This week, the NBA playoffs, my favorite sporting event of the year, will take place. However, for the first time in 13 years, the event will not feature the most talented player in the sport. Lebron James has been the face of basketball for over a decade, growing in stature to be one of the greatest players in Americans sports history. Despite playing at a level no worse than his previous years in the league, his team will miss the playoffs, not even cracking a 0.500 record.
For the past eight years, Lebron James has dragged team after team to the NBA finals. Last year’s Cleveland Cavaliers were a team almost completely devoid of talent and competent coaching, and yet Lebron James still managed to get that team to the NBA finals, in the process sweeping the East’s number one seed, the Toronto Raptors.
How could one of the best players in NBA history join forces with the league’s most glamorous franchise only to end up with an utterly abysmal record?
There’s a lot of blame to go around. The Lakers organization decided to construct a team with what they claimed to be “high IQ players who could take the pressure off Lebron and handle the ball.” The ill-fit of the roster, however, came to surprise zero people in the basketball world.
Lebron James at his best was on a team with players who are excellent 3-point shooters and play hard on defense, along with a co-star who can create his own shot. The LA Lakers failed to address those two points and instead made puzzling series of transactions to bring a number of players from Lance Stephenson to Michael Beasley.
The current transaction record of the Lakers management, as thin as it might be, gives a low indication of competency. Magic Johnson, one of the greatest Lakers players ever, started his job two years ago with little experience in running basketball operations. He has now resigned from the position and appears to be clearly unsuited to ever have held the position at all. It is a theme that repeats itself in sports; great players turning into coaches and managers generally does not work.
Additionally, Magic hired Rob Pelinka, a long time agent of Kobe Bryant. Similarly, Rob Pelinka did not have much prior experience running a basketball team.
When Jeanie Buss, the current controlling owner of the Lakers franchise, was asked a few weeks ago in the MIT Sloan conference what the Lakers most challenging issue was, she answered ‘fake news.’ Generally speaking, in today’s world, fake news is not a good answer to any question. The comment, however, gives an indication of a deeper problem in the Lakers hierarchy and how detached they are from reality.
Yes, there were other reasons for the Lakers’ struggles Lebron missing 20 games with a groin injury did not help. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram missing time was also a factor. But none of these factors could hide the fundamentally flawed roster.
The Lakers still have a chance to rebound and save what is remaining of Lebron’s basketball playing years. They have enough cap space to sign a decorated player, a number of intriguing young players, a desirable city to play in and a high draft pick in this year’s draft. But, they can no longer rely on their history to carry them to the finish line. They have missed the playoffs for six straight years. Unless the Lakers organization has an honest look in the mirror, they will be dealing with the same problem this time next year. Let’s hope, for the sake of those of us who enjoy this sport, that the Lakers resolve their problems and don’t deprive us from watching Lebron James in the playoffs.
Contact Hassan Aljama at aljamaha ‘at’ stanford.edu.