Although the NBA probably will not, they should root for the Los Angeles Lakers to win the 2020 NBA Finals.
It seems as though the Lakers are always the team the media and basketball fans alike love to hate.
Basically, the only people who root for the Lakers… are fans of the Lakers.
Maybe it is because of past success and everyone’s affinity to root for the underdog or maybe it is because Lakers Twitter can get *slightly* toxic at times.
Trust me, I sometimes partake in the antics.
Whatever the reason may be, people always choose to see what they want to see when it comes to the Lakers, instead of what is clearly being shown to them.
John Hollinger of The Athletic wrote an article entitled “Why the NBA should be rooting for the Miami Heat”.
In this article, Hollinger found every way imaginable to discredit every ounce of success the Lakers have had this season, chalking it all up to their desirable location.
For example, here is one of Hollinger’s shots at the Lakers:
The Laker are here for one reason, and one reason only: Because LeBron James and Anthony Davis chose L.A. as their destination. I emphasize “L.A.” and not this franchise, because the Lakers didn’t have to do anything to lure them besides be located in Los Angeles and have the word “Lakers” emblazoned across their jerseys.
To say that the Lakers are in the Finals because they have LeBron James and Anthony Davis is completely viable, but to say that those superstars wanted to become Lakers simply because the franchise is located in Los Angeles could not be further from the truth.
When James entered 2018 NBA free agency, he could have chosen to go to the other basketball team located in the city — the Los Angeles Clippers. If it was just about location and the Clippers as an organization were supposedly in a much better state at the time, why would he not choose to take his talents to Clippers Nation?
Hollinger failed to acknowledge the culture the Lakers have spent the last 70 seasons building. They are the most storied franchise in the NBA and there is not an all-time top-10 list around that does not feature at least three Lakers players.
THAT is why James chose to come to the Lakers.
Not because of the location, the sunny days, or the palm trees, but to revitalize a franchise that had been struggling and bring them back to the promised land. The Lakers have been working for decades to build a winning-culture and history that players respect and want to be a part of.
If it was all about location and big market teams, why have the New York Knicks been absolutely horrific for the past seven seasons? They are located in New York, play in the historic Madison Square Garden, and are the most valuable team in all of the NBA (worth $4.6 billion according to Forbes).
James did not choose to go to the Knicks because they have shown true incompetence over the last decade and have failed to foster any sort of growth within their organization.
The same cannot be said for the Lakers.
Even in saying that, the Lakers have not been this huge free-agent grabbing mammoth of a team that Hollinger makes them out to be. Over the last 24 years, the Lakers only big free agent signings have been Shaquille O’Neal in 1996 and James two years ago.
Dwight Howard left the team for the Houston Rockets in 2013, LaMarcus Aldridge publicly embarrassed them for their free agency pitch in 2015, and Kevin Durant refused to take a meeting with them in 2016.
One of the most crucial pieces to their success was their ability to draft both blue-chip prospects and sleepers later in the first round and early second round, which Hollinger did manage to praise them for:
Over the past six years, picks 25 or later yielded Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac, Thomas Bryant, Svi Mykhailiuk, Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and, this year, Talen Horton-Tucker. That’s a glorious track record, without a single dud to offset them. Add Caruso, who wasn’t drafted at all, and it’s even more impressive.
Alongside those picks, the Lakers also selected D’Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram, all of which played a major role in their success today in one way or another.
Russell was the sacrificial lamb needed to get Timofey Mozgov’s contract off the books while Ball and Ingram not only contributed to landing James but Davis as well.
James saw the potential that Ball, Ingram, Josh Hart, and Kyle Kuzma possessed and he wanted to be a part of their growth until he realized that a once-in-a-generation player in Davis was available via trade.
In all reality, it is very similar to what lured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets fostered a winning culture and showed the two All-Star players that Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen were capable running mates.
While the Nets get praised for their ability to lock down Irving and Durant, the Lakers get discredited.
I guess that is what happens when you have sixteen championship banners hanging in your rafters.
Not only did the team’s exceptional drafting help them sign James, but it was also literally the reason they were able to bring Davis to the team. The Lakers did not just ‘luck’ into having two of the world’s top-five players on their roster — they worked for it.
Dr. Jerry Buss instilled a winning culture and family-centric organization that never left the Lakers and players.
Sure, they had some mishaps along the way but so does every team, so why are the Lakers’ the only ones that seem to hold any sort of weight nowadays?
Let us not forget the Miami Heat themselves were in their own version of salary cap hell just a few seasons ago, having Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, and Josh Richardson all set to make between $10-15 million per season. However, they bounced back, made some adjustments, and built a championship-caliber roster.
They deserve the utmost respect and credit for that, but so do the Lakers.
Also, since when is Miami not also a huge market?
The Heat have been a desirable free agent destination for some time now and managed to sign Jimmy Butler.
The Lakers were a non-playoff team for multiple seasons and made some very, very questionable salary cap decisions but drafted well and inked a big-time free agent to a deal, but the exact same thing can be said about the Heat.
While both championship teams are being discussed, let me just address one thing really quickly.
Many media members have been discussing the ‘asterisk’ that would be placed on this championship if the Lakers were to win it due to the bubble.
Well, the sad truth is there is almost always an asterisk placed around NBA champions until everyone forgets about them the next season. During the 2011-12 lockout season, there was an asterisk placed on the Heat’s championship, but it does not seem to bother them too much.
In the 2015 NBA Finals, people say that if James had a healthy team, he would have won his third championship a season earlier. In 2016, if Draymond Green was never suspended, maybe the Warriors do not blow a 3-1 lead. In 2017 and 2018, the Warriors superteam was not given the credit they deserved simply because they were so much better than everyone else. During the 2019 Finals, if Kevin Durant never gets injured, it could have been a whole different series.
Bottom line, there are excuses made after every single NBA Finals champion hoists that Larry O’Brien trophy but at the end of the day, it counts all the same.
So when the Lakers eventually do get that moment and can finally put another trophy in owner Jeanie Buss’ office after a grueling 10 seasons, it will be because they earned it.
Not because it was given to them or because they reside in a nice, sunny state, but because while other franchises were slacking, they were instilling a championship mindset that still resonates with players more than 50 seasons later.