“Lakers #1” is something a good buddy of mine say to one another whenever the Lakers do well. In recent years that phrase had fallen off quite a bit. We made it a point to got to STAPLES at some point every year, this year we were unable to make that journey as we had loose plans to catch a game near the end of the regular season. Obviously planetary events altered those plans. So, for my friend, for the Laker fans around the globe, and for all of us Lakerholics here I’d like to say it again: LAKERS #1!
- LeBron James is an incredible talent. You might not have cheered when he became a Laker, you may have had another player that you thought might fit better alongside the Lakers who were on the team at that point in time, but there is little doubt that The King is among the best to ever lace them up. If not the best. His 27th post season triple-double was a gem. 28 points (on 13-20 shooting), 14 boards, 10 assists, with a steal to only a solitary turnover. James trails only Magic Johnson (30) for post-season triple-doubles. Here’s hoping that happens sometime next year. One last thing on James: I have little to no doubt that he was the right man to bring this franchise back to prominence and have felt that way for some time. His everyday quest for greatness isn’t something you can quantify on a stat sheet or shot chart. His gravitas, style and personality both on and off the court allowed the Laker franchise to recede from it’s drama-filled decade of no banners and focus more on just being an NBA team. The drama that surrounded the Lakers this year was generated externally, not internally and I think that went a long way to fostering the winning environment we fans are enjoying today.
- Anthony Davis and his 100% correct right answer. “I have no idea” is his direct quote in terms of whether he was returning as a Laker or not. Man… I know it’s the job of a journalist and all but, in these times, after what these men and their families went through–what the world is going through still…can we let him have an evening of enjoyment and celebration? Davis was a monster on defense last night and was everything the Lakers could have hoped for when they traded burgeoning All Star Brandon Ingram and host of other complimentary players for him last summer. His cool, jazzy style meshed perfectly with James’ hard-driving power chord attack. The two together bought into coach Vogel’s defense and the rest is now history. He is a Laker Legend no matter what happens. I fully expect him to return and I expect it to be on a large contract. But even if, for whatever reason, he does not…it won’t matter to me as that will be a personal decision that Davis, his family and his agent will make. If you ask me I think it’s a done deal and he was being a young human enjoying something he’s worked extremely hard his entire life for.
- The Last of the Mohicans (aka Kyle Kuzma). Kyle was once a member of the heralded and well-regarded Laker Youth movement. Caruso wasn’t really a part of that, that’s a different bullet point. I’ll wager that few Laker faithful thought that Kyle would be the last one to be in purple and gold, holding the Larry O’ and soaking in the bubbly. It took a redefinition of his game and embracing a secondary role for him to get to this point but I think he would agree the journey has been worth it. His attention to the defensive end enabled him to overcome his streak shooting. While he has the tools to be a solid one-on-one player he subverted that skill set to a large degree in the playoffs and contented himself to be a decent spot-up shooter and above average defender. Kyle taking on that challenge, and succeeding, is a big reason whey we did as well as we did this year. He learned what it is to be a great teammate which is an entirely different skill set than becoming a great player. In the doing he’s now learned what it feels like to be a champion.
- Speaking of Alex Caruso… His last start of the 2019-20 season was his best. His ferocity and determination on defense helped hold that end together and allowed us to absorb the loss of Avery Bradley. KCP got more minutes in his role, Rondo got healthy and able to contribute, but the decision to go whole hog on small ball in game 6 and start Caruso over Morris (who could not contain Jimmy Butler and was getting hunted on offense in game 5) was a testament to the coaches faith in him and his hard work. I doubt he’ll ever match his defensive impact on the offensive end and that’s OK. It takes guys like Caruso to make an elite NBA defense work. He never gripes about his role, minutes or shots, he’s a solid teammate and a testament to the Lakers development system. What a journey from “who is that Ernie Johnson look-a-like?” on TNT a couple years back to having one more ring to show off at parties than Charles Barkley.
- Coach Frank Vogel. I saved the best point for last. We knew of the greatness of James, the impact of Davis and we’re familiar with the stories of the young Lakers. Frank Vogel was approximately zero people’s first choice to coach the Lakers, probably not even in his own mind. In the end, it’s been revealed yet again that what the people say is one thing but it’s what a person does that defines the times. During the game if you were listening to the audio Frank Vogel at one point was telling his team they were in the midst of a defensive masterpiece. That is truth. While the Heat did run the score up on us towards the end of the game to make it look like less of a blow out the fact that we held them to 36 half time points is astounding. Truly a remarkable accomplishment and it was done through hard work, great shot contests and adroit passing lane coverage in the middle of the floor. It almost felt like the Lakers had been laying a trap for Miami throughout the Finals and sprung it in game 6. The Heat had zero answer for the Laker defensive pressure which in turn fueled our transition game and helped us dominate in paint points. Coach Vogel deserves all the credit in the world for being a calm, steadying point amidst all the noise and drama his hiring was surrounded by, the events of the season, COVID and how the team navigated the Bubble. His evolution and ability to adapt to playoff realities and match ups stands in stark contract to coaches that have more name power, flashier styles of play or more experience. You’ve come a long way, Frank, and Laker Nation thanks you for bringing us along.
Honestly, I could go on. Bonus point has to go to one Jeannie Buss who just became the first female owner to win a championship…in any sport. There aren’t many female owners (true owners, I’m not talking they have a tiny share, this is Jeannie’s team and she’s made sure everyone knows) and Jeannie has long been the best of the bunch. From taking the reigns after her father’s passing, to moving the team through the twilight of Kobe’s career into the Kobe-less years, ousting Jim and Mitch, not letting Magic’s departure derail anything at all, trusting Rob “could have gotten a thing point too” Pelinka to helping the NBA as an entity as much as she does her franchise Jeannie is an excellent example of what a modern owner should embrace to be successful on and off the court. I know the Lakers have ended huddles with 1-2-3 MAMBA!!! and that is apropos, but in a lot of ways this one was also for Jeannie Buss who, at long last, did her Dad proud to the fullest degree. Congratulations, Jeannie.
Well, that’s it. That’s all I got for today. Couldn’t write this last night, had to watch the game again. It was that fun. I’m in a slight state of disbelief but it is indeed true. I checked ESPN, we’re the champions, again. It feels fitting, as well. To you Lakerholics, old, new, and even those who have moved on I say thank you. Thank you for your time, passion and fandom. The last few years haven’t been easy, nothing is guaranteed and to stay on board the Laker ship during it’s tumultuous voyage to this point hasn’t always been easy. But our faith has been rewarded. Banner #17 will one day hang at STAPLES, there will be some sort of parade at some point, and best of all we’ll begin our defense of this moment sometime next year, hopefully with some if getting to attend those games in STAPLES. So to all of you I say “enjoy this!” because these moments, like a ll good things, are fleeting. Don’t take rings for granted for they are earned not bestowed. Tip of the cap to Jimmy Butler, the Miami Heat team and all the folks who are a part of the most excellent organization. If any team was destined to match up against the Lakers this season there are a lot of reasons the Miami Heat were the most apropos. James played there, Riles came from here, Vogel never beat them and so on and so forth. They say it takes a lot of heat to correctly forge steel. That statement has never rung truer.
PS: One last tidbit, after this week I’ll be doing a fiver on every current Laker to assess their performance over the course of the season, where they stand in terms of our future and how the team might look when next it’s assembled to defend the title so keep on popping by. Thanks to LakerTom for hosting us all on his awesome site, to magicman for all the fine mojo he brings and again to all you Lakerholics who help fuel the discussion and keep the passion burning. Have a good one and if we don’t see during the off-season, however long that will be, we’ll see you next time.