The Los Angeles Lakers may not still have very many of the players they selected still on the roster as a result of the Anthony Davis trade, but their record in the draft was pretty stellar over their seasons in the lottery. Julius Randle has carved out a solid career for himself, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram played well enough to get max contracts in free agency, and that’s without mentioning their success later in the drafts with players like Kyle Kuzma, who the team just happily extended. But no team is flawless in their player evaluations, and the Lakers are no exception, with their most notable miss being that they went with Lonzo Ball over Jayson Tatum in 2017.
Now to be fair, Ball being a better prospect than Tatum was widespread consensus at the time, and Tatum probably wasn’t in the top two for the Lakers anyway, considering how much Magic Johnson loved Markelle Fultz. He also might not be a Laker anymore anyway, as the New Orleans Pelicans surely would have demanded Tatum in any trade for Davis.
Still, it’s hard not to think about what could have been when hearing Tatum talk on TNT about how much we wanted to follow in Kobe Bryant’s footsteps and play for the Lakers, and how much he hated the Celtics (h/t Jesse Pantuosco of RADIO.COM):
“My favorite player and my idol was Kobe and everybody knows that. So, I didn’t like the Celtics at all,” Tatum told former NBA star Quentin Richardson in an interview that will air Wednesday night on TNT. “I only grew up, I was like, I’m going to play for the Lakers. Honestly, I never knew what Boston was at. Like I knew only East Coast. But, I’d never been there, I never thought about going there.”
And Tatum was a true Lakers fan through and through, as like anyone who bleeds purple and gold, he had no love lost for the team that ultimately picked him.
“When I got drafted, it was kind of crazy. Like, I used to hate the Celtics, and now, it worked out,” said the former Duke one-and-done. “Everything happens for a reason and I’m surely thankful to be here with this opportunity.”
Tatum just signed a max contract that will keep him in Boston through 2025. Unless... What if he loves the Lakers so much that he went full double agent, and wants to keep the Celtics just close enough to title contention that he can really drive the knife in by leaving for their arch-rival that he always wanted to play for when he’s 27 and just entering his prime? Now that would be some serious Mamba Mentality.
Even if that scenario is probably not how things are going to work out, though, Lakers fans can take solace in the fact that the two of the most beloved Celtics in recent franchise history (Tatum, as well as Paul Pierce) both grew up die-hard Lakers fans, and learned to win by watching a team that has actually had real, sustained success in the last 30 years, during which the Celtics have won exactly as many titles as the Toronto Raptors (1). The fact that Tatum is so open about how much he loved Kobe Bryant and the Lakers probably twists the knife into them a bit — even if they’d never admit it — which is at least the next best thing to having him in purple and gold, especially since he’d probably be a Pelican now anyway.
And again, there is always 2025, when Tatum could form the next great Lakers duo with a certain other superstar.
*begins to laugh maniacally*