The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since the 2009-10 NBA season and are just a mere four wins away from hoisting the team’s 17th Larry O’Brien trophy.
Many media members are picking the Lakers to win over the Miami Heat, placing their faith in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Frank Vogel, and the rest of the purple and gold.
However, it was not always that way.
Since the Lakers traded for Davis, they have been criticized for at least one aspect of their 2019-20 season by almost every major sports media outlet and on-air personality. Between the Davis trade, Vogel’s hiring, Rob Pelinka’s roster construction, and the overall play of the Lakers throughout the season, just about everyone has found something to scrutinize them for.
Well, with the Lakers firmly entrenched in the Finals and dispatching of the Western Conference in just 15 games, it is time to take a look back at who was right and wrong (but mostly wrong) about the team’s championship aspirations this season.
Anthony Davis Trade
For the most part, everyone agreed the Lakers got the better end of the deal when it came to the Davis trade.
However, Skip Bayless had other thoughts.
In his first of many appearances in this article, Bayless discusses how LeBron James will never be able to get a second All-Star player alongside him in Los Angeles.
WHAT!? Now Anthony Davis opens up his wish list to ALL teams INCLUDING THE CELTICS, who have greater trade assets (picks) than the Lakers. It's starting to feel like LeBron is never going to get another star to join him in LA. What if he's stuck w the team he wanted to trade???
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) February 16, 2019
This tweet came on the heels of Davis saying that he was willing to go to whatever team would trade for him, which is a common thing to say considering how bad he wanted off the New Orleans Pelicans. Bayless took that to mean that James would never get another All-Star player to join him in Los Angeles and therefore would be ‘stuck’ with the former young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Kyle Kuzma.
Well, fast forward over a year and a half later and here the Lakers are sitting comfortably in the NBA Finals with not only James but Davis as well.
Frank Vogel Hired As Head Coach
When the Lakers hired Vogel as their head coach, the majority of buzz surrounding the move was negative.
Instead of putting hope behind the new head coach, the Lakers were criticized for failing to lock down Tyronn Lue or Monty Williams. Keep in mind, even before joining the Lakers, Vogel toted a 304-291 coaching record and that includes two dreadful seasons with the hopeless Orlando Magic.
Before taking the Magic gig, Vogel managed to hold an impressive 250-181 record and was widely regarded as one of the league’s best defensive coaches. In fact, Vogel currently has the sixth-highest playoff win/loss percentage (56.6 percent) of any coach in the NBA.
Fast forward to now and Vogel has led the Lakers to a 52-19 regular season finish while being top-five in Defensive Rating (106.1), Net Rating (5.6), Effective Field Goal Percentage (54.2 percent), and Player Impact Estimate (53.9).
Finishing fifth in Coach of the Year voting this season, which was ahead of Doc Rivers, Brad Stevens, and Mike Malone, Vogel is turning out to be an astonishing hire for the Lakers.
However, the media and even some Lakers fans just simply did not agree with the signing.
Shannon Sharpe, perhaps the team’s biggest supporter in all of sports media, was one of Vogel’s largest skeptics:
Sharpe called the hiring of Vogel ‘utterly ridiculous’ and even went as far as to criticize owner Jeanie Buss.
The negativity behind the Vogel signing did not stop here though, Colin Cowherd took it upon himself to dedicate a whole segment to what he believed was the Lakers ‘trolling’ James by hiring him:
Just to point it out, Cowherd also mentioned he did not believe a tandem of James and Davis would work in that segment along with stating that James and Kobe Bryant were ‘never tight.’
It is pretty safe to say that Cowherd was wrong about multiple things here.
The list of Vogel’s critics continues with Max Kellerman, who flat out called the Lakers a ‘dysfunctional franchise’ due to the hiring and said the move would not help the team win a championship:
The detest for Vogel’s hiring did not stop with sports journalists though, even former players such as Stephen Jackson and Richard Jefferson did not believe in his ability to coach a James-led basketball team:
In the end, almost every one of these takes was wrong and Vogel ended up being an incredible head coach in his first season alongside James. Not only did Vogel lead them to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, but he has also coached them to their first NBA Finals appearance in over a decade.
