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The Lake on Fire: How Three Buzzer Beaters and a Lack of Professional News Conferences Shaped the Lakers Season

Among some of the great things that happen in any type of organized and/or televised basketball, arguably the best happen within the dwindling seconds of the game. One team is up by 1 or 2, the other has possession with mere seconds left. The ball is pushed up the floor usually met with the force of the defender. Before the buzzer sounds the ball leaves said ball pusher hands. The fate of the game is now reliant on gravity and possibly the experience of the shooter under the bright lights. Everyone holds their collective breath. Real Drama. The ball falls through the net. The team wins. Chaos ensues. This is what they call in contemporary times as the Buzzer Beater.

The story of the Lakers predicament could’ve started (albeit the turd show was already in motion) during an event similar to this in the friendly confines of Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena. On February 7th, 2018 the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves are tied at 138 a piece with eight seconds left in the overtime.

Just beyond mid court, Jimmy Butler, a guard for the Wolves is pounding the rock. His teammates are moving about setting the play up for him. Once a junior college player who was picked in the first round by the Chicago Bulls then in 2015 awarded the Most Improved Player he is an example of what hard work and a little can-do can get your far in life. Butler later revealed that he despised what he perceived as not the same type of efforts from his fellow teammates Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns, both overall number one draft picks with gigantic salaries. After many public spats and an infamous practice, the brass in Minnesota would ship his talents to the City of Brotherly Love. But for now, he is trying to get his team the win.

Jeff Teague, the point guard for Minnesota, sets a screen at the three point that would have Butler faced one on one with young Cavs forward, Cedi (jetty) Osman. Butler puts his head down and charges toward the rim, puts a soft left handed touch toward the rim making it past the outstretched arm of his defender. But lurking on the weak side was a defender who knew the play was happening as soon as the screen from Teague came. This defender stayed in the shadows as to not alert Butler, and came flying high to emphatically swat away the shot as soon as the ball left his hands. The only type of player to make this kind of play would be someone with equal high basketball IQ, athleticism and will to win. In this instance that player was LeBron James.

The Chosen One was a man on a mission in the 2017-2018 season. With an unbelievable amount of career minutes already under his belt, he was on pace to participate in all 82 games at an elite level. James had an extra motivated hop in his step. Cleveland has a team that is exceeding expectations after being been spurned the previous off season by star point guard Kyrie Irving. James and Irving had led Cleveland to a miraculous comeback against the Warriors in 2016 to give the city their first championship in decades. A year later, Irving requested a trade under the pretense that he no longer wanted to play Oates to Lebron’s Hall. An offer from the Boston Celtics comprises a group of players that Cleveland deems appropriate and a deal is made. The haul brought back to the Cavs was Croatian 7 footer Ante Zizic, tough defensive minded forward Jae Crowder and the amazing 5 foot 9 Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas was coming off a regular season in which he averaged 29 points a game and finished fourth in the voting for Most Valuable Player. Not only that, he played in a playoff game for Boston a day after learning his younger sister had passed in a car accident in his native Washington. A week or so after the funeral, Thomas would score 53 points in a playoff game against the Wizards who they defeated in seven games to face Lebron, Kyrie and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Isaiah would end up missing the final two games of the series due to a hip injury, leading the Cavs to a victory where they would meet the Golden State Warriors in a eventual defeat.

When Boston General Manager and former player, Danny Ainge, caught wind of the trade rumors involving Irving he offered a trade packaged including the Boston hero Thomas. Danny Ainge and the Boston powers that be knew the hard, cold truth. Thomas’ hip injury was likely to become debilitating and the offer that returned an once in a generation talent like Kyrie was truthfully pennies on the dollar.

Back in Cleveland, Lebron blocks Butler’s shot and the rebound falls in the hands of JR Smith. Smith exemplifies a perfect time to call a timeout in a late game critical situation. This being something he would forget to do in June of the same year in a similar circumstance. On the floor with LeBron is Smith, Osman, Tristan Thompson and Georgetown alum Jeff Green. Note ably not involved is Thomas, Crowder or newcomers alike in Dwayne Wade or Derrick Rose. These four players have seen better days but now are compiled together amongst the scramble of Irving’s trade. The lot of them have faced injuries, missed opportunities. Suffice to say it has not worked out well so far.

