 championship. No team in the history of professional team sports had to go through more in one season in order to win a championship than the 2019-2020 Lakers. They were at the center of an international crisis in China at the beginning of the season. They found out about the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant and six of their friends in a helicopter crash in the middle of the season. And just as they were beginning to hit their stride and looking like the best team in the league after back-to-back victories over the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks towards the end of the season, a once in a century global pandemic shut down the season and the world.
The Lakers would go on to win the championship when the longest season in professional sports history resumed a little over four months later. The Lakers had to spend 100 days in the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando in order to win the franchise’s 17th title and when they finally left and returned home with the Larry O’Brien trophy, the blood transfer Parcells talked about was complete. It’s hard to imagine any team having a tighter bond than that group after everything they had experienced together.
2. That’s why what the Lakers did this offseason made little sense. While the Lakers were favorites to repeat last season on paper, if we took a moment to realize they are human beings instead of robots, they had no shot at winning the championship last season. The Lakers’ offseason was just 71 days; the shortest offseason in the history of major professional sports.
No team that advanced to the conference finals in the bubble, won a game after the first round the following season and three of the four teams were bounced in round one. They were completely shot and dealing with injuries that were the byproduct of a truncated season most medical experts said was a bad idea from the start.
The Lakers, understandably, could never stay healthy. LeBron James played in just 45 games while Anthony Davis played in just 36 games. But when they were healthy, they were arguably the best team in the league. When James was sidelined indefinitely after injuring his right ankle on March 20, 2021, the Lakers had the second-best record in the league and were just two games behind the Utah Jazz. They were essentially where they were a year ago and hitting their stride but had to now play without James and Davis, who would never be right moving forward that season.
3. The Lakers had a championship team in 2020 and arguably the best team in the league in 2021 when they were healthy. Their biggest offseason acquisition going into this season was going to be rest and health. To put the ridiculousness of last season’s truncated, shoehorned season into perspective, the Lakers would be celebrating the one-year anniversary of their 2019-20 championship while playing in the 2020-21 preseason, effectively encompassing parts of three seasons in one calendar year.
There was no need for the Lakers to re-invent the wheel. They had a proven winner in place. There was, however, an opportunity to bring back some of the Lakers players that were on the 2020 championship team with Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Danny Green and JaVale McGee available and willing to return to pursue the championship parade they never got but the Lakers had other plans.
4. Instead of bringing the band back, the Lakers Yoko Onoed the group. They took a sledgehammer to a team that won an NBA championship less than one year earlier.
They traded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Caldwell-Pope and Kuzma were third and fourth behind James and Davis in scoring during the Lakers’ championship season and Harrell had just been named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2020. Meanwhile, the addition of Westbrook was puzzling from the moment it happened and seemed like a mismatch on a number of fronts that we have seen play out on the court so far this season from being an inefficient scorer to being a turnover machine.
Alex Caruso was offered a four-year contract for $37 million by the Chicago Bulls but he didn’t sign it initially. He wanted to stay in Los Angeles and told the Lakers he would stay for less money. The Lakers, however, weren’t interested in offering anything more than two years for $15 million and lost him for nothing.
Jared Dudley, who was an invaluable locker room presence, wanted to stay on a minimum deal but the Lakers passed. He joined Jason Kidd’s coaching staff in Dallas.
Markieff Morris wanted to return on a minimum deal too but the Lakers weren’t interested so he signed a one-year minimum contract with the Miami Heat.
Danny Green and JaVale McGee reportedly had interest in returning after being away for less than a year but the Lakers weren’t interested in a reunion with them.
Instead, the Lakers assembled the oldest roster in the league. They added Carmelo Anthony (37), Trevor Ariza (36), Wayne Ellington (34), DeAndre Jordan (33), Kent Bazemore (32) and did a half-assed band reunion by bringing back Dwight Howard (36), Rajon Rondo (35) and Avery Brady (31), who was not with the team in the bubble.
The Lakers were a top three team in defensive efficiency the last two seasons and had one of the top three records in the league (before James and Davis were sidelined). This season they are a team hovering around .500 with a defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league.
5. No one knows for sure how good the Lakers would be this season if they had just run it back and tried their best to reassemble a team made up of players from the 2020 squad that was the No. 1 seed in the West and won the championship and the 2021 squad that had the second-best record in the league in late March before they were decimated by injuries. Judging by how well Caruso, Kuzma, Harrell and Caldwell-Pope are doing in helping Chicago and Washington become two of the top five teams in the league this season, chances are they would be in far better shape.
6. As bad as the Lakers have been this season, they actually have a chance to still be a top four team in the Western Conference. There’s a massive drop off in the West after the Warriors, Suns and Jazz. The Lakers are in a group of seven teams separated by a game or less and could easily be the No. 4 seed and have home court advantage in the first round if they get healthy. Do I see them beating Golden State or Phoenix if they get past the first round? No, but I don’t see any team touching them at the moment. We’re talking about the top two teams in the league at 18-3 and Phoenix is currently riding a 17-game winning streak after beating the Warriors.
The Lakers might not have won the championship this season if they brought the band back but they would have had a better shot than the new group they assembled.
7. Here are some odds if you’re thinking about placing a wager today brought to you by Circa Sports.
8. Here’s the local pro sports schedule today brought to you by Yaamava’.
7:00 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights at Anaheim Ducks – Bally Sports West
7:30 p.m. Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers – Bally Sports SoCal
9. Here are the “get in” prices for tickets locally on TickPick if you’re thinking about going to a pro sports game today.
Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers – $6
Vegas Golden Knights at Anaheim Ducks - $22
10. On Tuesday’s The Arash Markazi Show, we talked about USC signing Lincoln Riley as their new head football coach and what that means for the future of USC football and the Pac-12.
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