“MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
– Dante Alighieri/Every Lakers fan
The 2021-22 Lakers are officially dead. It was a merciful end to a team that has been on life support since going 0-6 in the preseason. But I’m not here to spit on the grave of the departed. Rather, I offer empathy. I wholeheartedly volunteer to play the role of Virgil and help mourning Lakers fans navigate their way through the nine circles of hell.
A fair warning before proceeding: “Abandon all hopes ye who enter here.”
First Circle: Limbo
The first circle is home to the virtuous sportswriters and podcasters. This is not a place of punishment so much as regret. Say hello to Bill Simmons, Jackie MacMullan, Zach Lowe, Marc Stein, and a bunch of lesser souls who all drank too much of the Lakers’ bubble Kool-Aid and were too reverent of the false god-king LeBron James.
They ignored the divine revelations that have been made known in the years since LeBron took his talents to Hollywood:
• 2018-19: missed the playoffs
• 2019-20: Disney bubble ring*
• 2020-21: out in the first round as the seventh seed
• 2021-22: missed the playoffs
These heathens refused to acknowledge the self-evident and immutable truths that the Lakers were old, did not have enough defense and shooting and athleticism, LeBron and Anthony Davis were not durable, and Russell Westbrook fit like O.J. Simpson’s glove.
Second Circle: Lust
The Bronsexuals. Nick Wright, Shannon Sharpe, Jay Williams, Kendrick Perkins, Jason McIntyre—guys who drank more than just LeBron’s Kool-Aid, if you know what I mean. Perk even predicted 70 wins for a team that wouldn’t even reach half of that.
These guys are so blinded by their lust for LeBron that they think he deserves zero blame for the Lakers’ dysfunctional season. The only thing that matters to these false prophets is that a 37-year-old LeBron is averaging 30.3 points per game in year 19. “He literally has to score 50 for them to win,” is what they say. Which is just terrible logic, because Kobe Bryant was 6-0 when he scored 60 or more—but only one game came in a title season.
Third Circle: Gluttony
The Lakers overindulged on star power in the offseason. They added two top 75 players in Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, plus the biggest snub on the 75th anniversary team, Dwight Howard. Here’s a rundown of how stacked this team was on paper:
They almost signed DeMar DeRozan and acquired Buddy Hield from the Kings, but Rob Pelinka nixed these moves after LeBron and Westbrook started their bromance. Would DeRozan and Hield have made the Lakers better? Probably, given that DeRozan is having an All-NBA year in Chicago, while Hield would have provided them with much-needed shooting.
Fourth Circle: Greed
This level of Hell is reserved for those who care more about individual stats than team success.
Once AD started missing games in December, it became clear that LeBron’s priority was catching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record and winning a second scoring title. Many expected Westbrook to take on more of the scoring load, but LeBron never allowed Russ to be comfortable in the system. Westbrook became the convenient scapegoat, but let’s not forget that he was still a viable co-star on playoff teams before he went to LA. In his last two seasons, he reached the second round with James Harden at Houston and made the playoffs with Bradley Beal in Washington.
Defense is the best indicator of how much a player wants to win because it’s mostly about effort. And this is what we got from LeBron every night:
30 points and zero defense. Sounds like Melo has had a profound influence on LeBron.
Fifth Circle: Anger
We’ll probably have to circle back to this as the final destination for some of you Lakers fans. Far too often, you’ve directed your fury at Russ. Hurled insults at him and his family. Called him “Westbrick.” Even wished his family ill.
But Russ is just doing his job. He is a career 43.8% shooter; he’s shooting 44.4% this year. It was your own unreasonable expectations that he’ll turn into Desmond Bane. Yes, Russ has been a bad fit, but we all knew that when they got him.
When you direct all that verbal abuse at someone, you can’t expect a proud man like Russ to take it like Chris Rock. You’ll be fighting with him for eternity on the River of Styx.
Sixth Circle: Heresy
This is the place for those who rejected a universal basketball dogma: Michael Jordan is the GOAT.
There are few true parallels between Jordan’s and LeBron’s careers. One is 1998/2014, when both played Finals rematches against great teams (Jazz and Spurs both won 62 games) led by all-time great power forwards (Karl Malone/Tim Duncan) while having to deal with injuries to their own co-stars (Scottie Pippen/Dwyane Wade). We know how those ended: Jordan won his sixth title with “The Last Shot”; LeBron got blown out by 15 points per game in a gentleman’s sweep.