Jeff Green heaves the ball toward LeBron who catches the ball with a second left. James grabs the ball out of the air like a wide receiver , defended by Butler, steps back and sinks the shot for a victory for the Cavs. James and his teammates run toward each other in excitement, but one lost in the mix is Isaiah Thomas who James seems to blantantly ignore as he jump in the arms of teammates. Well this should right the ship to what has already been a rocky season, right?

February 8th, 2018 TRADE DEADLINE

ISAIAH THOMAS, CHANNING FRYE TRADED TO THE LAKERS

DWYANE WADE TRADED TO THE HEAT

JAE CROWDER, DERRICK ROSE TRADED TO THE JAZZ

IMAN SHUMPERT TO THE KINGS

All within a couple of hours of each other. To say this was an overhaul would be an understatement. It seemed as if LeGM pulled in to the drive thru of the league office, and ordered a No 3, a combo special which included a brand new team and locker room atmosphere. To his credit, it did work, leading a team with George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance among others to the NBA Finals was an accomplishment in it of itself.

The perceived ineptitude was even parodied on Saturday Night Live which featured Cavalier teammates as regular on the street people who wore jeans or do the thing when you roll the ball up the court to LeBron. The supporting cast was obviously much better. The truth was that this team rested squarely on the shoulders of King James.

This all came to a head in Game 1 of the NBA Finals facing once again the Golden State Warriors, when James posted an amazing stat line including 51 points in a David vs. Goliath-esque moment against the larger then life super team including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant among others.

After an incredible back in forth battle, the Cavaliers saw themselves tied 107 to 107 with George Hill on the charity stripe with 4.7 seconds to go. Hill rims out the free throw, the ball somehow finds his way to J.R. Smith who seemed to do an anti-box out but managed with possession nonetheless. In a moment only describable as mind-boggling (and the antithesis of the heads up play he made in the aforementioned game against Minnesota), J.R. Smith dribbles away from the hoop in a manner of someone wasting away the final seconds of a victory. In this case, the game was tied, thus sending in to overtime.

Smith’s brain fog broadcasted in front of a national audience left everyone confused , not excluding James who was frantically jumping up and down either asking for the ball or some sort of action. To much of the greater Ohio’s dismay Smith’s lack of awareness would ultimately led to the Warriors dominating the overtime period and later the rest of the series as they swept the finals to cap off their second straight championship.

When LeBron appears to the media for the press conference after the Game 4 loss, he is in a hand cast. After the missed opportunity in Game 1, he had punched something in the locker room which reportedly resulted in a broken hand. Similar to his hand the relationship between the Cavs, his teammates and his home state, is fractured.

Cut to February 7th, 2019, LeBron is a Los Angeles Laker, a move he made as the free agency clock struck midnight, giving the impression that the move was in motion weeks or months before. In times past whenever LeBron switched teams the transaction was an event on its own. Starting with “The Decision”, a televised spectacle where he swapped his wine and gold of Cleveland for the black and red of Miami. James recieved mass amounts of criticism for the public nature of this move but in the process raised millions for the Boys and Girls Club of America.

When going back to Cleveland from Miami four years later he had a huge welcome back concert in Cleveland where he exclaimed “I’m back!” to thousands of fans. When he signed on with the Lakers there was no televised event or huge concert but merely an instagram post of Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, LeBron’s agent Rich Paul and James himself sitting at a kitchen table. Just like that, with not a boom but a whimper, LeBron is a Laker.

Former Lakers great and current organizational president Magic Johnson signaled that he was going to land two superstars in the off season. Isaiah Thomas was traded to the Lakers from Cleveland which made salary cap space for the superstars that Magic promises. The money is available, LeBron is landed, but no one follows King James to Tinseltown.

Paul George a Los Angeles native, rejected the offer to join the Lakers and return to his hometown instead opting to stay pat in Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook. George would go on to have a MVP caliber season. In lieu of signing the talents of a superstar, they settled for the likes of Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson, re-signing Kentavious Caldwell Pope while letting Brook Lopez and Julius Randle walk in free agency. Both of them would have career years, Lopez would come to light as an incredible 3 point shooter in Milwaukee meanwhile Randle averaged a career high in points for New Orleans.

