Coming into this year, the Lakers felt extremely good about their chances at winning over the next 4 years. The team signed LeBron James to a 4-year, 154 million dollar contract, and brought in multiple veterans, including Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, and Lance Stephenson to help teach their young core about what it takes to win in the NBA. However, the season has not gone as planned, and the Lakers sit 5.5 games behind the 8 seed in the Western Conference with just 18 games left in the regular season. When I look at this team and their season, there are 3 glaring issues that have cost the Lakers a chance at the playoffs.
Images: LeBron James, Javale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell Pope in the huddle
The Lakers have been plagued all year with injuries. LeBron James suffered the worst injury of his professional career, missing 18 games from Dec 25th – Jan 31st due to a strained groin. James is now on pace to play just 64 games this year, his fewest since 2011-2012 (62 games). Rajon Rondo missed 34 of the teams 64 games this year due mostly to a broken hand he suffered at the beginning of the year.
Image: Rajon Rondo working out with a cast on his hand
While these injuries have certainly set the Lakers back, no injury has affected the team more than loosing point guard Lonzo Ball. Since losing Ball to an ankle injury on January 19th, the Lakers are just 5-11 and have seen there defensive rating drop from a top 10 defensive team, to a bottom 10 defensive team. The core of this team has had no time to be on the court together, developing team chemistry which is extremely important for any professional team looking to succeed.
Image: Lonzo Ball down in pain after suffering ankle injury against the Rockets Jan 19th
- LeBron James
At the start of this year, Magic Johnson, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, and LeBron James had a plan to make the Lakers great again. They would attract 1-2 more big name free agent superstars to come to LA (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), and build a super team. While they knew they probably weren’t going to beat the Warriors, the goal was to make it to the playoffs and build team chemistry between all the superstars so that the Lakers could contend for a title in 2020. There was just one problem with their plan. The Lakers were not able to attract any other big name free agents, and had to settle for just having LeBron, which is not a bad consolation prize.
Image: Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and LeBron during the introductory press conference for LeBron
However, LeBron has missed ¼ of the season due to his injury, he has come out and expressed his displeasure with Luke Walton as his head coach, and he spent the entire trade deadline trying to trade all his teammates away for Anthony Davis. All of this has caused problems internally leaving the Lakers in the current mess that they are in today. Players don’t feel wanted, there is no leadership from LeBron or the coaches, and the team chemistry has been all but destroyed since the trade deadline. The team has done an admirable job in trying to mask all the problems, and go out to try and win games, but it’s very clear that LeBron has already moved onto next year.
Image: LeBron in pain after sustaining a groin injury on Dec 25th vs Warriors
Not to mention over the past few months, LeBron has also been producing multiple projects including “Bigfoot” the movie, and his own TV show called “The Shop”. While that’s great for his own brand, it takes his time and attention away from the Lakers, and isolates him from his teammates who are trying to get better everyday. As professionals, these players understand that some of them are more famous than others, but when it comes to the team usually the players put their egos aside for the betterment of their team. LeBron has not done that this year, and is only focused on himself and it shows both on and off the court. I have no doubt that if the Lakers can bring in at least one other big name free agent, LeBron will be more interested and motivated to win a title in LA, but until then, his focus is movies and TV shows.
Image: LeBron sitting far away from his teammates and coaches in game at Indiana just after all-star break
While I dont have too much experience in coaching, I am sure it is never easy to coach a player many consider to be the best basketball player in the world, but that was the task given to Luke Walton and his staff this year. LeBron’s camp has come out and stated that LeBron would “prefer not to have Walton coaching the team”. Even through all that, Walton and his staff have still tried their best to put out a decent product every night, but every night the product is looking worse and worse. The team has very little chemistry between them, and Walton looks like he is just trying to save his job.
Image: LeBron and Lakers coach Luke Walton looking confused during a game
To be fair, Walton has not had a full roster at his disposal all year long, and if the team had stayed healthy, he would probably not be on his last legs as Lakers head coach. Walton’s record since the start of the 2016 season is 91-137 (.399), and the Lakers have missed the playoffs each of the years that he was at the helm. To be fair, they have missed the playoffs for the past five seasons, and most likely will be extending that streak to six straight seasons after this one ends. Magic Johnson needs to have someone who can really control LeBron and get him to buy into a system that can bring the Lakers back.
Image: Luke Walton on the side of the court during a game
So this season has essentially been wasted for the Lakers, and now they will need to speed up the process if they want any chance at getting LeBron one more ring before he retires. However after everything that has happened this year, Johnson, Pelinka, and James will need to work extra hard this offseason in order to attract another superstar to help get the Lakers back on top.
Image: Rob Pelinka, LeBron, and Magic Johnson together during a Lakers home loss vs Oklahoma City
Do you agree with this list? What do you think has been the Lakers biggest issues this year? Comment below and let me know, and as always, thanks for reading!