Lakers

Lakers Are Paying for Three Years of Constant Mistakes

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The Los Angeles Lakers are in one of the most obscure periods in the LeBron JamesAnthony Davis era. Despite the two stars and top role players being the healthiest they’ve been in years, the Lakers are trudging around .500 through the midway point of the season.

On the heels the most talked about Western Conference Finals run in recent memory, the appeal for Lakers fans to buy in this year was continuity. ‘Continuity this’ and ‘continuity that,’ but what’s ironic about the way the James-Davis era has played out, is that what’s been killing Los Angeles for the last three season is, frankly, its lack of continuity.

Hear me out.

Lakers fans are as merciless on their team as any NBA fanbase could be. They can blame Darvin Ham’s ineptitude, D’Angelo Russell‘s December slump, or even Austin Reaves not quite taking the leap they expected this season. But, the problems that the Lakers have been battling for the last three seasons are all a product of three years of plain mismanagement.

Although LA is deemed one of the pillars of the league, their recent mediocrity is a product of failure at the executive level. From terrible asset management to questionable staff turnover, let’s take a look at how truly catastrophic the last three seasons have been for the team with 17 rings.

THAT ONE DREADED SUMMER

Question. How do you shatter a championship roster and spend the next three years picking up the pieces in one day? Ask Rob Pelinka on July 29, 2021.

On Oct. 11, 2020, the Lakers won their 17th championship in the Orlando Bubble. During that 72-day offseason, Pelinka and his front office brought back what some would say was an even better roster. Essentially turning Rajon Rondo, Danny Green, Javale McGee and Dwight Howard into Dennis Schröder, Wesley Matthews, Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell was tremendous turnover on paper. And if hadn’t been for a shortened offseason and, in turn, a lack of health, that roster was still a top-tier contender.

So, when that same roster couldn’t beat the eventual Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns, despite looking better than them before Davis went down with another injury, the front office decided it was time to move on from the ideology that once made them the best in the league.

The NBA around them was changing, big threes were being formed, the league was becoming more talented. And what was their almost impulsive response to that? Trading away Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Harrell for Russell Westbrook.

Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope, two players who on multiple occasions were one of LA’s third-best players during their championship run. Two championship pieces gone for an aging point guard that was set to make over $40 million each of the next two seasons.

And so started the ripple effect.

FREE AGENCY HAS BEEN BRUTAL

With nearly half of their cap space tied up in Westbrook’s contract, the Lakers spent their next three seasons grasping at straws in free agency. They were able to find some gems along the way (Malik Monk and Lonnie Walker IV), but were unable to retain them because the players were either too expensive or desired a bigger role. Certainly, you can’t blame the front office for players like Monk and Walker IV playing themselves into a better contract. But, you can blame them for the players that they let walk for nothing.

Look no further than one of the most crippling losses of this entire time period — Alex Caruso.

Caruso was not only a fan-favorite, but was also held in high regard by many of his teammates, including James. Caruso was even tokened as the ‘LeBron of playing with LeBron.’

When it was time for Caruso’s next contract, the front office was unwilling to go over the luxury tax to retain the future all-defensive guard despite Caruso offering a discount. The Lakers essentially chose to extend Talen Horton-Tucker for $10 million per year over Caruso’s reported asking price of $12 million.

Was it worth it?

Horton-Tucker was traded to Utah for Patrick Beverly the very next offseason. Beverly was then traded to Orlando five months later for Mo Bamba. The Lakers waived Bamba four months after that. It was definitely not worth it. Los Angeles let Caruso walk for absolutely nothing.

The Lakers have since spent nearly every season coveting a Caruso return. Attempting to bring back former Lakers has been a noticeable pattern in recent seasons. At what point do you start to notice how terrible your asset management has been? At what point do you start to value continuity over saving money or landing the biggest guy on the market?

WIN NOW OR VALUE THE FUTURE? NO ONE KNOWS.

When you house a generational talent like LeBron James, your only objective is to win at all costs. That goal was magnified during the first half of James’ tenure in the trade for Anthony Davis and the hiring of Frank Vogel. Not so much the case during the latter half.

Once they saw how bad the post-Westbrook trade roster was, their first instinct was to scapegoat and dismiss their championship-level head coach. And what did they do to replace their head coach in the midst of a championship or bust era? Hire a rookie head coach.

Let’s spend a brief second on Darvin Ham and his… quirks.

SMOKED HAM

Ham is without a doubt deserving of his flowers for his ability to turn last season around. I’m not sure a single head coach could do anything with that Westbrook roster. Nonetheless, Ham wasn’t only able to keep the team’s chemistry afloat through the first half of the season, but was able to light a fire under the post-trade deadline roster and lead them to the conference finals.

When hired, Ham had a reputation for his ability to connect with players. He’s a great player’s coach. That’s… about it, though. During his second year, his real proclivities started to shine bright.

For starters, he is one of the worst schematic head coaches in the league on both sides of the ball. Los Angeles’ offense revolves heavily around 20-second LeBron isolations or Davis posting up with little to no off-ball movement. Their defensive strategy is flawed on a nightly basis. For reference, the Lakers rank 20th in the league in offensive rating (113.5) and 14th in defensive rating (114.4).

This isn’t a product of lack of talent either. LA was praised for its talented depth out of the offseason, and for good reason — because they’re TALENTED!

It’s up to Ham and his coaching staff to be able to optimize their best players. Role players have weaknesses, that’s why they’re role players. It’s the coach’s job to maximize their strengths such that their weaknesses aren’t crippling.

I digress.

Moral of the story is that if you’re housing two top-10 players and have championship aspirations, you don’t hire a rookie head coach who has obvious flaws. Yes, he led this team to the conference finals, but their run last season was more a result of a rejuvenated locker room rather than Ham being given a more competent roster.

WHAT’S NEXT?

It’s starting to feel like purgatory. How are fans able to enjoy their team knowing only two of its players are safe from the impulsivity of the front office? How do the players feel? When are the trade talks going to end?

The Lakers fell from grace so fast. From champions to play-in regulars in the matter of two seasons. It’s hard to place blame on just anyone, but one thing is certain — something MUST change organizationally. If not, then Lakers fans may as well prepare for another rebuild.

About Connor Moreno

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