The Lake Show settled for a young core including Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram paired with playoff experience veterans. Magic later said that he wanted to sign “tough” players. This evolved in to a group of veterans with a glaring misstep of no one on the roster known for their three point shooting. The mis-mash team that lacked defensive awareness teamed up with LeBron’s career low percentage from the free throw line resulted in a multitude of close losses. On Christmas Day, the Lakers at 20-14 would beat the current champions Warriors, but lost James in the game due to a groin injury and Rondo to a broken hand.

The losses began to pile up after that and the trade rumors began to bubble up to the surface. Anthony Davis, a star forward in New Orleans (who happens to share the same agency as James), was growing tired of what he saw as a losing situation with the Pelicans. In an unprecedented situation, Davis’ agent solicited a trade from the New Orleans brass, but not just to any location, he wanted to become a Laker. Essentially everybody on the Lakers were up on the trade block for Davis in the trade proceedings that became all too public. This without a doubt created an uneasy-ness and uncertainty for those in the Lakers locker room. Would they be traded? Won’t they be traded? The toxicity surrounding the team came to a head in a loss on February 5th, in Indiana, as they a suffered a 42 point loss which involved the Indiana crowd cheering chants like “LeBron’s Gonna Trade You” to Brandon Ingram as he took his foul shots.

The trade deadline was two days later and after lots of posturing between the Los Angeles and New Orleans organizations, the talks stalled which then entailed that the Lakers young core and Anthony Davis would remain at their respective teams. Media outlets later disclosed that New Orleans never had intended to trade AD during the season. AD would later play the bare minimum minutes for the Pelicans essentially booking his ticket out of town come the off season. With the unpredictability of the trade deadline having come and gone, the Lakers found themselves up by one against the Celtics with 17 seconds to go in the TD Garden in Boston.

Kyrie Irving got his wish as the leader of the Celtics team and at this moment found himself weaving in and around various yellow jerseys to put up a contested lay up meanwhile putting his team up 1 with 12 seconds left. With no time outs remaining the Lakers had to react quickly with Ingram bringing the ball up the court then getting a screen from Tyson Chandler which faced him one on one with Al Horford. Ingram seemed to beat off the dribble and jumped past the cup to attempt a reverse layup which rimmed out. Horford tried his best effort to grab the rebound but the ball just was out his reach and resulted in a mad scramble for possession. The ball fell in to the hands of Rajon Rondo with 1.8 seconds to go and down by 1.

The TD Garden was a familiar place for Rondo. Drafted by Boston out of the University of Kentucky, Rondo would soon become the young starting point guard for a 2008 championship team where he showcased his natural ability for playmaking and a reputation for one of the highest basketball IQ’s in the game. Rondo survived the rebuilding period in Boston which saw the talents of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen moving to other teams. Rondo and Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle big personalities would clash in 2015, after the point guard is traded from the Celtics to the Dallas Mavericks. Rajon’s lack of effort and disdain for his coach was so apparent that when during the playoffs when asked if Rondo would be returning to Dallas the following season Carlisle in a rare moment of honesty for a coach with the media simply answered “No.”

Number 9 had short tenures in Chicago, Sacramento and New Orleans before signing a 1 year to join the Lakers. Rondo had met a Kobe Bryant led Laker team in the Finals twice, defeating them in 2008 and losing in seven games in 2010. Now back in Boston, the ball was in his hands with a chance for a buzzer beater against his old team. Rajon’s quick flick and the ball goes up and through the net and the game is won by Rondo’s heads up play and heroics. This seemed to be a turning of the tide for the Lakers, a big win in Boston, the trade deadline had come and gone and the playoffs were still in reach.

APRIL 9, 2019 The Lakers are 37-44. The dream of reaching the playoffs is long and gone. Injuries have ravaged the team including an ankle injuries to Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, a knee injury to Josh Hart, a highly concerning blood clot issue for Brandon Ingram and the obviously still lingering effects of LeBron’s groin injury still suffered on Christmas Day. Rajon Rondo and the aforementioned injured were all shut down in an order to preserve them for future endeavors. This has led to the likes of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Johnathan Williams playing meaningful minutes.

