If you went back to 2010 and said to the Laker organisation, their fans and the sports media that engrosses the United States, and said the Lakers would effectively fall into a pit of absolute mediocrity and failure that would see them fail to make the playoffs for six straight years… you would be met with hysterical laughter. Unfortunately, for the good of the NBA and Los Angeles, that happened. But it is likely there will be a resurrection for the beloved team in the upcoming 2018-19 season.
It is a resurrection for one of the world’s biggest sports franchises and one that has had decades of success since the 1940s. A franchise that has been graced with some of the greatest to ever walk onto the wooden floorboards, and one that was in dire need of a clean out thanks to the ineptitude of Jim Buss.
Hard to believe that the late great Dr. Jerry Buss, who purchased them in 1979 and immediately recreated their image, could have an offspring that would ruin the franchise so much in a couple of years. Jim Buss was brought on as a basketball executive for the Lakers a few years prior to his father’s passing, and would contribute to basketball related decisions. Though regardless of how much he wanted someone or didn’t want someone else, his father had the final say at that time.
The passing of Jerry Buss in 2013 meant that decision making role was passed down to Jim, who officially became the Vice President of Basketball operations and would exploit the role with a some awful roster moves. An obsession with Robert Sacre, signing Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to lucrative deals and being embarrassed by LaMarcus Aldridge, who heavily criticised Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s free agency pitch in 2015, deteriorated the team’s image quickly.
Other teams have been in that realm of mediocrity for a long time, and just a few years for the Lakers being there is considered a catastrophe by their fans, which to many seems a bit unfair. But it’s fair to say anything longer is genuinely too long. The Celtics, Lakers, Knicks and Bulls in basketball, the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Cubs and Dodgers in baseball and the Packers, Giants, Steelers and Cowboys in football make their respective leagues more appealing when they’re succeeding. It’s those established franchises who have the biggest fan bases and the richest of histories that draw in the most people to engage in their leagues. Some may not like it, but it’s a fact.
What I’m trying to say is, the Lakers didn’t deserve their downfall nor did the NBA, and it’s finally ending.
King James’ impact
LeBron James is a missing piece, but major emphasis on ‘a’ and not ‘the’.
An immediate thought is the positive impact LeBron’s arrival has on the young Laker core that needs to keep trending upwards. What has been a silver lining amongst their recent struggles have been lottery picks in the draft, and being able to bring in young, talented players who, in the right environment, will turn into some big-time contributors on a contending team. Forwards Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma have been the most pleasing so far of the group, and as long as the LaVar circus continues to stay quiet Lonzo Ball has all the intangibles and natural skills to develop into one of the most productive players in the game as well. All together that will lead to an immediate improvement in the pace, confidence and chemistry amongst the team with LeBron as the leader.
But if LeBron was ‘the’ missing piece, the Lakers have a truly short window to jump back into contention. This aging process people are all of a sudden brining up, which is a real script change from LeBron’s invincibility status before free agency, is creating a negative idea around whether signing LeBron and choosing not to revamp the team immediately is a risky move But that is absolutely bogus, as we can only judge his aging process on what we’ve seen so far, which is nothing – therefore LeBron will be the best in the league for a few years to come.
LeBron’s 2017-18 season was arguably the best of his career. He played all 82 games in the regular season, as well as averaging 41.9 minutes a game in all 22 playoff games for the Cavaliers. His field goals made and percentage were amongst the highest of his career, and his efficiency rating was a 28.60 which is better than his career average of 27.65. That all amounts to something very impressive, given his workload and increased play time at the time while heading well into his thirties.
But even if he was still in his prime, a second a guy is needed. So free agency in 2019 is the obvious method to get that guy.
There’s no point previewing the positives of a Kawhi Leonard move, but what needs to be stated is how likely it really is. The Paul George comparison, that since George didn’t even give the Lakers or any other team a meeting could be the case for Kawhi if he falls in love with Toronto (which is seriously unlikely given what we know so far), immediately falls apart when you mention a golden nugget of a sentence in July 2019.
‘LeBron is on the team’
George didn’t know whether he’d be the number one guy on the Lakers or if LeBron really was moving. and clearly the risk of that was too great for him.
If Kawhi doesn’t want to play with 4 (at the least) exciting young guys and the second greatest player of all time, that’s not the Lakers fault.
Therefore the second guy could very well be Jimmy Butler, who at this stage has nothing holding him to the Timberwolves. Butler’s play style is similar to George and Leonard, as it features a range of offensive weapons as well as a great defensive skill-set making for a handy companion to James.
Player unrest in the Minnesota camp seems to be too prevalent at this stage for there to be a strong draw to the team, meaning Butler may very well consider a move to his hometown. Another L.A. native like Leonard, a move to the Lakers to play with LeBron and ‘rising stars’ (sure, a bit optimistic) and a strong possibility of dethroning the Golden State Warriors should be too enticing to pass up.
Speaking of the Warriors, Klay Thompson is another choice to bring in, but given the success of the team and his key role within it, it seems likely he will re-sign with them.
So what now? Sit tight
That’s a term I’ve said for two years now, and only now is that genuinely the best option. LeBron automatically (as long as he has a few half-decent players who can score) makes the Lakers a 50+ winning team, and as long as that along with the playoffs is achieved Laker Nation should be satisfied for now.
The sentence that triggered a likely move to L.A. for LeBron for basketball fans and others alike was ‘which option is better than this’, and none really fitted that bill. The same can be said for Butler, who aside from a move to Philly may see no better option than the Lakers.