The Lakers have had a pretty rough decade to say the least. Sure, they won the title in 2010, and not many fan bases would call a decade in which they won a title rough. But based on the expectations for this franchise, it was probably their worst decade in franchise history. They were statistically one of the worst teams in the league and failed to make the playoffs for almost the entire decade. This wasn’t exactly ten years full of great memories, but they’re the Lakers, and with some recent success, the decade definitely could have gone much worse.
I want to take a look back at the decade and see what went right for the Lakers. Again, not much, but there were a few highlights in there.
Let’s start out with number five
5. Kobe’s last game
The last few years of Kobe Bryant’s career were incredibly rough. He dealt with injuries, an athletic decline, and an overall skill decline due to his age. Instead of chasing rings, Kobe’s final years featured a sad Lakers roster, an awkward farewell tour, and an image rehabilitation from singularly obsessed winner to friendly aging NBA Star.
Kobe announced early during the 2015-2016 season that he would be retiring at the end of the season. The Lakers were a horrible team, his play had rapidly declined, and a championship wasn’t in the picture. His retirement made sense, and the rest of the season wasn’t about wins, rather a celebration of one of the greatest players in NBA history.
The last game of the season was a highly anticipated event. You didn’t have to be psychic to anticipate that the game would be about Kobe and that Kobe would do what he did best which was shoot the ball. What wasn’t clear was how well he would play. He was a bad player at this point in his career, and it was easy to wonder if he would go out with a whimper.
In Kobe’s final game, he scored 60 points on 22-50 shooting, and left the NBA with a win. In the grand scheme of things, this game didn’t matter. But for Lakers fans especially, it was a final celebration of one of the teams greatest players. It was a final celebration of the player after a fought stretch, and it literally felt like he left everything he had on the floor. In a decade full of bad Lakers moments, this moment felt like a chance to celebrate. (Editor’s Note: Never forget that Kobe’s last recorded stat was an assist.)
4. Lakers get lucky in the draft
The Lakers were bad for the majority of this decade, and because of this they were able to pick in the top of the draft. They were lucky enough to pick in the top of the draft for many years, and landed the number two pick for three straight years. They had a chance to drop many times, but never did. In last year’s draft, the Lakers rose a number of spots and ended up with the number four pick, which they ended up including in the Anthony Davis deal. Needless to say, the Lakers have had a lot of luck in the draft process. Without it, they might not have had enough assets to trade for Davis.
3. The Lakers trade for Anthony Davis
It seemed almost destined for Anthony Davis to end up on the Lakers. When he requested a trade, he talked about being open to a move to numerous teams, but it seemed clear his focus was on the Lakers.
With Magic Johnson in the fray, the initial trade discussions for Davis were a disaster. The negotiations played out in public, and every player discussed seemed to know that they were in trade talks. There was a point where it seemed like the Lakers’ incompetence might cost them a generational player. But soon after Magic Johnson left the team, the Lakers were able to bunker down and get the deal done. They gave up a lot, but Davis has already proven he was worth the asking price. Davis is a free agent this summer, and all signs point to him re-signing with the Lakers. As long as that happens, this will have been an incredibly successful deal.
2. The Lakers sign LeBron James in free agency
The Lakers are known for having star players, and the franchise was starless for many years post-Kobe. The Lakers had hoped some of their top draft picks would turn in to stars, but none of them worked out (at least while on the team). Rumors of LeBron heading to the Lakers started a year or so before he ended up coming, but it was hard to put much stock into the rumors at first. The Lakers were linked to every star, and there were more photoshops than actual star players for much of the decade.
When LeBron eventually signed during the summer of 2018, it was an incredible relief. The Lakers had finally signed a star after many years of striking out. There was a narrative forming that the Lakers were no longer a free agent destination. LeBron was the first domino to fall, and the past two summers have made that argument look laughably incorrect. LeBron choosing the Lakers gave legitimacy back to the franchise, and he began the Lakers’ return to relevancy.
1. The Lakers win the 2010 NBA championship
Winning a title isn’t easy. The Lakers have won 16 of them so it’s easy to take them for granted. But after a near-decade of missing the playoffs, it put into perspective just how difficult it was to win.
The 2010 championship was a special one. Two years prior, the Lakers lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Boston Celtics. Losing to the Celtics is never a good time, but losing to them after a near three-decade run of irrelevancy hurt even worse. The following seasons, the Lakers seemed hellbent on getting revenge. The Lakers would play the Celtics again in 2010, and the series went down to a game 7. There were many moments during that game where it looked like the Lakers might lose. But in the end, they were able to pull it out and add a 16th championship to the franchise.