The Lakers face a season finale against the Portland Trail Blazers a team in the top 4 of the playoff race. Rumors have been swirling around head coach Luke Walton’s job security for weeks with various ex LeBron associates linked to the job. The media carousel reared its ugly head once again in the Lakers direction in which a report that Magic Johnson and Walton haven’t had a “meaningful” conversation in weeks, all but sealing the fate of Walton may be needing to look for employment in the near future.

Things to took a turn for the bizarre when Magic Johnson held an impromptu press conference to a handful of reporters, cameras and outreached hands with microphones, in which he unveiled his plans for the future. Those plans did not include the Lakers. “Today I am going to be stepping down as president,” Magic told the crowd. He cited his want to congratulate and help other NBA players and athletes, which in his current job would violate league rules. Earvin had been reprimanded for this behavior previously. Paul George being the reciever of tampering and simple a paying of respect to Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, for which he received hefty fines.

The front office learned of the news same as the general public. Johnson confessed he didn’t have the guts to reveal the news to his boss, Jeannie Buss owner of the Lakers.

Magic had a turbulent time as the president of the team. Some questioned the drafting of Lonzo Ball at number two, others questioned trading D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets who was once a lottery pick for the Lakers. Russell was having a career year. A first time All Star, he led his team to their first playoff appearance in years. Meanwhile, the Lakers are on the bad half of the standings in the west and Lonzo’s career so far has been marred by terrible shooting, injuries and off court drama.

Ivica Zubac, a young emerging center for the Lakers, was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Mike Muscala, much to the chagrin of Laker fans. Muscala proved to be ineffective and the neighbors in the Staples Center acquired a future starter. The Clippers were taken back by the offer, viewing it as a no brainer and absolutely jumped at the chance to acquire a young talent like Zubac.

Johnson appeared giddy, high fiving reporters and various Laker employees. An era had ended in the organization but there was still a game to played.

The Trail Blazers and Lakers are tied 101 with 6.8 seconds left, on the floor for Portland is Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Seth Curry, Enes Kanter and Moe Harkless. For the Lakers is Jemmerio Jones, Johnathan Williams, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Mike Muscala. To say this seems like a Laker team on the court from an another dimension would be quite on the nose.

The Lakers double Lillard up top which immediately creates an extra pass situation for McCollum who gets the ball and swings it over to Harkless who is wide open in the corner for an open three. Muscala and Williams rotate over to try to defend the shot but Harkless rises up and sinks the shot as time expires. 104-101, Blazers. The season began at July 2nd, with LeBron signing in LA with all the expectations of a championship team citing James’ recent success but more realistically at the least a playoff team, and ended on April 9th with the Trail Blazers ended the season on a buzzer beater against a team that more resembled the South Bay Lakers.

This will be one year that Laker fans will want to forget, from injuries to locker room shattering trade rumors to the lack of press conferences and the peculiar improvised press conference, this will without a doubt be the worst Lakers season at its current standing.

As a Laker fan myself, I can hope whoever steps in, the coach, the shot callers and the players can restore the franchise to its great glory which might’ve ended when Andrew Bynum clotheslined J.J Barea in the 2011 Playoffs in the midst of a series sweep. Restored faith occured when former Laker player Luke Walton would sign on as coach after success as an assistant to Steve Kerr in Golden State. This ship has sailed as the news of his firing may come any day now.

The appeal for the Lakers history has been their ability to acquire big time free agents, but aside from James, a team without a head coach, a solid core of players and without a face to point to as the decision maker in the front office the lack of stability will absolutely play in the players’ mind as a deciding factor whether they’ll sign or not. News is now emerging that James can’t even secure players to join him in his Hollywood production of “Space Jam 2”. It seems from the outside that James is preparing himself for life after basketball as he enters his age 35 season with many other non basketball activities on his plate.

LeBron had been known as a postseason staple before this year. Appearing in deep playoff runs the previous 13 years with his season usually ended in late June, the extended vacation starting in April for him can be viewed as rest well deserved. Only time will tell as the Lakers spend their 6th straight year watching the playoffs without a dog in the fight. But as we always say in LA, In Jim, Mitch, Byron, Luke, Magic, (Lebron?) we trust.

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