Beyond the Arc
by Ben Fiore
Last week, the Los Angeles Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention for the 6th straight year. Lakers fans as a whole are fed up, and Kobe fans are saying “I told you so”. The Lakers are historically one of if not the greatest franchises in basketball, but are facing a lot more criticism in recent years due to their mediocrity. Usually they also rely on a star player like Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Kobe and now LeBron to lead them to a title with a strong supporting cast. And now that they have the arguably greatest player in the world, why are they still so bad? A lot of people want to blame current head coach Luke Walton, and I couldn’t disagree more. Luke has only been coaching there since 2017. He has posted a measly (93-144) record, but before LeBron showed up, was creating a promising rebuild with lots of young talent and potential. They haven’t really given Luke a chance, and now they want to blame all their problems on him. Believe me, there are MUCH bigger reasons why they suck right now.
The Front Office: The Lakers front office has shot themselves in the foot. They traded away DeAngelo Russell a few seasons back which CLEARLY was a giant mistake. Bringing in LeBron with his friends took up over half of their roster, while also putting pressure and uncertainty in the minds of the younger, system grown talent. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka along with the Buss family, have too much control. The Buss family to a lesser extent because they as the owners pass off most of the responsibilities to their GM’s. Between signing LeBron and then with the Anthony Davis trading fiasco, they disturbed the general peace of the team. Now almost no player truly knows their own value in the eyes of upper management. Nobody is safe, and who wants to stay somewhere that could get rid of you at any moment with know assurance? Magic is pulling the “well I was a legend here so I know best” card, and that isn’t necessarily the case. There is history of former players failing as GM’s because they rely too much on their playing career and that doesn’t always work. And now because of mismanagement, they are at risk of losing young talent like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and others.
The LeBron Effect: Signing THE LeBron James comes with a few caveats. Bringing the King aboard costs you a lot of control as a GM. As we’ve seen this year, LeBron brought quite a few friends with him to include Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Michael Beasley and Tyson Chandler, most of which have just been a waste of roster space. These players have not produced nearly as well as some players that they lost, for instance like Julius Randle. LeBron joining the team gave hope in the aspect of providing a veteran leader to the team, but it has almost been the opposite. All year we have seen LeBron reach a “breaking point” on multiple occasions and let his frustrations get the best of him. He is a once in a lifetime talent, don’t get me wrong but that persona has been a big part of the Lakers’ struggles. A lot of LeBron having the ball because he’s the “best” also doesn’t allow the younger players to gain confidence or experience. We also need to consider that this is an older LeBron who is still elite, but can’t do this alone, which is why he tried to get Anthony Davis because LeBron has history of needing a Wade, Irving, Bosh caliber like player to get him a ring. The LeBron era for a team is a beautiful yet frightening thing all wrapped in one. But maybe this year is to show that James is human? Nahhhh this team has definitely seen more of the downside of the LeBron effect so far and puts them in a unique spot for the future.
The Media: Oh what a vicious and encompassing black hole the media can be. Every single sports coverage company has been talking about and doubting the Lakers all season long. It’s hard for every player, coach, and staff member of the Lakers to keep their heads up when everywhere they turn, they are in the headlines negatively. But a big part of that is when guys like Magic put stuff out there that they shouldn’t like the uncertainty of Luke Walton’s job, or trade rumors. Too, outside sources. Like the media spewing out coaching candidates “if” Luke gets fired. Maybe hold off on that until the team releases real news huh? Regardless, the media is a whirlwind that sweeps all teams off their feet, but LA seems to be having a harder time landing back on theirs.
Luke’s Predicament: I genuinely feel sorry for Luke Walton. How are you going to keep your composure and work ethic up if your own organization doesn’t show any trust or belief in you while letting the media run with talks of firing you? That’s a tough task. Not to mention having LeBron thrown at you, who clearly wants you gone and is the most influential player to front offices potentially of all time. That’s a hard player to manage when you are around the same age, while also having his friends become your players too, on top of LeBron’s secret close relationship with Magic. I am “positive” there is something going on there. Luke was doing a great job developing players like Ball, Hart and Kuzma, and now all of the sudden is a bad coach just because the front office decided to blindside the rest of the organization and dismantle all team chemistry? Luke is the victim of a busted system and is a better coach than he is given credit for. He was very successful as an assistant, and spent most of his playing career as a Laker. Even still as a coach, he shows true passion and defense of their organization despite him getting thrown under the bus. Now, I feel that it’s more so up to him as to what happens with his coaching career. I hope he gets out of that organizational nightmare and goes somewhere with more trust, loyalty and security.
Altogether, the Los Angeles Lakers need to get their shit together. Lakers fans will not tolerate disappointment much longer and soon enough they’ll be asking for the heads of upper management too, because at some point you have to look at the common denominator. I fully expect the Lake Show to not be so much of a show for a while as their turmoil has turned off quite a few of potential free agents from signing. And now with the Clippers looking like the superior team with cap space too, their might be a new king of LA basketball. And for the Lakers, that should scare them straight and hopefully motivate them to get back to where they should be.