The Lakers are falling apart and once again it seems everyone else is to blame. Everyone else except LeBron it seems. One of the greatest players of all time has always been theatrical and playing the media game as well as anyone, but it seems the league has finally caught on and LeBron is starting to pay the cost.
There is a simple narrative around all LeBron teams – success is his, failure is everyone else’s. That’s why more and more up and coming superstars don’t seem to eager to play with him.
In one of his last press appearances, LeBron diagnosed consistency as the Lakers main issue. He continued to locate the cause of that issue in inexperience and being a young team that is in its first year playing together. This was, once again, hypocritical on several levels.
Since the All-Star break, the young players have been stepping up. Kuzma and Ingram have been playing their best basketball and are positive contributors. The veterans, on the other hand, all have negative plus-minus scores. If consistency is the issue, it is not due to being “a young team.”
Speaking of inconsistency, in that same answer LeBron complimented the Clippers on being good despite all the roster change they’ve been having throughout the year – injuries and trades included. So there is a way to overcome roster fluctuations, and if you ask the Clippers what’s been key, they will all say the same thing – culture. The Clippers play hard, sacrifice for the team and take responsibility for their actions. How much of that could we find in the Lakers approach this season?
When you complain and dramatize over defensive mistakes in front of a full crowd, but you give no effort and miss rotations on defense as well; when you don’t participate in time-out huddles; when you leave the court before the clock runs out, don’t shake hands with your opponent and leave your teammates out there, you don’t get to talk about culture and approach.
The prevailing assumption in league coaching circles remains that Walton will almost certainly be dismissed after the season, followed by the Lakers resuming their trade quest for Davis.
Has Walton been perfect? Far from it. But from all the people involved, he is the last one to be held responsible for, what will most likely be, another season without making the playoffs. Walton showed his coaching potential last season when the Lakers improved as the season went along. Then he got the deadliest job a coach can get – coaching LeBron James.
A lot of people talk about Pop as the best coach ever, but he always points to Tim Duncan as the reason he got to coach as he does. This reminds me of an anecdote from the Spurs. A part of their preparation Spurs give out tests to players, questions on defensive rotations and similar stuff. In one of those meetings, a rookie wrote an absurdly stupid answer. Pop read it out loud, ridiculed him and asked who wrote it. Duncan raised his hand. The room laughed at him, and they went on with the meeting. He took one for his rookie, saved him some embarrassment. So when Pop had the team do basic dribbling drills every preseason and yelled at Duncan when he messed up, everyone else fell in line.
Can you imagine Walton telling LeBron to come back in the huddle, publicly criticize him for leaving the court before the game ended or calling him out for being lazy on defense? The fundamental issue with LeBron is that he isn’t willing to be coached and his biography lets every coach know they are in trouble if Pat Riley isn’t the GM.
The front office
Magic and Pelinka dodged a lot of responsibility for this mess. Part of it could be their judgment, part of it is granting LeBron’s wishes – whichever it is, the burden is on them. Let’s see who they missed out on/traded/let go and who did they bring in.
Paul George didn’t even take a meeting with them after they refused to trade for him.
D’Angelo Russell was traded to get rid of Mozgov, he was an All-Star and looking better than any other lottery pick they had.
Julius Randle is having a career year in New Orleans.
Brooke Lopez is draining threes like he’s the third Curry brother and he said they never expressed interest in re-signing him.
Rondo is playing horribly, can’t shoot to save his life.
Beasley is no longer with the team.
McGee can’t stay on the court.
Zubac was traded for Muscala, we can already see that was a bad trade.
Stephenson plays the air guitar.
Then they had the entire Anthony Davis fiasco – they share that one with Rich Paul and LeBron. Overall, not a good resume for a front office duo. Their desire to get rid of Walton and bring in “their guy” has been well documented. Two most mentioned names? Jason Kidd and Ty Lue. Couldn’t make this up if we tried.
The problem with people who aren’t prepared to admit their mistake is it has a tax on everyone involved because usually, that means you need to bullsh– to cover it up. Instead of saying “Yeah, it’s embarrassing Kuzma had to push me to cover my man, I gotta do better” he says “we are inconsistent, you know, we have young guys.” This is not how you lead and grow as a team. Calling for professionalism after you wanted to trade the entire roster, but then acting like he’s been acting doesn’t fly.
Nobody said life was fair, nor is the NBA. Walton will be fired, and they will try to get AD and offer all the young guys again, while Magic & Pelinka will consult Lebron on future roster moves once again. To top it all off, Jeanie Buss will call it fake news again.
From 1948 to 2013, the Lakers (Minnesota and Los Angeles) missed the playoffs five times. This will be the sixth consecutive playoffs without the Lakers. Take that for data.