El Segundo — The Los Angeles Lakers are in familiar territory, surrounded by drama once again. This time, the hubbub concerns a meeting between Lakers head coach Luke Walton and president of basketball operations Magic Johnson in which Johnson reportedly “shouted and cursed at Walton” due to his dissatisfaction with the Lakers’ lack of an offensive system.
With tempers (evidently) running high, at least the Lakers are heading to the Moda Center, a place they’ve historically had a ton of succe--, oh, wait, that’s right, the Lakers have actually had a horrific time over the last several years in Portland, and have lost their last 16 games against the Blazers.
Saturday night would be a hell of a time to turn things around, but doing so won’t be easy, not with Damian Lillard averaging 29.1 points, 6 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game on 49.7 percent shooting. Lillard has also developed a habit for going nuclear on the Lakers in fourth quarters, so even if he wasn’t rampaging across the league he would be worth worrying about.
But the Lakers have bigger concerns than any one opponent. If Walton wants to develop the offensive cohesion Johnson reportedly desires, then the first step is finding some lineups he can rely on.
Walton hasn’t been able to do so thus far, leading to a staggering statistic from ESPN buried at the bottom of the network’s original report about the heated meeting between Walton and Johnson:
Across the first seven games of the regular season, the Lakers have utilized 93 different lineups, behind only the Atlanta Hawks’ 122, according to research by ESPN Stats & Info.
In just the Lakers’ loss to the Wolves alone, Walton used 24 different lineups, so I asked him at practice on Friday if that was the way he wanted things to go all year, or if he’d slow down on throwing so many different units out there once he found a few he could rely on. He said the latter is the plan.
“We would like to get a couple lineups that are comfortable and know they’re going in together, but that hasn’t been our reality so far this season,” Walton said, citing a “shorter training camp, less preseason games” and a “new group of guys” as issues that kept the team from finding lineups they like.
Walton also said Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo’s suspensions — and foul trouble for various key players due to the NBA’s new points of emphasis on calling fouls for freedom of movement violations — have made it tougher to find groups he can trust.
“We don’t have that knowledge yet of what the groups are really doing well together and who plays well. That’s all stuff that’s still being figured out in getting to know our players,” Walton said. “But yeah, we’ll get to a point where it’s more of a solid pattern with all that.”
Walton is reportedly not in danger of losing his job any time soon, but still, with enough tension in the organization to lead to these types of leaks to the press, tacking another loss onto the team’s 3-5 record certainly wouldn’t help things, even if it is on the road against a dangerous Blazers team.
Such excuses don’t mean much when things are this strained, so Walton will need to find some lineups that work, and soon, before Johnson gets more impatient and charges someone else with figuring it out.