From the Rafters: WCF Are End of the Road for Lakers...for now

From the Rafters: WCF Are End of the Road for Lakers...for now

The Lakers taught everyone a really valuable lesson this 2022-23 season— People don’t tell you who you are, you tell them.

And “Make no mistake about it,” Darvin Ham said Tuesday after his team fell out of contention, “This was not a one-shot deal. We’re going to be around. We’re going to be a problem to be dealt with, I can guarantee you that.”

After missing the Playoffs last year and then losing every preseason game to tip off this season, it felt like an elephant was sitting on the chests of Lakers (players and fans) everywhere. Then one by one the team dropped their first five games. Everyone felt the weight— because it’s hard in L.A. when your Lakers are down.

By mid-November, the Lakers reached 2-10. It was bleak.

You can attribute the feeling to the same morose as when you’re in extreme credit card debt—you can’t imagine the day the debt is gone, and even though you’re making payments, nothing feels like enough.

Austin Reaves reflected on the season this past Tuesday and the malaise his team fought off, thanks to Darvin, when they were in the trenches. “I really just have to appreciate his mentality, his outlook on... life actually not even just basketball. You know when we started 2-10, obviously there’s dark days, you never wanna start like that, you wanna win every game. But I remember we were in film, and he was talking about how the sun’s gonna come up tomorrow, win, lose, draw, etc. The sun’s going to come up and we’re going to have another day to fight to get better. And just that energy and positive mentality to improve everyday kind of was just a trickledown effect.”

And so, the guys kept at it, they were making their regular payments, they battled for wins and got them. But they were only making a dent in the interest, and game after game they’d inflict their own wounds, they’d fall to teams they had business beating, they’d swipe the card.

But the way this debt accumulated; it wasn’t about the money or lack thereof; it was psychological—they had to stop pretending, they had to stop holding back from who they truly were in order to get out of it.

The team recognized this, and when the trade deadline rolled around, it was the most active trade season in the history of the franchise.

Including the deal that brought in Rui Hachimura at the end of January, Los Angeles brought in six new players and two draft picks.

As the All-Star break wound down, there was a whole new cast set to take the stage in Los Angeles. Not many paid the new personnel any mind, the majority felt the team’s story had already been written this season.

Make no mistake though, the team still believed. “When you lead with character and you get a locker room to rally around belief,” Rob Pelinka said of Darvin this week, “that’s an intangible skill, that I don’t think a lot of other coaches have—that was on full display for Darvin this year.”

Perhaps the swarm of critiques and blatant lack of belief from the outside created space for the thing that really mattered—basketball, the joy of playing basketball.

The guys went 15-7 and finished seventh in the Western Conference, not bad cruising down from thirteenth. Maybe it was a fluke some people probably thought. But a lot of people started to widen their eyes; they started to believe too.

And the team? They stay centered in themselves. Each member not only understood their part, they recognized that the person they are, the player they are, assembled something way bigger together than they’d be alone.

But before a proper induction into the Playoffs the Lakers had to prove themselves again, once more, after doing it 22 times since February.

And they did, defeating the Timberwolves in the Play-In Game and securing their place in the postseason run against the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

The guys dismantled Memphis and then put the defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, in checkmate, both series in six.

“2-10 to this,” everyone and their mother couldn’t stop saying, “How?”

It was until the Western Conference Finals, when Denver came along and made things make sense again. It took four games of beautiful basketball for them to run away with a shot at a title— their first title in franchise history.

It wasn’t the Cinderella story that Los Angeles hoped for, but it was pretty damn close—less Rogers and Hammerstein, more along the lines of the Cinderella story Bill Murray recited in Caddyshack.


After 48 minutes of play, 40 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, an exhausted LeBron James addressed his thoughts on his 20th year, “It was a very challenging season for me, for our ball club. Obviously, we know what went on early on and whatever the case may be. It was a pretty cool ride, but I don’t know. I don’t like to say it was a successful year, because I don’t play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career.”

Yeah, even after everything they accomplished, ultimately the Lakers fell short of their primary goal this season.

If it wasn’t a successful year, was it a failure?

Failure, a word that carries so much negative connotation— failure isn’t bad though. Failure’s good. Failure shows you who you are, what you’re really made of.

The Lakers have known who they are though; they’re defiant of low expectations, they’re relentless and will fight until the very end... but now, everyone else knows who they are too.

“I texted him,” Austin said of Bron, “And just appreciated him for accepting me, trusting in me, and giving me an opportunity to be myself, help us win basketball games.”

This is what this Lakers team did for one another.