Throughout the playoffs, he has been tasked with slowing down All-Star players the caliber of Damian Lillard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Nikola Jokic, and Jamal Murray, each time finding a way to do just that.
On the bright side, let us give a shoutout to Jeff Van Gundy for actually believing in Vogel’s ability to find success with this Lakers team.
“… I think the Lakers made a great hire in Frank Vogel, I think they’re going to be a Top 5 team in the Western Conference next year …"
– ESPN color commentator Jeff Van Gundy during his appearance on The Sedano Show on ESPNLA 710 last Friday afternoon.
— The Lakers Review (@TheLakersReview) June 3, 2019
After hiring Vogel and trading for Davis, the focus then shifted to looking at the team’s roster as a whole and evaluating whether or not they could win a championship.
Despite having two of the league’s top-seven players on their roster, a slew of sports media analysts did not believe the Lakers had enough to be the Western Conference’s best team. Whether it be their lack of depth, James’ increasing age, or Davis’ injury concerns, they just could not fathom the Lakers winning it all this season.
This tweet alone highlighting ESPN’s preseason predictions column is a perfect example of the lack of faith the media had in the Lakers.
From ESPN's pre-season predictions column…revisionist history to say any of this was expected or inevitable. pic.twitter.com/026CK8z7lo
— Daman Rangoola (@damanr) September 27, 2020
Not only did they predict the Lakers be the fifth seed, but they also gave them just the fourth-best odds to win the NBA championship behind the Clippers, Bucks, and 76ers.
Ironically, none of those teams made it beyond the second round of the playoffs.
In a similar article by ESPN predicting the Western Conference Finals during the preseason, only three out of 20 experts picked the Lakers to reach the Finals and only two of them selected the purple and gold as their NBA champions.
Perhaps nobody has been as crucial of the Lakers as Cowherd, who has since completely changed his tone. Shout out to Twitter user @pickuphoop for creating this compilation of Cowherd switching his stance on his previous Lakers criticisms.
Everything in color is from one of his most recent shows on Sept. 22 while everything in black and white is from various segments throughout the season:
— pickuphoop (@pickuphoop) September 22, 2020
Cowherd literally went from saying ‘LeBron is not going to win the championship’ to praising him for being the final superstar standing in the Western Conference in a matter of months.
He was not alone in his judgement though, as former NBA player Jalen Rose (whom Kobe Bryant once dropped 81 points on) thought James was more likely to win an Emmy than a championship with the Lakers:
In Rose’s defense, this was before the Lakers traded for Davis but then again he did mention that exact scenario and still chose to make the comment.
Incredibly, since Rose made this statement, James actually has won an Emmy and since it came before he has officially won a championship with the Lakers, maybe Rose was right?
It does not end there though as ESPN’s Max Kellerman was yet again ready to confidently proclaim the Lakers as losers before the season even began.
Not only did Kellerman predict that a Kawhi Leonard-led Clippers would win the championship, but he also stated that they would do so without another superstar:
The only thing that Kellerman got right in that video was the Nuggets being the Clippers’ biggest challenge because in case you forgot, they blew a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
There are plenty of tweets or videos of analysts and media members selecting the Clippers over the Lakers, but in the end, only one Los Angeles team is left standing, and it is yet again not the one with zero franchise championships.
Just for good measure, here is Marcellus Wiley calling that the Clippers would win as series over the Lakers in three games. He probably meant to type they would allow the Nuggets to win three in a row instead.
— Marcellus Wiley 🧢 (@marcelluswiley) May 20, 2020
2020 NBA Playoffs Predictions
Oddly enough, the Lakers went from facing three of the NBA’s best teams to being considered as having an easy path to the Finals.
