For a variety of reasons, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers have been linked as organizations. Both can be seen as big market, pillar franchises that have lost their way and are trying to regain their mojo. Both are owned by siblings of rich families that inherited the family business. Until recently, the Lakers owner and President of Basketball Operations of the Knicks were engaged to be married. There are reasons for these comparisons, but for Lakers fans there is only one real link that should matter: The Knicks represent the darkest of timelines for the future outcome of this group of Lakers.
The Knicks found themselves at a crossroads last summer: they finished with a terrible record the season before, resulting in Kristaps Porzingis, and had missed the playoffs. Phil Jackson was potentially entering his final season with the Knicks due to an opt-out clause in his contract, and the fanbase was restless to get back into the playoff and ultimately the championship hunt.
They had two options, very broadly speaking: continue the slow path of rebuilding around a potential new franchise pillar in Porzingis, or maximize Carmelo Anthony's window and mortgage the future (in terms of cap space and assets) to surround the team with big names. They chose the latter, and for many reasons it hasn't worked out.
This is a far too simplistic breakdown of the Knicks issues, to be sure. They didn't exactly trade the world for Derrick Rose, but in bringing Rose in they brought in a player that didn't mesh well with Porzingis. Joakim Noah is a well respected player that can be important for the locker room, but it is clear now that they would've just been better off keeping Robin Lopez. They're in a very difficult situation, and the reason I bring it up is this: this is a very scary outcome for this Lakers team that can very easily be a reality.
Jim Buss, similarly, is under pressure due to his self-imposed deadline. This has been written about plenty, so I'll leave it at that. Like the Knicks, the Lakers have done some things very well (their draft record is not good, it is STELLAR*) and done some things not so well (Joakim Noah and Timofey Mozgov have some really good agents). Buss and Mitch Kupchak will continue to be tested in terms of their patience with this group.
They have said all the right things about this trade deadline, but their past summer still gives me pause. Will the front office be able to stomach missing the playoffs again next year?
The Lakers look poised to take another step in the second half of the season, and they should be even better next season, but what if that's not enough? The Minnesota Timeberwolves are proof that a young core can certainly improve, but don't necessarily have to "pop" on schedule. What if the Lakers don't "pop?" The restraint and discipline needed to grow organically is probably the single-toughest aspect a rebuilding proud franchise can be tasked with. The Kings grew impatient, and made short-term measures to try to make the playoffs. The Pelicans have done the same, and they're just hoping to get the No. 8 seed.
The Lakers can also do the same, but I think we all know their aspirations are higher. We’ll find out over the next the next six months if they have the patience required to get there.
*Because we are talking about Knicks and Lakers and I mentioned the draft, I would like to indulge myself with a mini-rant.
The Lakers drafted D'Angelo Russell second-overall because the choice at that time was between D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor. You know how I know that?
Because with the next pick, Sam Hinkie, who is basically a cyborg and was considered by many to be one of the more innovative and forward-looking GM's selected Jahlil Okafor instead of Kristaps Porzingis, who would've been a better fit next to Noel and Embiid. How about instead of bringing this up every three months to denigrate the Lakers front office, we just compliment the Latvian Unicorn on being so damn good and exceeding expectations in such an impressive way?