Ever since Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka pulled off their front office coup and took over the Los Angeles Lakers, their focus has been very plainly on replacing players rather than developing them. Their treatment of Luke Walton has been the most brash example of this trend, and the organization’s culture has taken major hit because of it.
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN (who remains very close to Magic, by the way) was asked about the latest on the Lakers’ coaching search and pushed back some on Jason Kidd as a reported candidate:
“I have been told that’s not gonna happen. I’m just telling you that the Lakers made it a point to get word to me this morning: Jason Kidd is not an option... They don’t think he would be the right fit for them.”
To the Lakers’ point via Smith here, no, Jason Kidd would not be the right fit for them, no matter how badly he wants to be seen as the right fit for literally anywhere.
Now, as far as who Smith says the Lakers are interested in, it’s a familiar name:
“They believe that Ty Lue warrants strong consideration. The former coach in Cleveland who took the Cavaliers to three consecutive championship series, who won a championship in Cleveland as the coach of the Cavaliers after being down 3-1. Who repeatedly made adjustments from the regular season to the postseason.
“Here’s the deal. Ty Lue is proven. LeBron respects the hell out of him. Wouldn’t mind him being the next coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. These are all true things.”
There will be plenty of time to discuss Lue as a possible replacement over the next couple months, but to me what is more productive right now is examining the Lakers’ complete and utter lack of organizational culture or continuity.
Jim Buss’ nameplate had barely been removed from the office Johnson now occupies before D’Angelo Russell was shipped off to Brooklyn. A decision on Julius Randle was made a good year before it had to be, with very little thought to the contrary despite his proving through a full season that they should maybe rethink their approach to keeping him happy.
The list goes on. Rather than watching the rest of the season play out and then deciding on Ivica Zubac’s contract when they actually had to, he was sent across the hall in one of the worst minor trades we’ve ever seen.
This front office has shown zero patience and ability in developing assets, and compounded that shortcoming with an utter disregard for their market value. They took over a team with an exciting young core, one of the league’s most promising young coaches and assets to continue to build for the future with immediate and legitimate competition right around the corner. They saw all those things as hindrances that must be replaced by their concepts of NBA players, rather than building blocks that just could be developed into legitimate NBA players even alongside LeBron James.
Recently, it was reported that the front office was frustrated by Walton’s coaching staff. You know who could have a say in how such a sideline group gets put together? Walton’s bosses, that’s who. But rather than guiding him with the essential tools to grow into the coach he was capable of becoming, they are instead focused on who his replacement will be while he’s still manning the Lakers’ sidelines.
Now, this is where we should note that all front office’s should have contingency plans for their next coach, who should be on their roster next, all that stuff. Take how quickly Danny Ainge moved on Brad Stevens to replace Doc Rivers despite having the latter’s trade request culminate rather quickly a few years ago.
The key difference is that while Ainge clearly (and admittedly) had Stevens in mind before any of that happened, his alternate options weren’t getting leaked all over the place while Rivers was still employed. That’s the main part of this that feels unbecoming. The Lakers should be planning for all sorts of future scenarios, including who to target if and when they fire Walton, it’s just a little unseemly to leak them all over the place while he’s still employed.
It’s also worth pointing out that all of the players and coaches involved here have their own shortcomings. Russell was seen as and admitted to being immature early on in his Lakers career. Randle’s fit alongside LeBron might not have come all that natural on either side of the ball. Walton’s offense is still nowhere near NBA-caliber, and the coaching staff he put together was laughable.
But merely shedding them with very little in return is gross mismanagement of assets, and on top of that, it institutes a culture where everyone involved knows they are not just replaceable, but have near impossible odds to stick around.
Why would anyone buy into the Lakers’ future if those are the terms? We’ve seen the result to hoping guys on expiring contracts buy in despite having little hope to be here long term for more than half a decade at this point. The fact that these mistakes don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon leads one to believe this is just who the Lakers will be under this regime, no matter who they hire as their next head coach.
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