There was a point this season when the Los Angeles Lakers were fun. The team was the fourth seed in the Western Conference, had a top-10 defense in the NBA and genuinely appeared to be hitting their stride.
Then LeBron James got hurt in the Lakers’ Christmas Day win against the Golden State Warriors and the team fell off a cliff, with Lonzo Ball’s emergence as a reliable fulcrum of the Lakers’ strategy on both ends serving as one of the few positive takeaways from the first half of the season. Or at least it was, until he got hurt right before James got back from his groin injury.
The Lakers have been in free fall since then, in large part due to a trade saga that was handled ineptly, no matter how much team owner Jeanie Buss cautions against believing everything you hear. And even if you want to believe that the Lakers aren’t solely responsible for how public and ugly those Anthony Davis talks got, it’s easy to see that this roster hasn’t been the same since then, posting a 4-9 record since Davis’ trade demand after going 26-24 prior.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma didn’t cite those trade talks as the cause of the Lakers’ latest disappointing, 118-109, loss to the Phoenix Suns, but he did admit that this team has issues right now:
Kyle Kuzma was asked how the Lakers turn this around. “I’m honestly not even sure. Obviously there’s something wrong with this team. It’s up to us to try to fix it.”— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 3, 2019
The question is whether or not the Lakers’ issues are fixable. It’s understandable to start a little flat against the Suns on the second night of a back-to-back normally, but to completely roll over like the Lakers did for much of this game in the middle of a fight for a playoff spot is completely unacceptable, albeit not that surprising given the team’s track record of following up signs of promise with a vicious gut punch to their fans.
With 19 games left and the Lakers sitting 4.5 games back of the eighth seed, fixing the team’s issues still may not be enough to get them to the postseason in the Western Conference. That’s certainly a lot of ground to cover, and the Lakers haven’t given many reasons for optimism that they can rip off such a run. Or honestly, that they even want to particularly badly, given how disappointing they’ve been with their backs against the wall so far.
Maybe that changes now, and the Lakers rip off a run, but it currently appears that this team is too flawed, banged-up, shallow and shooting-starved to make a run to the playoffs, and that’s without mentioning how morose everything has seemed to be since the trade deadline.
When everyone on the team has seen their name in rumors — including the coach — that they won’t make it into next season on this roster, it’s easy to understand why they might not be chomping at the bit to sacrifice their bodies or constantly try new things just to become first-round cannon fodder in the postseason, a postseason they may not last very long past. You can take issue with that mindset, but on some level it’s human nature.
Wasting a year of LeBron’s prime is obviously unideal, but for those looking for a little optimism, you have to hope that this season taught the front office how to better evaluate who fits in alongside him, and that if they can get a second max star in July they might be able to turn this thing around with that (plus their other moves on the margins).
For now, it appears we’ve seen the last of this highly flawed teams “playoff chase.” There were too many things wrong with how things went to pick just one of the factors above as most responsible for the team’s struggles, but Kuzma is right, there is “something wrong with” this team. Now it’s just a matter of seeing if the front office can correctly identify what it was and fix it. We’ll see how they approach things this summer.
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