Manix: All right, Beck, let’s talk about the most disappointing teams this season.
We got the Jazz, spending more time trying to tell us Everything is fine! We swear! to solve their problems. We have the Knicks, returning to the lottery. The Hawks, failing to match their hype. The Pelicans, dragging through another season without Zion. The Blazers, tanking to the finish without Dame Lillard. The Kings, still Kangzing. And, yes, we have the Lakers, failing to even make the play-in tournament.
So who do you have?
Beck: Look, I know everyone is worried about the Lakers collapsing, and I get it. We’re not used to seeing a LeBron James team crash and burn so spectacularly. But I go with the Nets as the most disappointing team this season.
They started with a vaunted Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden and ended with a vaunted Big 3 of Durant, Irving and Ben Simmons – except Irving only played 29 games, Harden forced a trade and Simmons has yet to record a single minute. Add Durant’s injury absences, and you have a favorite for the preseason title that’s slated for the play-in tournament instead.
What you say?
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Manix: There is perhaps no greater disappointment in a season than the Lakers 21-22. How is? A team led by James, still very close to the peak of its powers, by the way, with Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, is not among the top 10 teams in the Western Conference. To me, that’s not even debatable. Beyond James’ brilliance, it was a season where everything that could have gone wrong, did.
Beck: There’s no denying that the Lakers have been an epic and utter disaster. Considering expectations, this could be the most humiliating season in franchise history. But put aside the pre-season odds for a second. Everyone you and I spoke to last summer – every scout, coach and team executive – thought the Westbrook trade was a colossal mistake and that the Lakers would have a hard time incorporating it with James and AD Did anyone foresee such a dramatic collapse? No. But just about everyone outside of the Lakers front office expected the Lakers to underperform with their new Big 3.
There were no such reservations about the Nets’ Big 3. The Durant-Irving-Harden triumvirate had been dominant during their short time together last season. They were supposed to be the largest offensive unit ever assembled. But Irving’s vaccination denial and ineligibility for home games crippled that team from day one and ultimately sparked Harden’s trade demand.
Simmons could possibly be a perfect fit alongside Durant and Irving. But making his season debut in the first round of the playoffs (as they say now) seems less than ideal. I’m not even sure they make it out of the first round.
Manix: But see, the Nets season is not finished. They’re not exactly heading into the first round, but with a play-in win over Cleveland, they’ll get an injured Boston team that will miss defensive anchor Robert Williams. Rightly the Celtics will be the favorites but you’re not giving the Nets a chance to win? And if the Nets win, is at least part of this season redeemed? Meanwhile, the Lakers hold bizarre exit interviews where they take no responsibility (Westbrook) and tell the hilarious tale that injuries and roster inconsistency are the reason this team failed (Davis) . Hey, AD: You were 11-10 with you, James and Westbrook in the lineup. The Bulls of the mid-90s, you weren’t.
Beck: Redemption? Always possible. nets should win their play-in game (or the next one if they were to lose on Tuesday) and make the playoffs. But they enter as a low seed, with no home court advantage, and any path to the Finals could involve back-to-back series against the Celtics, Bucks and Sixers, in some order. It’s a brutal path. And remember: the nets were huge favorites to win it all at the start of this season. Anything not in the final is a huge disappointment from that point of view. On the plus side, the Nets should start next season with a healthy (and eligible) Big 3 of Durant, Irving and Simmons. I’d take that in the macabre offseason against the Lakers, that’s for sure.
Manix: Grisly – that’s one word for it. Intimidating, terrifying, they are others. The search for coaching will be difficult – you have just knew Mark Jackson would be in and free agency would be a nightmare. The Lakers will have limited cap flexibility and may need to tie an asset to Westbrook just to terminate his contract. Half the roster will likely be made up of minimum-wage players, with one cap exception signing being hailed as the missing piece. Something tells me we’ll be back here in the fall, wondering (again) if Kendrick Nunn can make a difference on this team. The Lakers merry-go-round never stops.
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