The question drifting around the collective consciousness of Los Angeles sports fans: shouldn’t $35 million per year to one of the greatest basketball player of all time result in more than 37 wins and a No. 10 seed in the Western Conference? Not to mention all of this happens while your historically iconic organization seems to combust and burn to the ground in front of the world. In short, the answer is yes. There is no rhyme or reason to explain the national embarrassment that is the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, upon further examination, this season may not be as terrible a disappointment as it seems. For starters, it should be noted that nobody from Jeanie Buss to LeBron James to Colin Cowherd claimed that this would be the season of destiny. There were simply too many factors to overcome to assume that this season would end with a new banner in Staples Center. LeBron aside, the Lakers were dealt a young and inexperienced core, a losing culture, and a coach who struggled with everything under the sun. While experienced pieces were added to the puzzle in Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee, the team could not seem to hide their youth.
It should also be noted that the injured LeBron James on display this year is not really the LeBron James the Lakers paid for or expected. To say the Lakers are heading towards further doom would be to assume that Lebron will continue to play 55 games a season and leave the Lakers’ young guns to flounder. While the G.O.A.T. may have taken a season off, it is encouraging to believe that this was a “minor setback for a major comeback” situation, and we should, hopefully, expect nothing less than superstardom next year.
LeBron’s lacking also allowed the Lakers to treat the second half of the season as a rebuilding opportunity. While Lonzo, Kuz, and Ingram all battled injuries, each got their chance to shine and show true leadership skills this season. Kuzma made headlines when he shoved LeBron in a defensive encouragement act, Brandon Ingram put up several freak performances and highlight reels, and Lonzo Ball was able to display incredible athleticism and sky-high IQ of the game in several transition opportunities throughout the season.
The most frustrating aspect of the Lakers’ derailment was that a large portion of it came from “off the court” sources. Former President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson, could not get out of his own way, making headlines for suspicious tampering activity and constant reports of tension with head coach Luke Walton. Additionally, trade deadline rumors loomed large with reports coming out around the clock that almost every piece of the Lakers was on the trading block in exchange for Anthony Davis.
Imagine having to put every ounce of focus into your career every single day knowing that you were minutes away from being told to pack your bags and board a flight to New Orleans. Furthermore, imagine hearing rumors that your colleague was the one orchestrating the exchange. While playing professionally in Los Angeles provides its own set of distractions, the Lakers organization instigated and exacerbated a litany of off-court issues.
Obviously, this season is miles away from the earth-shattering success made famous by the Lakers of the past. That being said, there is plenty of reason to believe in positive change in the organization. But, until then, kick back and enjoy watching the Los Angeles Clippers get their ass handed to them in the playoffs.