The Los Angeles Lakers: How The Mighty Have Fallen
On July 1st, NBA Free Agency starts and the prized possession is Kevin Durant. The former MVP and four-time scoring champion is one of the best 5 players in the league today, so acquiring him through signing him would be a massive coup for any team in the league. Tons of teams have gobs of cap space that would love to spend it on Durant, and other teams are willing to rework their roster in order to accommodate Durant’s contract. So far, Durant has agreed to meet with the Thunder, Spurs, Warriors, Celtics, Heat, and Clippers with regards to his free agency. Rumors are circulating that Durant is mulling a meeting with the Knicks as well. Those teams make up the true heavyweights of the NBA, as they are contending for titles now or, such as in the case of the Celtics and Heat, are simply lacking a marquee player like Durant to launch themselves firmly into contention for the Larry O’Brien trophy. For now, considering that nobody is certain where Durant is going and the meetings don’t start for another week or so, the most significant news, considering all of these meetings were expected, is who Durant is not meeting with:
The Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers were once considered the crown jewel of the NBA. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wanted to suit up in the purple and gold. The storied players in Lakers history are a who’s who of the greatest dozen or so players in NBA history: Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. They were always in contention for top tier free agents or disgruntled stars looking to relocate: Dwight Howard pushed his way there in the same way that Shaq did before him and the way that Kareem did before him. (Although, Kareem’s motivations to play in LA were very different than Shaq’s and Dwight’s.) Even last year, LaMarcus Aldridge took a meeting with the Lakers, even though he made it clear that he was looking to contend and the Lakers were not ready to do so. It was the Lakers, so it was just a foregone conclusion that you would have to take their phone calls and meetings. But now, that has all changed.
It would be impossible to blame Durant for not wanting to meet with the Lakers, as their situation isn’t exactly desirable. (But definitely not the worst: shout-out to my Brooklyn Nets!) They do have some young talent in D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram could grow into a phenomenal player. Unfortunately, they owe a draft pick to the 76ers from the Steve Nash trade (which the 76ers acquired from Phoenix) and the rest of their roster is rather barren. Although they do have tons of cap space, many of the players on the free agent market are veterans such as Pau Gasol, Mike Conley, and Al Horford, who are unlikely to want to jump aboard a young team in the process of a rebuild. There is also a ton of locker room question marks on the team, mainly circulating around Russell and his incident regarding Nick Young.
However, there are deeper rooted issues that reach the top of the organization. Since Jerry Buss passed, two of his children: Jimmy and Jeanie have been running the team, although rumors of tension between the two have continued to grow louder. Jeanie was placed in charge of business operations and Jimmy was in charge of basketball operations, yet that has led to questions as to who is really in charge. Furthermore, as one of the first acts with the two Buss children in charge, the team gave Kobe Bryant a monster contract extension when other aging stars such as Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki were taking less money to help construct contenders. The Lakers essentially became a side-show to Kobe’s retirement tour, as he led the team in shots behind an especially atrocious 7 3PA per game despite only shooting 28.5% from three. While there is a collection of young talent, Kobe’s presence definitely hindered their development and leaves the team now without a real semblance of direction.
Adding Ingram to their core and bringing in Luke Walton, who will almost certainly be a massive upgrade over Byron Scott, should start to push the Lakers in the right direction. However, one thing is very clear: the Lakers have lost some level of their swagger. They are no longer the end all, be all for NBA Franchises. Historically, there have been very few gaps between the Lakers having an all-time level player. The difference is, this time around, people aren’t clamoring to get there. It will be interesting to see how they try to right the ship, but for right now, the Lakers don’t truly seem like The Lakers.