It sometimes feels like they never left, but throughout the last decade the Los Angeles Lakers slipped into the sort of NBA irrelevance usually saved for rebuilding teams in the southeast.
This season was set to be the year for the Purple and Gold. The Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff drought was to be no more.
Those 16 banners may even turn into 17. Why? They got LeBron James. The best player in the world. The King.
There were predictions of Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, there was talk of a new big four in Hollywood.
The season starts just like that, Lakers are coming fourth in the West leading up to Christmas. They had the ninth-best defensive rating in December, everyone (bar rondo) was healthy and playing well with a bench that inserted energy in the forms of Lance Stephenson’s air guitar and Kentavious Caldwell Pope’s deadly three.
But then the Lakers fairytale season is finally brought back to reality when the Grinch finally steals the Lakers Christmas.
LeBron (groin) goes down against the Warriors on Christmas day and misses the next 17 games. The Lakers start to struggle, but it’s okay because James will come back, and everything will go back to normal. But then Lonzo Ball (ankle) goes down and gets shut down for the season.
LeBron comes back in February, but it isn’t the same. In March, Kyle Kuzma (back) goes down and is out for a few games and then Brandon Ingram (shoulder) goes down and gets shut down for the season. That’s three of their starting five out for the Lakers.
The current starting five for the Lakers includes: LeBron, KCP, who is 2-12 over his last five games from three, Mo Wanger, the rookie with 27 games under his belt, JaVale McGee, who is back to his Shaqtin ways and Rajon Rondo, who has reverted back to not being able to shoot.
The bench is no better with Jonathan Williams and Alex Caruso, who have both played nine whole games, Reggie Bullock, who never looked the same as he did in Detroit and Josh Hart, who is down in about every statistic from his rookie year.
But if that squad isn’t depleted enough, it gets worse. Lakers are now third worst in defensive rating and have four won of their last 15.
They have lost against nearly every lottery team in the NBA including the Phoenix Suns and an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans in this latest stretch, not to mention earlier losses to the Knicks, Hawks and Cleveland.
Suffice to say, even with LeBron back, the Lakers never really looked the same as they did before his Christmas injury.
Obviously, the injuries hurt the Lakers, but that’s not the sole reason for the Lakers doom and gloom. Here are some reasons why the Lakers look so terrible.
Defence is a huge issue. If you need evidence of their lack of defence, just look at Kyle Kuzma pushing James to defend against Denver earlier in March or any transition defensive play by the Lakers, where one opposing player will outrun three Lakers defenders. Some may argue that Lonzo is the difference, but he isn’t coming back any time soon.
The Anthony Davis saga, where the young core (and most of the team) were nearly traded for Davis, in a public debacle that broke the team and led to Lakers losing four of their five games leading up to the All-Star break.
The front office’s attempt at “surrounding LeBron with athletic talent”. Look Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka tried, but the team of mismatches did not work.
Michael Beasley was traded to the Clippers, Tyson Chandler has been injured and averages three points per game, Lance Stephenson is shooting 26 per cent over the past ten games and Rondo is perhaps the only shining light but doesn’t really play defence. Then there are the trades for Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock.
Bullock is now on the bench, Muscala can’t hit a three (shooting at 27per cent from three-point range).
Also, they gave up Ivica Zubac, who in 20 minutes per game with the Los Angeles Clippers is scoring nine points per game, one block and seven rebounds and looked pretty good in the Lakers starting line up as a young developing player.
Luke Walton is almost certain to be fired and may be replaced by anyone from Tyronn Lue to Jason Kidd. There are issues with Walton’s rotations, constant speculations about his firing and the media and craziness that comes with having LeBron on your team (even worse than LaVar Ball) that are part of why he will not be head coach come next season.
Probably most worrying and one of the biggest reasons for the Lakers turmoil is that the Lakers are the worst in the league at Free throws at around 69 per cent and second worst in three-point percentage at 33.4 per cent.
The media world has been melting over the past few weeks about the Lakers but it’s officially time to move on.
The Lakers season is now looking like a hopeful top ten lottery pick, a free agent in the summer or the controversial Anthony Davis blockbuster trade.
Maybe LeBron James is no longer the greatest player in the world but he is still an offensive powerhouse, averaging a stellar 27 points per game and eight assists and rebounds per game, heck he even passed Michael Jordan for the fourth-highest scorer of all time, but it’s not enough.
The season for the Lakers is officially over. The LeBron dream is dead at least for this season.