Time for the Lakers to Panic?
After storming through the bubble last year on the way to what seemed like a relatively unhindered title run, all was roses for the Lakers franchise. The year that LA had lost its ultimate icon Kobe Bryant, they came together to hold up his legacy and add another banner to the rafters. Towards the end of Kobe’s career and especially following his retirement some 5 years ago, the Lakers found themselves entrenched in the basement of the league. In doing so they accumulated a haul of lottery picks, of which they spent on Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. In retrospect, these were all relative hits. Lonzo has never quite made it to top pg status but has improved every year he’s been in the league, while Ingram and Randle have both become All-star level players. Randle has even proven to be a player that can legitimately carry a franchise forward. Yet, when these guys were in purple and gold, such a trajectory of their careers was not so obvious. They had all seemingly stalled and it became unclear whether the rebuild was on track. The Lakers, and the general hubris surrounding Lakers culture, spurred GM Rob Pelinka to let Julius Randle walk to New Orleans, sign the King, play a year with Lonzo and Brandon Ingram and then ship them off for Anthony Davis. Such a pivot in direction, is made easier when your team is both A.) In Los Angeles … and B.) Has a winning culture.
Adding AD to Lebron led Lakers, could not have possibly gone smoother. AD’s ability to stretch the floor as a big and operate as a top 5 defender in the league elevated the Lakers to an elite level in the west. Lebron and Davis mostly carried the load, with Lebron being healthy again following an injury plagued 2018-19 season. The spare parts on the roster simply did enough. Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Alex Caruso and Danny Green all did just enough. Saying they were along for the ride would be a bit harsh, since all of them had their shining moments. Following the pause and the entry into the NBA bubble for the playoffs, the Lakers only seemed to increase their focus and level of performance. They sailed past the Blazers and Rockets, saw their rival Clippers get eliminated by the Nuggets, and then handled the Nuggets themselves to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals vs. a young unproven Heat team. The Lakers rolled them as well clinching their 17th title as AD and Lebron began their course towards Laker legend status.
Fast forward to this year. The Lakers had heard all the noise about their “fraudulent” or “Mickey Mouse” ring from the season prior and were so ready to go. The team looked every bit the best team in the NBA, with the additions of Dennis Schroder and Montrez Harrell giving them both a bit more dynamism as well as scoring prowess. Lebron and AD continued their dominance with Lebron performing at his typical MVP caliber level and AD scoring while playing like the DPOY. The team began the season 22-7. In the months that followed, major injuries to both Lebron (who’s never hurt) and AD (more likely) left a barebones Lakers team hung out to dry. With a chance to prove that they are more than their two superstars the non-superstar pieces had a chance to prove themselves…if not to thrive to at least tread water until their studs came back to rescue them. Instead, the Lakers have completely folded, sinking to the 6th seed in the Western Conference. They have had two separate 3-7 10 game runs and have proven incapable of scoring the basketball without Bron and AD. Dennis Schroder, who also has been bothered by injuries recently has done all he can, but the cast of Gasol, Morris, KCP, Kuzma and so on has simply not provided enough. The score lines in these recent Lakers games have looked like pre 2000’s basketball with the team often struggling to reach the 90 point mark. Then finally they get both AD and Lebron back and Lebron is injured again with no specific timetable outlined.
Now on the fringe of the 7-10 seed play-in tournament, the team has to be in panic mode. A few months ago, they were leading the charge in the west and a series of devastating injuries have left them a few losses away from not even making the traditional playoff layout. The other night Lebron sounded off on his disgust for the new playoff structure claiming “”If it happens that we end up at sixth or fifth or whatever the case may be, or if we end up in the playoff, whatever that . . . thing is — whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired, but whatever.”. This drew a storm of criticism, as receipts were quickly found of Lebron supporting similar ideas in the past. At the time of this article drop the Lakers share the same record with Portland, who they face tonight in what might be the most pivotal game of their season. As it stands, it appears one of them will end up in play-in tournament (https://www.nba.com/news/nba-play-in-tournament) and one of them will avoid it and play the #3 seed Clips or Nuggets in the first round. The tides have changes in LA and it’s going to take some special performances outside of their studs to elevate them until Lebron returns and AD finds his form again.