Not too long ago, the Los Angeles Lakers were in a position where many thought they would likely make the playoffs. Then, they won just two of their last ten games. The Lakers are now 30-35, in 11th place in the Western Conference standings, and 6.5 games behind eighth-place San Antonio. To put it bluntly, the Los Angeles Lakers are staying home this postseason… again.
Even if head coach Luke Walton and company went 13-4 over their remaining schedule – a brutal one for sure – the seventh-place Clippers can go 6-10 and the Spurs can go 7-10 and still beat them out. The Lakers face Boston on Saturday, March 9, and have remaining games with Toronto, Milwaukee, Utah (twice), Oklahoma City, Golden State, the Clippers, and Portland.
What happened to cause this disaster that has been the 2018-19 season?
Injuries LeBron James injured a groin on Christmas Day, a day when the Lakers beat Golden State by 26 points. James missed the next 18 games. The Lakers went 6-12. Since he returned, Los Angeles hasn’t been much better. Add in injuries to Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo and it’s easy to see why the Lakers have had their share of difficulties.
Defense In simple terms, the Lakers just aren’t very good defensively. They were at their best early in the season when they had a defensive rating of 104.5 through Christmas. Since then, the Lakers have a defensive rating of 111.9 and that is with James on the floor. They were much worse without him.
Expectations The Lakers haven’t been to the postseason since 2013. The signing of James in the offseason triggered a set of expectations that were unrealistic. The conquering hero who brought the “lowly” Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit to win the city’s first NBA title was bringing his game out west. It was supposed to be an automatic success. But, it hasn’t been.
Front Office Decisions After Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson signed James last summer, he embarked on a spree of interesting, to say the least, personnel decisions. Los Angeles signed Lance Stephenson, who averages seven points and three rebounds a game. Then, there was the signing of C JaVale McGee, which has actually turned out to be okay for the Lakers. McGee scores 11.1 points and grabs 6.6 rebounds a game.
Johnson also brought in Rondo, a fantastic passing point guard that can set up teammates all night long. The problem was that Johnson already had one of those in Ball and, to make matters worse, Rondo’s jump shot is as bad if not worse than Ball’s.
How to Fix the Lakers? Back in 1981 when Johnson was playing for the Lakers, he had a problem playing for head coach Paul Westhead. Johnson felt too constrained within Westhead’s offense and wanted to be traded. When Lakers owner Jerry Buss found out about the problem, he simply fired Westhead and hired Pat Riley. The rest, of course, is history.
Unfortunately for Walton, he is likely on the chopping block when the season ends. One could argue that Johnson should go, though that is unlikely to happen. The Lakers are going to need to build a roster around James and a few of their young stars. While it appears they failed in the whole Anthony Davis thing, they could make another move for the superstar at season’s end.
The Lakers should pursue a reuniting of James and Kyrie Irving, who will be a free agent. They should also attempt to bring Kawhi Leonard back home to southern California. There is also a possibility of ending up with a higher-than-expected lottery pick which could put them back in the race for Davis. Regardless, if the Lakers want to win next season they are going to need to bring in at least one superstar level player to pair with James.
NOTE:Brandon Ingram, who is averaging a career-high 18.3 points per game, is going to miss the rest of the season with something called deep vein thrombosis in his right arm. That comes one day after it was announced that Ball may miss the rest of the season due to a bone bruise. The Lakers are just 15-27 this season when at least one of James, Ingram, or Ball is not in the lineup.