There has grown a philosophical debate around the Los Angeles Lakers that frankly could have been initiated several years ago, and it is this: How ass do you want them to be?
Their latest limpfest, a 20-point loss in Minnesota on Wednesday in which they scored fewer than 20 points in the first quarter for the second consecutive game, was their 12th loss in 15 games, and in each game their angst has become more existentially whiny. They are finally the thing Laker haters have always wanted them to be: a punch line to the joke, “What’s worse than rubbing your eyes with broken glass?”
Thus the debate is prompted: Is it better that they lose their final 13 games in equally embarrassing fashion, end up 29-53 (which would be only the fifth-worst record they’ve had in the last nine years) and end up looking up at (gasp!) Sacramento or even (bleargh!) Oklahoma City? Or is it better to have them hold on desperately to the last play-in spot, travel to Minneapolis, and get throttled again?
This is ultimately a matter of how much more of their misery you require to satisfy your own sick psychopathic needs. Would you trade, say, four more wins for misery in Game 83, or would you rather have their noses pressed into their excrement at every opportunity? The Defector staff debated this very matter and concluded that more mirth and merriment would be had if L.A. were to be embarrassed one extra time, on national TV. But they’re wrong.
Even LeBron James, who was quoted in a meandering denial of reality—“Testing your patience and how you can keep the focus and not fall into the notion of a losing mentality … I would never put myself in a position where I feel like I’m losing” —was speaking that authentic frontier gibberish. Russell Westbrook dismissing the trashtalkage of Patrick Beverley was also part of the nightly postgame morbidity conference, like Patrick Beverley is an arbiter of anything.
But Beverley is right, based on the rule that “Those in the car get to talk about the stuff they ran over.” The Lakers have assembled a bizarre sandwich in which a championship has been stuck between two massive half-loaves of moldy bread, and while this is not their worst season in the nine years of garbage, it feels worse because they do more talking about it as though they expected a roster full of washed 33-year-olds was a good idea. They hate this year, they hate their results, and they give every indication of hating each other. Or at least they hate playing basketball with each other, as they have shown in the last 30 games.
The knowledge that they could be dusted by 10 games by the Clippers and run down by (a) the Zion-deficient New Orleans Pelicans, (b) the everyone-less San Antonio Spurs, and maybe even (c) the Dame-and-C.J.-less Portland Trail Blazers ought to be satisfying for far longer than the joy of one more loss to a weirdly entertaining Timberwolves team.
If you truly loathe the entire Laker smug-a-thon (and yes, this includes their wearisome fan base which only now is glomming onto the fact that they’ve been bad for nearly a decade), you want as deep a dive as they can give you. They’ve hidden from themselves the fact that they have barely won 40 percent of their games with rosters built with spit, old wood, and a nailgun. And they have clung to that two-year-old title as though it isn’t a ridiculous outlier. The Lakers have become the Ottoman Empire of the NBA—an empire whose best days are written by quill on parchment, and everyone can see it but them.
But if you need them to suffer for your own pathological needs (hey, maybe you’re a Pistons fan and your particular Stockholm syndrome is aging badly), is it not more enjoyable for them to go 0-13 than 5-9 just for the satisfaction of that last big stinker? I mean, if you’re waiting for Lakers fans to acknowledge the rigor mortis of their horse, there will never be enough defeats. They’ll wave Magic and Kareem and Kobe and Shaq and West and Baylor in your face to deny the current state of the state. But if you’re just looking for your own satisfaction, closing out the season without a single win really ought to do the trick. It’s not like they won’t have earned it.