Grit and Persistence: The Story of a Lakers Resurgence
Written by Gibson Ogunkunle on January 12, 2023
Before the start of the 2022/2023 NBA season, many basketball journalists and pundits predicted the worse season for the Lakers.
The prediction from respected journalists and pundits were not witch-hunting or wishing the worst for one of the most respected sports franchises in the world. The reality on the ground, at least as it was then, was too damning to pretend. The lakers front office, led by Rob Pelinka, a man who many need clarification on has the passion and wisdom to lead the Lakers to the top of world basketball, had been making irrational and unwise trade decisions.
Journalists believed Pelinka’s lack of foresight and inability to maximize the ‘last years’ of Lebron James was the Lakers’ biggest undoing. Their demon. Pelinka was the poison the Lakers did not know how to deal with.
Before I unpack why Pelinka was touted as the poisoned chalice to destroy the Lakers’ history, it is essential to understand the fears of fans and journalists.
Before the start of the season, the Lakers were predicted to struggle because of their lack of shooters. The team had no shooters, journalists had said. And they were right.
The team’s lack of shooters made them give their last rooster spot to Matt Ryan. The 25-year-old had 35.5% shooting from the three-point range, one of the highest for the team.
Journalists were worried about how thin the team looked, especially when you compared what other Western teams had. The Golden State Warriors were stacked full of shooters, the Reigning champions. Whether inside the paint, in the perimeter, or outside, the Warriors were the team to beat.
There were the enormous Los Angeles rivals, the LA clippers. Kawai Leonard and Paul George were returning, making them a force in the Western Conference. As if that wasn’t enough, John Wall was joining the team too. Also, a brief google search on their coach, Tyronne Lue, a legendary coach whose well respected in the league, made you wonder where the Lakers would be when the season ended.
And nobody should forget the Mavericks, the western conference finalist. And the Grizzlies, the young and energetic team. The suns are still no pushovers.
So, when you look at the western conference, it looked too good for a Lakers team with no proper shooter around Lebron to make a mark.
These teams’ qualities were enough to send shivers down the bones of Lakers fans.
But there is more.
New coaches in new teams are often given time to ‘acclimatize’ with the players and fans, meaning they may not get the required results immediately. That was the fate of the Lakers. After the sack of Frank Vogel, fans were not so expectant when Darvin Ham was appointed.
Ham is a good coach, but you can’t compare being an assistant at Milwaukee Bulks and leading a team consisting of big egos in Lebron, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davies, another kettle of fish.
Although there was fanfare when he was announced and unveiled, the fans needed clarification on the goal.
Is the team trying to build for the future?
It didn’t look so.
When Dennis Shroeder (30) and Patrick Beverly (34) are the big names you sign at the start of the season, the future looks less bright. I am not saying these players are terrible. They differ from the young players you want to build a franchise around.
When you have AD, your big man, barely staying fit and playing 50 games a season, you would surely be in for a thorough beat-up.
And they did.
The season started with 2 wins in ten games. Not the type of record any team that boasts itself as one of the biggest sports franchises in the world wants to have.
Plus, if you have Lebron James in your team, two wins in 10 isn’t what should make the headlines. Never!
The shooting problems for the Lakers were evident in their first two matches, where their 3-point shooting was a measly 26%.
After the first ten games, the jury was out: the Lakers would struggle to make the play-in. There was no going back on that.
But after a run of wins after that, where Lebron and AD balled like the 2020 versions of themselves, and Rusell came in as an impact sub, the tides changed.
But something stood out for me before the run of wins, which saw them beat the San Antonio Spurs three times in a row.
When a team struggles for form, it is normal for coaches to point out what the team was doing wrong and how the players needed to step up.
But not Ham.
After the first six or seven games, when the jury was out with knives and guns, shooting down every playoff hope the Lakers could muster, Ham asked the team to remain calm and stick with the process.
The manager’s mindset is grit and composure, staying true to what he believes in wholly.
This mindset was evident in how the Lakers celebrated after the first win of the season, having lost its first five games. Also, when Ham said he would make the team play through Anthony Davies, many critics were still determining whether he was the right person for the job.
Yes, AD is a big man, but he barely stays fit. The season before, the 2021/2022 season, AD played only 40 games. So, when you look at Anthony Davies’ injury problem, you wonder why any sane coach would want him to be the main man to lead the offensive end of the court when Lebron still pl
Another worrying concern for fans was how Ham planned on using Russell Westbrook. The triple-double point guard had been criticized for his performance last season. So, the talk of using Westbrook as the sixth man when fans would rather her be sold raised more eyebrows.
But Ham’s plans have paid off… at least, so far.
The lakers could be better in the West. Instead, they sit 12th on the table, outside the playoff spot.
But the good news for the Lakers is that for the first time this season, they look like a team that can grind games out and win, even without their two big men, Lebron and Anthony Davies.
Against the Miami Heat, the Lakers, without AD and Lebron, won at home.
The victory is significant because it was their fourth win in five games, their third in a row. And when you look at how they crumbled against the Celtics, after rallying back from a 20-point lead but losing that match 122-118, you will give the team credit for how strong I have become.
Ham’s insistence that the team will win and play the Lakers way: playing gritty and giving their all, you can’t help but admire where the team has come to.
Sometimes, any team’s success, whether basketball or football, American football or cricket, depends on how well they persist and gritty they remain.
Ham and his Lakers team have shown a level of success they can win if they give their all on the court. On the field.
While the team’s chances of even making the Play-in still hangs on a balance, you can’t help but be impressed with how well they have come.
Two wins in ten were the worst start to a season, but the AD and Lebron-led team look like the real deal. They know they can go all the way, maybe not reach the western conference finals (but who says they can’t pull that 2020 vibe again?), but this team is propped up with confidence after wins against the Bulks on the road, Heats at Home, and pushing the best team in the East, in my book.
The Lakers’ success so far (if I am allowed to call it that) is down to grittiness and persistence.
But we will have to wait and see whether they can go to the playoffs and maybe the final.