When it comes to the NBA hierarchy, the Los Angeles Lakers have been used to sitting on that perch right along with the Boston Celtics. The Lakers and Celtics are both looking to reclaim the glory that have been bestowed on their respective franchises after falling on hard times. The Celtics have 17 NBA championships under their belt.
The Lakers are right behind their arch-rival with 16 titles. But like the rest of the league, these two teams are trying to play catch up with LeBron James and Stephen Curry and their magnetic dominance over the NBA, though Boston has made some headway with an appearance in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lakers, however, are just now trying to get out of their own way from years of discourse, dysfunctionality and putting an apathetic product on the floor. That soon may be changing with their first round picks (No. 2 overall; No. 28) in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The swooning period still isn’t over for the Lakers. Like it or not purple and gold fans, that may continue for another couple of more seasons. Kobe Bryant is no longer around to bail the Lakers out of their losing doldrums. What the Lakers are currently experiencing is a cycle of life. There are good times, then there are not so good times.
Good times for the Lakers mean winning NBA titles just in case you forgot. The not-so-good category means going through six head coaches in seven years. Things happen in cycles and can change at the drop of a hat. Getting UCLA guard Lonzo Ball or any of the other top collegiate players in this year’s draft would certainly speed up the Lakers’ rush back to prominence.
Right now, the Lakers are going through a cycle period the organization hasn’t been accustomed to on a routine basis. Ever since Phil Jackson decided to put the Lakers and Staples Center in his rearview mirror after the 2010-11 NBA season, the team has been on the decline. For a while there, things were running a bit chaotic for the legendary franchise.
The power tug-o-war regarding basketball decisions and operating the franchise reached a crescendo with legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson back in the saddle again as having an official role with the team that he guided to five NBA titles.
Will it change things on the court at the immediate moment? Maybe. Will the Jeanie Buss’ move to seek Johnson’s innate ability to help improve the Lakers down the road pay off? That’s a wait-and-see answer. The Lakers can’t lose with having Johnson giving advice on what is needed to get the franchise to be counted among the elite teams again.
As it stands right now, the Lakers are just treading water-at best. It doesn’t matter who the coach is. When Jackson left after the 2010-11 season, the Lakers went from decent to listless on the attention map. Current Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown lasted one full season and a couple of games into the 2012-13 season before being bounced out of the door.
Mike D’Antoni, now head coach of the Houston Rockets, got two full years of access before being shown the door. D’Antoni recorded a 27-55 record in his last season with the team. That set the ground work for Bryon Scott, a rocking member of the Lakers’ “Showtime,” teams, to get his coaching mojo on.
By the end of his second season, Scott didn’t have a whole lot of cache left after his team recorded the lowest number of wins in team history. Enter Luke Walton, another former Laker. The move was ballyhood for a couple of reasons.
Walton is young. His father, Bill Walton, is in the basketball Hall of Fame. Walton played alongside Kobe. He served an apprenticeship under Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and won a championship. That’s good stuff to put on your resume.
If you add the fact that the Lakers have picked up four first round draft picks since 2014, it’s easy to buy into the excitement surrounding the potential or what is to come. What’s to come is that the Lakers need a player personnel upgrade or risk being buried in NBA abyss for much, much longer.
The Lakers’ inability to get the top free agents around the league is problematic. The Lakers can’t afford a few more years to wait until Julius Randle (Round 1, 7th pick), D’Angelo Russell (Round 1, 2nd pick), Larry Nance Jr. (Round 1, 27th pick) and Brandon Ingram (Round 1, 2nd pick) to fully blossom in order to stay relevant with the rest of the league.
As of right now, they are not. The Lakers finished the regular season with a 26-56 record, a nine-game improvement over the previous coaching regime. But at least Walton has his team pointed in the right direction. By all accounts this already has been a successful season for the Lakers. Last year, the Lakers, under the coaching of Byron Scott, won all of 17 games during the entire 2015-2016 season.
With Walton running things from the sidelines, the Lakers are riding the premise that this past season could be the path back to not only relevancy, but to the point where the name Los Angeles Lakers will hold more than just a bucket of water in the NBA.
That was wishful season. Halfway through the season, the Lakers secured 19 wins against 39 defeats, a 33 percent winning clip. That’s not going to get it done in trying to make a push for the playoffs. What the Lakers have run into this season is reality meeting up with hype and over-the-top expectations.
Being a relatively young team means inconsistency can pile up night in and night out. Going 7-25 (at one point during the regular season) on the road won’t show consistency to win ballgames. That comes with all of these young players on the same page as Walton. After breaking his leg in his first season, Randle has played well the last two years. This season Randle is averaging almost 13.2 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.
D’Angelo Russell, who have been projected as the next greatest thing in a purple and gold uniform, has had his moments to shine. Averaging 15.6 points and 4.8 assists a game, Russell is starting to carve a niche following for himself. Brandon Ingram looks like an uptick for the future. But with the good also comes the bad.
The bad comes in the form of the back-and-forth message coming from the Lakers front office. A couple of years ago, Jim Buss, the son of the late Jerry Buss, opined that if the Lakers were not in position to contend for either Western Conference or NBA championships, he would step down.
A couple of years later, the Lakers are not in position to contend for either the Western Conference crown or an NBA title. Jim Buss was eventually removed from the team. Former general manager Mitch Kupchak is also gone. Where does this put Magic Johnson?
What we do know is that Johnson didn’t come on board to play tiddlywinks. He is a man of action. He will make something happen. The Lakers need more of that than a whole bunch of talking and infighting drama.