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The Triple Double: Lights Out in L.A.

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a super salty edition of “The Triple Double” column.

I’ve been a bit under the weather the last couple of weeks, so I had to postpone the second February column. But now that I’m getting somewhat back to normal, the news cycle has recovered with me…and it is a perfect time.

Normally, I would try and be at least subtle in my criticisms (because I’m not a pro athlete; the level or criticism they have to take is far more than what I deal with in retail). In the case of our subject topics, however, they have earned their shade fair and square, and as a result they can take all the shade they want under this tree.

First up to take residence…the Los Angeles Lakers.

OH, HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That is what the LeBron James era in Los Angeles feels like so far. Over the summer, then 33-year-old James and the Los Angeles Lakers joined together in free agency, in what was supposed to usher in a new era, one in which they ended their five-year playoff drought and enticed superstars to don the purple and gold.

So far, we are 66 games into the 2018-19 season, and this is what has transpired:

a) the Lakers are 30-36, good for 11th place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Currently seven and a half games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot, it would take a major miracle (like winning 14 of their last 14) for them to avoid a sixth straight season of missing the playoffs (SPOILER ALERT: not happening. 10 of the last 16 games are against teams that are currently in the playoffs – if it were to end today).

b) Their not-so-subtle approach at attempting to land New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis ended with the Pelicans trolling them on social media and reports of the Lakers sabotaging their own efforts, which also sabotaged team chemistry in the process.

c) Hardcore Lakers fans like Snoop Dogg, etc. have given up on the season, which has also led to questions about how committed LeBron is to winning in L.A.

Now, it is completely unfair to put the entire blame on LeBron for how this season has gone. He can’t take responsibility for Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball being out for the remainder of the season. The entire roster composition also can’t be put on LeBron (yes, I’m aware he signed off on it but Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka had to pull the trigger). However, considering the clout that LeBron brings everywhere he goes, I can’t let him escape blame.

Everyone knew that once Mr. James signed with the Lakers, it became HIS TEAM. And while he will never be the most popular Laker to every wear the purple-and-gold (in order: Magic, Kobe Bryant and a split between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal), even the casual fan knew that he would be the center of attention. So, as part of his first season, James should have been more focused on trying to prove himself to the Lakers’ loyal fan base (FACT: no fan base in basketball is more demanding of success than the Lakers…not Boston, not New York, not even San Antonio).

Instead, LeBron has been busy promoting a movie:

LeBron James’ production company, SpringHill Entertainment, promoting “Space Jam 2”.

James has also been busy as an executive producer for the new 2 Chainz album, and doing all things not completely basketball-related. While it was no big secret that the decision to come to Los Angeles was not entirely sports-related, never have we seen it take a toll on James’ on-court production.

And while James is still killing in on the floor (27.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 8 APG), he has also had to compete with Father Time. At the age of 34, James has missed a career-high 18 games due to a groin injury, his first serious injury in his 16-year career (for the record, I tried to point this out to all my friends that this was going to happen and everyone said no…let this serve as my ‘told-you-so’ moment). We don’t have to rewind too far back to the last time we saw a Laker legend break down in real-time.

To put a little salt in the wound, even when LeBron made history, the Lakers fans gave a collective shrug. Last Wednesday, when James passed Michael Jordan (former Chicago Bulls great and the undisputed greatest of all time) for fourth all-time in career points, there wasn’t any stoppage of the game; LeBron didn’t get the game ball; heck, the fans barely made a sound. And over the last week, James has been openly booed by the home fans who are tired of the consistent losing.

Obviously, the Lakers (and LeBron) will have a lot of contemplating to do in the off-season. One of the things that Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka will have to think about is whether going for a second superstar is worth it, considering their luck as of late. Second, James will have to start figuring out how to adjust his game to suit his age, because the injuries are only going to linger for longer. Third, the front office is going to have to soothe some egos A LOT after this season’s disaster – primarily Ball and Ingram, who are possibly the most valuable of the young stars they have.

(And yes, I did hear Jeff Van Gundy’s comments about the potential of trading LeBron. That’s stupid by any measure, regardless of how you look at it. Despite his age, James is still the best player in the game; there is no way that the Lakers get anything near equal value for him – especially if the rest of the league supposedly has it in for them.)

ANTONIO BROWN GOES WEST AND GETS PAID

Over the weekend, the National Football League got a break with some major news: the Pittsburgh Steelers traded embattled wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders for a third and fifth-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

It’s been no secret that Antonio Brown wanted out: his social media posts have been pretty open about that. It was also no secret that he wanted guaranteed money, and that was not something Pittsburgh was going to offer to him. So, as a result, the Steelers decided that the relationship with Brown wasn’t worth fixing and started looking for a deal.

At first, the Steelers said last week that they expected interested teams to have a deal ready by Friday. And on Thursday, it looked like they had a deal in place to send Brown to the (gulp) Buffalo Bills. Then this happened on Friday:

Brown was apparently willing to sit out for the season if he was traded to Buffalo, or if he ended up staying in Pittsburgh a la Le’Veon Bell. And the more Brown talked, the more he depressed his market value. There was already a short list of teams who were willing to make a deal because of his outbursts, and by the time the Steelers found a willing partner, they really had no choice but to swallow their pride and get what they could.

Antonio Brown smiling during a game.

As a result, Brown came out the big winner here. Not only did he get paid (three-year deal worth $50 million, with $30 million of that guaranteed), but he will also end up one of the franchise cornerstones when the Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020. Brown is already one of football’s biggest personalities, and Hollywood has taken notice: he was one of the unmasked singers during the first season of Fox’s “The Masked Singer” (Brown performed a spirited version of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” – a fitting song considering the situation).

For the Steelers, you can’t help but think they lost on all fronts here. They gave up Brown for less than forty acres and a mule (when they could have just forced Brown’s hand and dare him to sit out), but now they are also out on Bell, who is considered a top-three running back in the NFL (and even at 29, has a full year of being rested). That’s two All-Pro offensive stars that franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin will have to do without.

Roethlisberger’s job is safe, but Tomlin…not so much. Yes, he has won two Super Bowls for the Steelers. And to his credit, his teams have only missed the playoffs four times in his 13-year tenure as head coach. But the team hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since 2010, and only once during that time have they even made the AFC Championship. Add onto that all the drama that has occurred over the last few seasons, it looks like Tomlin may have lost this team. If the Steelers miss the playoffs again this season…we may see a new face coaching the team next year, which would only be their fourth in the last 51 years.

Thank you guys for tuning into the first March edition of “The Triple Double”, and I will see you in two weeks for a brand new column as we approach the NBA Playoffs.

Chris Bullock
Chris Bullock
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation's Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women's basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, "The Triple Double". A self-described "foodaholic", Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, "Conscious Cravings", where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.

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