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Column: Lakers’ misguided season has been a collection of pratfalls and airballs

Lakers players sit on the bench late in the game against the Nuggets.
Lakers players — including, from left, LeBron James, Anthony Davis (3) and Russell Westbrook (0) — sit on the bench late in a 129-118 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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After the Lakers blew a lead and lost to Golden State in the first game of this season, LeBron James was asked whether he had any advice for Russell Westbrook, who had made all of four baskets.

“I told Russ to go home and watch a comedy,” James said.

It turns out Westbrook didn’t need to go home for that.

His team was a comedy. The Lakers’ play would be laughable. The next 5½ months were pure slapstick.

In producing the most disappointing season in franchise history, the Lakers have been one big joke wrapped around a series of punchlines.

Famous first words

The Lakers were 0-6 in the preseason, losing by an average of 15 points per game.

“Not concerning,” coach Frank Vogel said.

Oh, he got it

Before the season opener, Dwight Howard took the microphone, welcomed the then-Staples Center crowd and ended his speech with, “Let’s get it!”

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Three days later, during the Lakers’ second game against Phoenix, Anthony Davis angrily grabbed Howard by the jersey and shoved him backward into the Lakers’ bench.

Lakers Anthony Davis jokes with Russell Westbrook after a game against the Cavaliers
The Lakers’ Anthony Davis, left, jokes with Russell Westbrook after a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 29.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It’s literally that terrible

In early January, with role players slowly returning from injuries, the Lakers beat Atlanta to win their fourth consecutive game.

“We’re getting our guys back,” James said. “It’s literally that simple.”

It would be the last time the Lakers would win consecutive games, giving them a streak-less stretch of almost three months that ranks as the NBA’s worst this season.

About ‘getting our guys back’ …

When James and Davis play together, the Lakers are 11-11.

Anthony Davis is playing with painfully sore foot and tells L.A. Times, “I’m not going to sit down and quit if I feel like I can ... get out there.”

April 4, 2022

Foreigner in a land of good shots

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In a mid-January visit to Sacramento, the operations folks at Golden 1 Center played “Cold As Ice” every time Westbrook missed a shot.

He attempted 14 shots that night. The song was played 12 times.

Trolling in the deep

When he wasn’t busy ruining the Lakers, de facto general manager Rich Paul found time to bring girlfriend Adele to games.

Singer Adele uses her purse to hide from the TV camera.
Singer Adele uses her purse to hide from a TV camera while she sings along to her song being played at the arena while attending a Lakers home game in October.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

During one such game, the U.S. Sun reported that she “can’t stop laughing.”

The Lakers as laxative

During one of the many times when the criticism of Vogel reached a deafening level, James refused to join the naysayers’ chorus.

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“I’m not a negative person,” he told reporters. “So if you got something to ask me besides trying to s— on somebody, I’ll answer those. ... It seems like y’all are in s— mode right now.”

Then there’s denial mode

At one point in mid-January, it appeared Vogel could be fired at any minute.

“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” he said. “It’s not hard to do my job.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel argues with a referee during a game against the Nuggets.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel argues with a referee during a game against Denver on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He was definitely under siege. It became impossible to do his job. Perhaps no Lakers coach has lost a team like he lost this team.

He’ll be fired at season’s end, and he’ll be deeply grateful for it.

Contagious coaching

David Fizdale is the charismatic and respected top assistant coach and was considered a natural to move into Vogel’s spot, except, um, when Vogel missed six games because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Fizdale went 1-5.

Did he send them a thank-you card?

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In the middle of the season, Jerry West said the Lakers took away his lifetime season tickets.

Pelinka posterized

During the week surrounding the All-Star break, James was angry that Lakers basketball boss Rob Pelinka said James was OK with the team’s inactivity at the trade deadline, and he let the world know it.

First, he retweeted a photo of Rams general manager Les Snead wearing a T-shirt with the words, “F-them picks,” referring to Snead’s penchant for trading draft picks to win now.

“LEGEND,” James tweeted. “My type of guy.”

Then he went out of his way to praise … Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti?

“The MVP over there is Sam Presti. … I don’t understand this guy’s eye for talent. … This guy is pretty damn good,” James said.

LeBron James reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.
LeBron James reacts after being introduced as part of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team during All-Star weekend in Cleveland.
(Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)

The problem, of course, is that James and Paul shaped this team along with Pelinka.

They were all pretty damn bad.

Losing combinations

The front office built a team so old, so mismatched and so ineffective, the Lakers have used 39 starting lineups this season, or basically a new one every other game.

What are you waiting for?

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James told the Athletic that “the door’s not closed” on a return to Cleveland.

Maybe she wants to join him

While watching the Lakers trail New Orleans by 25 points in the third quarter of a game in late February, co-owner and governor Jeanie Buss suddenly stood up from her seat and walked out.

If the brick fits …

In early March, with his struggles now symbolic of the Lakers’ nightmare, Westbrook lashed out against fans who would chant “Westbrick.”

“Westbrick, to me, is now shaming. It’s like shaming my name. It’s my legacy for my kids,” he said. “I think a lot of times I let it slide, but it’s now time to put a stop to that and put it on notice there is a difference, and we need to make sure it’s understood. And every time I do hear it now, I will make sure that I address it and make sure that I nip that in the bud.”

Four days later against Washington, he addressed it by shooting two for 11.

Hall Of Famer shamers

Magic Johnson ripped the Lakers for a “lack of effort and no sense of urgency.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called out James, saying, “Some of the things he’s done, he should be embarrassed about.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offered a public apology on Tuesday to LeBron James following the Hall of Famer’s critical comments of the Lakers star on Sunday.

April 5, 2022

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Shaquille O’Neal torched the Lakers on TNT, saying, “It looks like they’re quitting.”

James Worthy leveled them after a midseason loss to makeshift Portland, saying on Spectrum SportsNet: “This is the lowest point of just about any season I’ve seen as a Laker over the years. I don’t have any words for it because we’ve used all our words.”

Not quite all their words.

Audio surfaced from 2019 in which West called the Lakers a “s— show.”

Unhappy hour

Before a game in March against Phoenix, Davis told ESPN that his groin injury was the reason the Lakers lost to the Suns in the 2021 playoffs, saying: “We know that. … They know that. … They got away with one.”

After the Lakers lost by 29 points, Suns star Devin Booker responded, “If ifs were a fifth, we’d all be drunk.”

From bad …

During a 21-point loss in March to the Clippers that clinched the Clippers’ sweep of the teams’ four-game season series, Clippers guard Reggie Jackson danced and preened and crowed.

All James could do is shrug.

“They’re a better team,” he said, and when is the last time any Laker admitted that the hated Clippers were a better team?

The answer is never.

Clippers guard Reggie Jackson encourages fans to cheer as he leads the Clippers to a 132-111 win over the Lakers.
Guard Reggie Jackson encourages fans to cheer as he leads the Clippers to a 132-111 win over the Lakers on March 3.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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To worse …

In a 20-point loss at Minnesota in mid-March, Karl-Anthony Towns mocked a Westbrook airball by looking around and pretending to search for it.

Then Patrick Beverley went after Westbrook by shouting, “He’s trash,” and holding his nose.

Yeah, the Timberwolves.

Air-clamation point

As recently as Friday night, the Lakers still had a chance to begin salvaging the season in a game against New Orleans.

Davis was back. James was back. The team was intact. The playoffs were still a possibility. Even after blowing a late lead, James had one shot from beyond the three-point line in the final seconds to tie it and …

Of course.

Airball.

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