Column: Lakers win home finale, reminding fans of what used to be

Lakers forward Stanley Johnson dunks the ball.
Lakers forward Stanley Johnson dunks the ball during a win over the Thunder on Friday night at Arena.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Streamers floated down from the rafters in shiny strands of purple and gold while the victorious Lakers embraced one another on the court at Arena on Friday night, a rare sight in this miscalculated mess of a season.

Fans in Los Angeles are notorious for leaving games early but these folks lingered after the Lakers’ home finale, applauding and yelling and holding up hand-lettered signs professing their love for a team that didn’t always deserve that affection. It felt like old times, especially after the Lakers had brought out key figures from their Showtime era and other local basketball luminaries for a halftime celebration of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s upcoming 75th birthday.

Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper, James Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Bill Walton and Ann Meyers Drysdale, among others, evoked memories of when celebrating wins was a routine event and not, as on Friday, a small bright spot near the end of a dark season.

Stu Lantz, left, greets Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during birthday party in the Lakers Lounge at Arena.
Former NBA player and broadcast analyst Stu Lantz, left, greets Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during his 75th birthday party in the Lakers Lounge at Arena on Friday night.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A season-high eight players scored in double figures Friday as the Lakers pulled away in the second half for a 120-101 decision over an Oklahoma City team that used only six men and, like the Lakers, has no play-in or playoff games on its schedule. In ending an eight-game losing streak they won at home for the first time since March 11, stopping a four-game home slide. All five starters hit double figures, the first time all five had scored 10 or more points in the same game since May 16, 2021, at New Orleans.

After a season of ever-lower moments, after building a legends fantasy team that never meshed and sometimes didn’t play to the final buzzer, the Lakers at least gave their fans one good memory to carry into a summer that must bring about a massive makeover or risk going through this misery again.

LeBron James, out with an ankle injury, encouraged teammates from the bench. So did Anthony Davis (sprained foot), Carmelo Anthony (non-COVID illness) and Russell Westbrook (right shoulder soreness). They cheered as Mason Jones hustled and Stanley Johnson scored a season-best 21 points and posed for photos with fans as they exited the court for the last time this season.

LeBron James sat out as the Lakers beat Oklahoma City 120-101 in the home finale, but his production at age 37 is something to behold, Frank Vogel says.

April 8, 2022

“It was a good night. Fan appreciation night, our fans were able to be treated to a W,” said coach Frank Vogel, who is all but sure to be swept out in that makeover, though this dismal showing isn’t entirely his fault.

“There’s a lot of joy in basketball that really hasn’t been with us a lot of this year because of what we’re competing for and because of what we were falling short so often with, so just a good night for our group to enjoy the game and enjoy a ‘W.’ ”


The Lakers, who were eliminated from play-in contention Tuesday, finished 21-20 at home. They’re 32-49 with one game left on Sunday at Denver. James won’t play, but Vogel said before Friday’s game that Westbrook, Davis and Anthony had not been ruled out for Sunday.

“It would be awesome to win the last two, just to make us feel better about the summertime, but I think right now we’re just trying to get past the fatigue of not playing to our capability this year,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely unfulfilling. Never in a million years did I imagine, especially when I got signed, even as just a fan of the team, that we’d be in this situation. You make a plan, God laughs at you sometimes.

“I think in the summertime, I think we should all remember this and if we don’t like it we can do something about it. This summer we have an opportunity to get better at basketball as individuals and as a team. If you don’t like it, next year we’ll have an opportunity to do something about it. So I think a lot of us are pretty mad about it.

“We got what we deserved. But it hurts. It’s not good.”

That also sums up the Lakers’ season: not good. And it will be followed by some tough decisions.

Once upon a time the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook bet was a sign of hope. Then the reality of an aging roster, and injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, set in.

April 8, 2022

While armchair general managers have already declared that Westbrook must be traded, it’s going to be difficult for the Lakers to find a team willing to take his turnovers, reluctance to play defense, and the year left on his contract at $47 million. The Lakers don’t have a first-round draft pick this year to sweeten a trade, and they may not have one until 2026.

The idea of keeping James, Davis and Westbrook together in hopes they’ll have fewer injuries next season makes little sense. They’ll each be a year older, with more mileage on their aging legs, and there’s no guarantee injuries won’t strike again. James had an incredible season, but even that wasn’t enough because of the unbalanced team around him.


Damian Lillard would look great in a Lakers uniform, but again the Lakers have few viable trade chips. They need youth, character and a return of the defensive energy they lost when they let go Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dennis Schroder. Vogel’s defense-based strategy was the foundation of the title they won in the 2020 bubble playoffs, but he didn’t have the players to make that work anymore. His inconsistency with rotations and lineups this season works against keeping him.

So many problems and just one summer for the same management that built this mess of a team to reconstruct it properly. One summer to make victory celebrations a regular occurrence, not a reminder of better days.