Column: This year’s Lakers motto was ‘I just work here’

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks on the Lakers
Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks on the Lakers last November.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

One of the part-time jobs I had while in college was late-night cashier at a 24-hour party store. As you can imagine, it got sketchy at times. But that time when a gunman came into the store to rob the place, you know what your boy LZ did? Whatever the gunman said. I wasn’t being paid to be the security guard too. More importantly, that party store wasn’t mine. I only worked there.

That is exactly how I would describe this Lakers season.

When things got sketchy, there were times when it looked as if we just had a bunch of dudes who worked for the Lakers. It wasn’t their team. Not the losses, not the boos, not the shortcomings.

Not that I can blame them. All but three of the current players played on a different team last season, and most of the new additions are on one-year deals. Why should they feel otherwise? Perhaps that partly explains why whenever an opponent jumped out on them, particularly at the start of the second half, far too often there wasn’t much of a fight afterward.


And the two most embarrassing examples of this not only bookend this season, but also define it.

L.A. had a record of 230-0 over the past 25 seasons when leading by at least 25 at some point during the game. They snapped that streak barely a week into the season, blowing a 26-point lead to an Oklahoma City Thunder team that had started the year 0-4. Worst of all, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook were playing, so it’s not as if we didn’t have stars.

The second stinger came more recently, the blown 23-point lead in a must-win battle with the New Orleans Pelicans in late March. That loss all but eliminated the team from playoff contention. More alarming, Westbrook and LeBron James played. I thought how satisfying it must have been for Pelican forward Brandon Ingram, who was often criticized for appearing not to care while in L.A., to show just how much he cared about beating his former team in such a high-stakes game.

“I’ve been out for three weeks, and to be back and win in this fashion with all my brothers, it’s special,” Ingram said. “It shows we believe in each other. ... When winning is the mentality, good things come to you, and great things came to us tonight.”

To my earlier point, has the Lakers 22nd in third-quarter margins. In the two games I pointed out, they were outscored by a combined 82-48.

In hindsight, it was rather silly to expect a team with just three returning players from a year ago — James, Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker — to not have chemistry issues. The reason they were never resolved is that mercenaries don’t normally do “us” and “ours.” Just “mine” and “theirs.”


This team came into the season with a roster full of one-year minimums. And while I understand the limitations of the salary cap and the need to be flexible in the future, I also understand it’s hard to get tourists to buy real estate.

On paper the Lakers were supposed … wait … why bother with the recap, right? We all know this team is now one of those paper champions we drool over at the start of the season.

“Look who they have!”

“There is so much talent on this team!”

“How do you beat them?”

And then the postseason comes around.

“What went wrong?”

“Is this the biggest choke job in (pick your team) history?”

“Changes have to be made!”

This veteran-heavy Lakers squad came into the season already being second-guessed because of the ages of some of the new additions. But who would have predicted James and Davis would miss the postseason altogether? And now, with so many trade rumors swirling about, who knows whether all three superstars will return next season? If they do, they clearly have a lot to fight for, because this dismal season … this is theirs. They own it.

The supporting cast is a different question.

When the Lakers cobbled together a roster after trading so many assets to acquire Davis, the result was a 2020 championship for several reasons. Health was a huge part of it. But they also wanted to win it for Kobe Bryant, who died near the midway point of the season, in January 2020. Some were seeking redemption or embracing a second chance. For whatever reasons, there was a sense of ownership as to how the season would end.

I don’t think this team has felt that way in a while now. As the roster is set to experience its fourth significant overhaul in as many off-seasons, obviously the front office will look to reload with new vet minimums, new mercenaries. Maybe with some luck, health will be on our side and all will be well.

But I also hope some of the current players do come back. The ones who want something more than just to work for the Lakers. There must be some who want to be Lakers. The ones who care how the season ends and want to come back to help clean up this mess.