Lakers could learn a lesson about identity from their Los Angeles neighbors | NBA
If you’ve been paying attention to the basketball scene in Los Angeles, last week was a shock to the system, yet not all that surprising.
With boos reigning down from the rafters as the final seconds ticked away on a 113-105 Clippers victory over the Lakers, Patrick Beverley couldn’t help but taunt the Lakers faithful, waving his arms and openly mocking the crowd.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 5, 2019
“Like I said about us being the best team in LA,” Beverley said after the game, “a lot of people don’t believe me. It’s fine. Women lie. Men lie. Numbers don’t.”
Beverley is the embodiment of what this Clippers team stands for. Forced to play the underdog role in their own city, the Clippers’ grittiness and energy is always on full display. The Clippers know exactly who they are, and it shows in the way they play and in how they interact with each other.
The direction of the franchise is also quite clear. The organization has not shied away from its desire to acquire stars in July with the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving set to hit the open market. The Clippers are managing a two-pronged approach of competing now and creating a path to greater success.
The same cannot be said about the Lakers.
The Lakers organization has always been about star power — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson (currently serving as team president), Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and now LeBron James. It ties perfectly into a city that reveres celebrities and the Hollywood lifestyle. But what happens when what’s always worked, well, doesn’t?
James’ first season in LA has been an unmitigated disaster. Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka surrounded James with non-shooters like Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson. Early-season suspensions for Rondo and Brandon Ingram stunted the team’s chemistry. James’ groin injury sent the Lakers into a tailspin. Then there’s the Anthony Davis trade debacle. The term “dumpster fire” comes to mind.
All of these problems have left the Lakers 7.5 games out of the eighth seed in the West. Ingram and Lonzo Ball are done for the year. James is on a minutes restriction. The white flag is waving outside of staples center — well, for one team anyway.
The roster will be overhauled. Luke Walton is likely coaching his last games in Los Angeles, but he’s the scapegoat more than the problem. James is only getting older, and we’ve already seen what happens when he goes down with an injury.
This goes back to the franchise’s core issue. The Lakers need to figure out who they are, and it needs to happen quickly. Maybe adding Davis in an offseason trade quiets some of the criticism, but what happens if the Lakers are forced to settle for a second-tier star? Are Johnson and Pelinka capable of building a team around James? Again, who are the Lakers in 2019?
That loss to the Clippers illustrates how far the Lakers have fallen. It put the Clippers’ culture in front of a national audience. It offered a glimpse of the Clippers’ planning and execution, the front office’s ability to blend the missions of present and future. It also showed the Lakers have no coherent vision beyond being a brand name and a constant source of drama.
The Lakers find themselves in an unfamiliar place — lost, confused and without an identity. They’ve lost more games than any team in the NBA since 2013, and they are heading back to the lottery this year, an incomprehensible thought after making the biggest splash in free agency last summer.
Will this year be a blip on the radar in the LeBron James era? Or will we view it as the beginning of four wasted years with arguably the greatest player of all time?
Decisions over the next few months may provide the ultimate answers. But for now, much like the Lakers themselves, it’s up in the air.