Before the Los Angeles Lakers were ran out of their own gym by the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, president of basketball operations Magic Johnson took a moment to provide some clarity on the reported meeting he had with head coach Luke Walton on Tuesday.
Johnson said that he’s not planning to fire Walton barring “something drastic,” but while he declined to get into too much detail about what was said in the meeting that had him upset in the first place, Johnson told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN that he expressed his dissatisfaction with the way the Lakers have looked on the defensive end to start the season.
Johnson said the meeting was not about Walton’s future but rather about how the Lakers had been playing in their rocky start to the season.
”Yeah, it was,” Johnson said when asked if the meeting was positive and necessary. “We’re last in defense. We got to get better.”
To be fair to Walton, the Lakers don’t technically have the worst defense in the NBA. That title belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are allowing 118.5 points per 100 possessions.
However, they do have a ton of room to improve on that end — a ton.
For example, despite being ranked No. 6 in the NBA in blocks per game, the Lakers are allowing a league-worst 59 points per game in the paint. While Tyson Chandler, who is expected to sign with Los Angeles once he clears waivers on Tuesday, will likely improve that number, a 36-year-old center won’t make that problem go away overnight.
The Lakers are also among the bottom 10 in opponent fast break points (15.6), opponent second chance points (14.1) and opponents points off of turnovers (18.4). It’s no wonder Johnson isn’t happy with the team’s defense, but he and Rob Pelinka didn’t exactly give Walton the personnel to succeed defensively this offseason.
Of the six players the Lakers signed in free agency, only JaVale McGee came into the season with a positive defensive real plus-minus, according to ESPN. So far, that has borne out.
There are ways Walton can work around that, but there’s only so much he can with the personnel he has. The team’s struggles on both ends of the floor have as much to do with the front office’s failure to evaluate talent in offseason as they do with Walton’s system.
Hopefully the team can get to a point where they’re respectable on the defensive end. If not, they’re going to find it tough to win on a regular basis.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.