I’ve long joked that Los Angeles Lakers fans are like those annoying frat kids in your lecture with a “Reagan-Bush ’84” sticker on his laptop: they want to support and feel good about the idyllic and romanticized view of that thing, rather than experiencing the vulnerability and ups and downs of being an actual supporter of that thing.
As soft and complacent as Lakers fans are, the signing of LeBron James was an opportunity for Lakers fans to change my mind about them: to commit themselves to their team trying to win right here and right now instead of just trying to ride the coat-tails of bygone days. We are just about wrapping up the first year of the LeBron James experience in LA, and I’m here to deliver a message to Lakers fandom:
You got played. Hard. You got played more than Tom Thibodeau plays his two-way wings.
LeBron did not come to your city to deliver you a championship. He didn’t come to Los Angeles to win basketball. That’s not to say he doesn’t want to win, but winning is not what he came there to do. How do I know? I’m going to let you in on a little secret: if he wanted to win, he wouldn’t have gone to the Lakers.
The front office is a joke. They’ve spent on top draft picks year after year with only mild returns, and giving up the only actually valuable player they drafted to get off a bad contract which never should have happened in the first place. They let Brook Lopez, an ideal center for a LeBron team, in order to sign the bunch of washed-up goons they got this year. The only “accomplishment” this brass has is getting LeBron, who threw himself at them. The coach is unproven to say the least. His best accomplishment was a good couple months coaching the best regular season team ever. Wow, sure that one was tough. LeBron could have played with top talent whisperer Brett Brown, Brad Stevens, or an offensive mastermind like D’Antoni, but no, he wanted Luke Walton.
There were winning, proven teams with better situations in every respect that wanted him. I’m a Sixers, fan but you can’t accuse me of being selfish here: I didn’t want LeBron within 500 miles of Philadelphia. But the player who could literally pick and choose a franchise to make his own neglected teams like Boston, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and basically any other contender who would have been happy to do what they needed to do in order to make it work to sign him.
Instead, he chose LA for exactly the reason that Lakers fans love the Lakers: they’re perfectly happy to get caught up in being a celebrity instead of winning basketball games. Julian Edelman said it best: “LA is Hollywood, but Boston is a sports town.” It really is that simple. He went to LA because he wanted to just be famous. Winning would be great, but if he was producing Space Jam 2 and the Shop, he’ll be set.
And of course, the asterisk over this whole Lakers season is the 18 game absence without LeBron James due to an unprecedented injury. Prior to that, the Lakers were finally looking like a serious West playoff threat, but while he was out, that team cratered. He obviously wasn’t responsible for them losing all those games, but he also willingly put himself in a situation where their playoff life hung in the balance of Brandon Ingram’s night to night performance.
And while this team would be a likely playoff team in the East, he chose to go to the West. He knew what this was. He could have gone to the best teams in the East, where injuries wouldn’t change anything once they got into the playoffs healthy. But instead, he chose a bottom-feeder in the stacked West.
This is all of course with the tangent that obviously LeBron likes winning, and wants to do it. It’s just not what he came to LA to do. He would happily win where he would get all the praise and credit in the world, but now that they’re losing, he’s stat-padding while punting on defense all so he could avoid blame in the loss. Even if he puts up 25-10-10, leaving open shooters on a Memphis team in freefall might just lose you a game. Bricking two free throws against Phoenix might just lose you a game.
This isn’t news, either, LeBron has always taken credit and avoided blame. But at no point is he recognizing that maybe this teams lack of cohesion, roster construction, or all of the “distractions” he lements, were his own doing.
The sad reality is, if LeBron James wanted to be in a better situation than he is right now, he could have just stayed in Cleveland (as much of a joke that team has been). He would be in the East, he had the fanbase at his knees so he could half-ass the whole season and return in the playoffs like he did every year, and probably still end up in the Finals. The funny part is, I’m wondering who was misled more: The Lakers for thinking LeBron gave a shit about winning for them, or the Cavs for thinking he wanted to retire there while suspiciously never signing a long-term deal with them.