The idea that no one believed in the Lakers this past season isn’t true, and that’s not just due to the faith of their fans. Going into the 2019-20 season, the Lakers had the second-highest betting odds (+440) to win the NBA championship, trailing only their Staples Center roommates, the Clippers (+330).
However, to say that the Lakers weren’t doubted wouldn’t be true either. Before LeBron James and Anthony Davis played their first game together, people within the NBA community question how they’d fit together on the court — LeBron James and Anthony Davis! Then, as the season progressed, the Lakers’ success in the regular season was questioned, with people arguing that they could only beat average-to-below-average teams.
The Lakers didn’t buy into that noise because they were confident in their abilities as a team. but they definitely heard it. The result? A chip on everyone’s shoulder, Phil Handy told David Aldridge of The Athletic in a recent interview:
“Throughout the course of the season, it’s definitely something that left a bad taste in your mouth,” Handy said. “But at the same time, I don’t really think any of us pay attention to what outside sources have to say. It’s not the first time. ‘Bron’s been an underdog for many years, coming out of Cleveland, probably, in some instances, playing in Miami. And I think we just looked at it as … Frank’s message the whole year was togetherness with our team. Be a team-first team, and let’s get better every day. And that was our message. That was our message. LeBron obviously set the table, him and AD and Rondo. Really, it was, how can we get ourselves in the best position possible, so when the time comes, we’re ready to compete for a championship? You hear those things, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones who came home with that trophy.”
Frank Vogel said he didn’t pay as much attention to the Lakers’ critics as others during an appearance on “The Jim Rome Show,” but he couldn’t deny that he felt some level of vindication when he and his team lifted the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in Orlando:
“It really isn’t what drives me, but it is an element of fuel when anybody doubts you. As a competitor, you want to prove them wrong. Obviously this is my third coaching job, so I think all of it like you said, Rob, LeBron, our whole team, everybody finds ways to put a chip on their shoulder and carry an edge in this competitive environment. And I would say it’s no different with me.”
Of course, the Lakers will still have their fair share of critics because hating the Lakers is just a fashionable thing to do, but now they’ll have a response to those naysayers as the defending champions of the NBA. Even if they don’t get their damn respect, like James so kindly requested after he won his fourth Finals MVP, they’ll get championship rings at the start of next season — whenever that is — and a banner in Staples Center that will hang forever.
That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.