Heading into the series against the Trail Blazers, some were calling them the most dangerous eighth seed of all time. However, after the series ended, those same thoughts were never uttered again. Here is a quick montage of some takes before the Blazers and Lakers faced off:
Trail Blazers Lakers is going to be a movie. Blazers might end up being the most dangerous 8 seed of all-time. Damian Lilliard is a KILLA and you don’t think Carmelo Anthony is going to show out again LeBron?
— Ben Stinar (@BenStinar) August 12, 2020
Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts on Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins practicing today: “They both looked like the way we remembered them.” Portland is a dangerous threat for this restart.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 12, 2020
The Portland Trail Blazers are very dangerous
— Evan Roberts (@EvanRobertsWFAN) August 5, 2020
EARLY GAME 1 IMPRESSION: Nobody told the Trail Blazers they're only a No. 8 seed in the NBA playoffs.
— InsideHoops.com NBA (@InsideHoops) August 19, 2020
"The Portland Trail Blazers, they might have a chance to beat the Lakers."@RealJayWilliams thinks Portland could have a chance to upset the No. 1 seed in the West, if they make the 8th spot. pic.twitter.com/bm7fmjzWFF
— First Take (@FirstTake) July 6, 2020
Channing Frye says the Lakers can’t beat the Blazers in the first round without Playoff Rondo
“The Lakers have no answer for CJ and Dame.”
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) July 21, 2020
Unfortunately for the Blazers, the Lakers did end up having an answer for both Lillard and CJ McCollum as they dispatched of them in just five games.
Then, they moved onto the Rockets, who were drawing even more buzz due to their extreme small-ball lineup. The sheer amount of triples the Rockets hoisted up was thought to be a concern for a Lakers team that does not shoot beyond the arc all too well.
However, most media outlets actually picked the Lakers to defeat the Rockets and stayed away from the upset alert.
Lastly, the Nuggets and the Lakers matched up in the Western Conference Finals after Denver had just overcome back-to-back 3-1 deficits. The team dubbed ‘The Comeback Kids’ were about to face off against the one-seeded Lakers and some believed they could pull off the upset:
"The concern for the Lakers is the same deficiency we talked about all year: The lack of reliable support around their two mega superstars"@BrandonTierney @TikiBarber believe the Nuggets have a shot to pull out a stunning upset
— TikiAndTierney (@TikiAndTierney) September 23, 2020
.@mrvincecarter15 is giving the Nuggets a real chance to beat the Lakers.
"I think [Denver wins] Game 1." pic.twitter.com/RckNqU4CdH
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) September 17, 2020
In the end, the Lakers yet again silenced the doubters and gentlemen’s swept the entire conference, losing just three games.
2020 NBA Finals
The Lakers are set to face off against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals where the winner will be crowned the champion of perhaps the most tumultuous season in the history of the sport.
Just like in the previous series, the Heat are already being selected to upset the Lakers:
I earnestly think the Heat are gonna beat the Lakers.
— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) September 28, 2020
.@stephenasmith wants a word for all those already handing the Lakers a title.
"Let me put the world on notice! It is not a forgone conclusion that [the Lakers] would beat a Miami Heat squad [in the Finals]!" pic.twitter.com/yVNMtHoLBI
— First Take (@FirstTake) September 24, 2020
The Lakers said they wanted confetti after winning the West. The Heat said “Nope” after winning the East https://t.co/yUuaVp3XtZ
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) September 28, 2020
As honorable as it is that the Heat decided not to have confetti after winning the Eastern Conference, the Lakers should not be criticized even in the slightest for choosing to do so.
They have faced more adversity this season than any other team in the NBA and for them to finally be one step away from their ultimate goal most likely meant the world to them. They know the job is not finished, they know they still need to win four more games, and they know that all of the pressure in the world is on them to complete the mission and bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Los Angeles.
That has not stopped them in the first three rounds and it is yet to be seen whether the same will continue in the NBA Finals. If it does, then they could be celebrating their incredible achievement just a few weeks, yet again proving a bevy of sports media personalities wrong.