The Los Angeles Lakers would like to blame injuries for the way this season turned out, especially given the news that both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball will miss the rest of the year with their respective injuries. While there is something to that idea, obviously, merely passing off blame onto a couple bumps and bruises ignores a painfully obviously and awkward truth: Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka made some brutal mistakes in building this roster, and it’s sounding like there were some in the organization who saw this coming.
According to Bill Oram of The Athletic, not everyone — in this case, Luke Walton and his coaching staff — was on board with swapping out Julius Randle and Brook Lopez in favor of JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson.
After delivering James in July, Johnson ignored the pleas of the coaching staff that he retain Brook Lopez and Julius Randle. Instead, he signed controversial and limited journeymen JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson.
Imagine stepping into a position you have zero experience at and overriding an entire coaching staff who had a hand in actually improving the organization in each of the last two years. The hubris is astonishing, and needs to go.
Now, in both cases, it was fairly obvious early on with both players that the Lakers had different plans at last season’s end. Randle started the season on the bench and was playing so few minutes there was a nightly riot in Lakers Twitter on the subject. That is (at least in part) on Walton. Lopez at one point grew so tired and frustrated with how he was being treated that he covered his face with a towel and left the bench to collect himself. Again, it’s fair to infer that Walton is not blameless in that.
And as convenient as it would be — especially for Walton — to just blame Johnson and Pelinka for Lopez’s departure, and while they do deserve some criticism, it’s not that simple. While Lopez has said all the right things publicly, that lack of consistent communication on his role and position within the organization made it so he wasn’t all that interested in returning to the Lakers, and by the time the summer rolled around, it’s unlikely Johnson and Pelinka could have brought him back no matter how the coaching staff felt.
Randle’s agent, Aaron Mintz, and the Lakers never really saw eye-to-eye (see how things went with Paul George, as well as fellow Mintz client D’Angelo Russell). So in that case, it’s easy to see how that relationship had soured to the point where a return might never have been in the cards.
In both cases, however, there is a trend: Magic and Pelinka make their minds up too early on players and rushed into decisions that didn’t have to be made at the time. They traded Russell a year before they actually had to open up the cap space they freed up. They for some reason decided not to bring back Lopez and Randle while they were still on the team. Ivica Zubac was traded for no real apparent reason other than to also move Michael Beasley and maybe inspire McGee to care again, which, sure! That’s certainly a decision! It didn’t work, but it is a choice!
Hell, they let Thomas Bryant (who is only shooting an incredible true shooting percentage of 68.3) walk before he ever really go onto the court for the Lakers.
The Lakers have dealt with injuries, right? Well, Randle has played in 62 of the New Orleans Pelicans’ 69 games. Lopez has yet to miss a game this season. Randle’s playmaking could’ve really come in handy during any of Ball, Ingram, Rajon Rondo or LeBron James’ absences. Lopez is having a far better year behind the three-point line (36.8 percent on more than six attempts per game) than anyone on the Lakers.
Maybe next time listen up, Magic. Or at the very least, hold off on making these types of decisions until they actually have to be made. During your next monthly visit to the facilities, for example.