Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka had a plan. It’s just wasn’t a very good plan.
It’s early March, roughly a month before the regular season ends. And the Lakers are throwing in the towel by putting LeBron James on a minutes restriction. How did we get here?
Magic and Pelinka received so much credit for drafting well. The citywide praise then hit another echelon once LeBron James came to Los Angeles.With young talent and the best in the game, all the front office had to do was fill the roster with able bodies.
It was a task easier than walking the ball up the court. Or so I thought.
Injuries aside, there isn’t much blame you can lob at Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. Considering what each has had to go through, they are deserving of a toast at any bar down Figueroa.
Still, things have gone so bad this season that I almost miss Jim Buss.Like the day’s worth of grime circling the drain after a shower, the Lakers are about to be flushed away. And like the serenity of calm that comes after a nice relaxing shower, we will all be the better for it when this season ends.
In the name of catharsis, let’s count all the ways things went awry.
The Lakers followed up a massive LeBron signing by securing the services of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley.
Beasley was traded after a locker-room tiff with head coach Luke Walton. Rondo is a -10.7 Plus-Minus over the last 15 games and is shooting 38.1% during that stretch. More recently, he decided to sit away from teammates after the Lakers endured another depressing loss.
Stephenson’s averages in minutes played, points, rebounds and assists all dip from the previous season.
McGee has seen his role diminish but is still good for the occasional double-digit night. At 31, it’s clear that McGee is far from a frontline starting center on a title contender but rather a role player who needs younger legs to carry some minutes. But more on Zubac in a minute.
Magic sold us all on the veteran influx as a contingent of playmakers, that he wasn’t going to mimic the Warriors to beat the Warriors. Well, they certainly aren’t trying to replicate Golden State. That’s for sure.
The Lakers saw their young center go on a tear before the trade deadline, which is when they decided to cut ties and send him to the Clippers along with Beasley for Mike Muscala.
The move has been explained by some as equal parts Zubac’s upcoming price tag, Beasley’s chemistry with Walton and McGee’s sensitivity to losing minutes.
Still, it’s a pretty insane trade considering the Lakers ongoing need for an interior presence, someone who can finish at the rim and a young player in the frontcourt to shoulder some heavy minutes.
The Lakers sure could use the 13.7 rebounds Zubac is grabbing per 36 minutes for the Clippers.
Back in November, Magic Johnson had a heated discussion with his head coach. The conversation, or rumors of it taking place, went public. It really should have been a sign of things to come in how tight-lipped this organization is run.
In any case, Walton has been the coach who was scolded early in the season. I don’t think he ever came back from that with some of the players, as evidenced by some of the sulking, locker room arguments (Beasley) or huddles that don’t seem mandatory to the veteran players.
As I wrote recently, the front office really did themselves and Walton a disservice by treating his tenure with tepid sentiments.
Rather than backing him wholeheartedly publicly, they have largely treated this gig as a one-year showcase before another guy is named.
That doesn’t exactly yield confidence and loyalty from the players.
The season has been plagued by injuries. Losing LeBron James for 18 games was tremendous. Losing Lonzo Ball didn’t help things either.
But this season could have been salvaged had Anthony Davis’ trade demand not surfaced. Whether the Pelicans leaked the ongoing, albeit one-sided, negotiations or whether it was the Lakers, the entire debacle completely ruined any chemistry this team had going into an important part of the season.
L.A. is now 2-8 since Magic met with players to discuss the trade deadline fallout; losses include teams such as the Hawks, Pelicans, Grizzlies and Suns.
This team told us a while ago that it had given up and no amount of Magic charisma was going to help the eradicated chemistry.
Laker fans are again watching meaningless basketball in March because Magic and Pelinka couldn’t do their job, at least not very well.