CHICAGO - The anticipated fairy tale, which turned into a horror picture show, began in the summer of 2018.
LeBron James, in the twilight of an amazing Hall-of-Fame career, coveted Los Angeles as a place where he can burnish his legacy while tapping into the massive resources and influence only Hollywood could provide for his media (Uninterrupted) and production (SpringHill Entertainment) companies.
The post-Kobe Bryant Lakers, on the other hand, were desperate for a superstar, a savior than can pluck them from the muck of a five-year playoffs drought to the familiar prosperity of the postseason.
It was a union forged by mutual attraction. But a marriage made in basketball heaven it was not. More like a curse from hoops hell.
Because in the final reckoning, the LeBron-Lakers coalition couldn't match the incredible hype. It couldn't deliver the pregnant promise. And it definitely did not meet the great expectations of a giddy fan base which demanded nothing less than at least an NBA Finals appearance.
Instead, the Lakers are out of the playoffs for the sixth year in a row, while LeBron won't get a chance to play for a championship for the first time in nine years.
So, what happened on the way to a June dance with the Larry O'Brien trophy?
Well, as lawyers would say, this group was flawed ab initio, or from the beginning.
LeBron-led teams in Miami and Cleveland featured knockdown shooters who feasted off wide open 3s that were created by the double-teams James commanded.
LeBron once had Ray Allen, Mike Miller, and Kyle Korver, to name a few. In Los Angeles, James leans on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, an inconsistent Brandon Ingram, and little else. Reggie Bullock arrived only after the sinking ship had taken in so much water.
After struggling to an 0-3 start, these Lakers recovered nicely and showed immense potential with a four-game win streak from November 29 to December 4, and with a 20-14 slate they climbed to as high as fourth place in the Western Conference.
Then Christmas Day came. It was both the happiest and saddest time of the year for the Lakers. They beat the Golden State Warriors on the road, but they lost the King to a groin injury that sidelined him for 17 consecutive games. That turned out to be the playoffs kiss of death.
More misery came as Rajon Rondo missed 34 games to suspension and thumb surgery, while Lonzo Ball sustained a severe ankle sprain that scratched him for 26 games before eventually being ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Without stability at the point guard position, the Lakers offense, whose 107.6 rating is 25th in the league, lacked vision and fortitude. Without the consistent availability of their pair of tenacious guards, the Lakers defense lost its lethal perimeter bite, dropping to 14th in the NBA with a 109.7 defensive rating.
But the fatal blow was inflicted by the Anthony Davis saga, the very public courtship of the New Orleans Pelicans star during the February trading deadline period.
When word leaked that the Lakers were willing to surrender most of its assets - excluding Jeannie Buss and Kareem Adbul Jabbar's statue outside Staples Center - it fractured the locker room and devastated the young players who felt they were mere disposable, unwanted parts of a charted championship course.
LeBron did return from a 35-day court absence and guided the Lakers to a 123-120 overtime victory over the Clippers last January 31. And while James still has plenty of punch and panache at age 34, he couldn't save his teammates from drowning in all the heartache and drama.
From validated to eliminated, where do the Lakers go from here?
First and foremost, they need a new coach, one who's willing to be a doormat to LeBron's whims.
They also need to snug a free agent star or two, and they'd have to be content ducking under the King's giant shadow.
The Lakers also need more shooters and a few defensive-minded role players that possess the toughness to withstand the hurt of being thrown by LeBron into a pothole when the road gets rough.
It's going to be extremely difficult for team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka, both inexperienced executives, to satisfy this wish list. But don't bet against it, either.
Despite this season's dysfunction, Los Angeles is still a grown man's paradise, and when you add the mystique of the purple-and-gold, plus the gravitas of 16 NBA titles, the big name free agents will come.