The Lakers were supposed to be a playoff team. Heck, they were supposed to be one of the Warriors' primary competitors for the NBA title.
And yet, as Golden State faces Los Angeles for the final time this season Thursday night, it's abundantly clear that things have not gone as expected for the Lakers.
The Warriors did their part. The Lakers, meanwhile, will extend their longest playoff drought in franchise history.
How did the Lakers get here? How did it come to this? These are questions ESPN's Dave McMenamin sought to answer at the end of last month, when it became clear the Lakers' first season with LeBron James had been a waste.
McMenamin lists several reasons for the Lakers' failed ascension, including poor roster construction, dysfunction within the front office and locker room, and a slew of unfortunate injuries. But McMenamin looks back to one particular event as the initial catalyst for the Lakers' failures this season, and it has to do with a player who won't participate in Thursday's game in Los Angeles: Paul George.
George, a Southern California native, was believed to be a logical star to pair with James in purple and gold. But when George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, it set the wheels in motion for the Lakers' current state of being.
According to McMenamin, George was directed away from the Lakers partly as a result of a former teammate (and current Sacramento King)'s influence.
"George never gave the Lakers an opportunity to shoot their shot," McMenamin recalls. "But he had a wealth of information available to him about the inner workings of the Lakers without ever hearing a word from Magic Johnson. For example, George played in Oklahoma City with Corey Brewer in the second half of the 2017-18 season, after Brewer was waived by L.A. in February. Brewer divulged his Lakers experience to George, sources said."
It's unlikely that was the sole factor in George's decision to remain in Oklahoma City, but in any case, he's not with the Lakers. The Thunder are headed to the playoffs, and the Lakers, well, aren't.
How different would the current NBA landscape be had George joined James in Los Angeles? Perhaps thanks to Brewer, we'll never know.