This year may be another good candidate. You can juxtapose the 2022 Lakers with the 2002 Wizards featuring a 38-year-old MJ. Just before the 2002 All-Star break, Jordan was averaging 25.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists while leading Washington to a 27-21 record, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. His teammates? Rip Hamilton, Chris Whitney, Courtney Alexander, Tyronn Lue, Hubert Davis, Popeye Jones, Christian Laettner, Kwame Brown, and Jahidi White—which seriously reads like the “Who He Play For?” All-Stars.
Jordan injured his knee on Feb. 7, played through it before having an in-season surgery, missed 22 games, came back for the final stretch as a sixth man, saw his scoring average dip to 22.9, and the Wizards ultimately fell short of the postseason. Here’s the thing though: even with the injury and a roster chock-full of journeymen, the 2002 Wizards still managed to win more games (37) than the stacked Lakers (31 with three games left). The Wizards were 30-30 when Jordan played; the Lakers were 25-31 with LeBron. But the difference goes beyond the win-loss record. Jordan literally did what he could to save the season—the in-season knee surgery and accepting a bench role—while LeBron only looked like he was doing everything by putting up empty calories, many of them with the Lakers down 25. That’s what separates the GOAT from the great.
Heretics have no doubt been poisoned by the Bronsexuals who reside in the second circle. But they are condemned to an eternity of flaming tombs because they refuse to accept that Jordan is the GOAT despite Bill Simmons, John Hollinger, ESPN, The Athletic, some random stranger on social media, and Cleveland fans preaching them the gospel truth.
Seventh Circle: Violence
This circle is reserved for those who are violent in life. Pretty self-explanatory.
Eighth Circle: Fraud
You’ll find the con artists here. Those who knowingly peddle false narratives pre-approved by the Klutch Propaganda Ministry. And, of course, the king himself,
LeBron has deceived us about participating in the dunk contest.
Reading Malcolm X’s autobiography.
Watching the Godfather.
The broken hand.
His shoulders being built for a reason.
And the “narrative ENERGY”—whatever that means.
Ninth Circle: Treachery
A frozen wasteland occupied by characters straight out of Game of Thrones: Jeannie Buss, Pelinka, Rich Paul, and LeBron’s LeGM alter-ego.
The Lakers’ biggest problem this year was their roster. They could’ve had DeRozan and Hield in lieu of Westbrook. But LeBron vetoed those moves. They could’ve also re-signed Alex Caruso, who would’ve improved their defense, but chose to go with Talen Horton-Tucker—a Klutch client.
As the Westbrook experiment went south, LeBron and Klutch reportedly pressured Pelinka to trade Westbrook in a bid to undo their offseason mistake. When Pelinka balked at throwing a first round pick to get Houston’s John Wall (who, you guessed it, is also a Klutch client), things reached a boiling point.
In the immediate aftermath of the trade deadline, LeBron went on a passive-aggressive media tour during the All-Star break: lavishing praises on OKC’s Sam Presti, leaving the door open on a return to the now-promising Cavs, and openly talking about his desire to play with Bronny.
Then reports surfaced that the front office were pressuring Frank Vogel to demote Westbrook to the bench. Even Phil Jackson’s name got dragged into the mix, after reports emerged that Buss had been in contact with her ex-fiancé about team matters all season long.
Most of these tend to reflect poorly on the front office, so it’s quite easy to deduce which side is leaking the information. Klutch was trying to lay the blame on Pelinka, but he—with Buss’s support—wasn’t having any of it. BS mentioned in his podcast that Buss stood up to Klutch and basically told LeBron’s team that this is their mess. All these sound like the perfect screenplay for HBO’s Winning Time sequel.
One final tip before we leave hell: If you ever see a man with a knife still sticking out of his back, say a little prayer, that’s Russ.
* I didn’t forget about the asterisk. The bubble was a shameless money grab by the NBA in the middle of the pandemic. The setup clearly benefitted the Lakers the most, with an aging LeBron and the injury-prone AD. The 20-week regular season break and the elimination of home-and-away travel prevented their bodies from breaking down, as they would have under normal circumstances. How do we know this for a fact? Because outside the bubble season, neither LeBron nor AD has played more than 60 games in a season as a member of the Lakers.
Also, Davis, who was making the first deep playoff run of his career, didn’t have to go through the pressure cooker in front of an opposing team’s home floor. Every superstar had to go through it—LeBron himself experienced it at the TD Garden early in his career. It’s a baptism of fire.
Sure, I can concede that the Lakers were the best team under the specific set of circumstances in the bubble and deserved to win something, but those circumstances did not resemble actual NBA basketball and that “something” is not the equivalent of a proper NBA championship.