The Los Angeles Lakers had legitimate momentum this season, but had that derailed by a litany of injuries to key players that never stopped. Organizationally, they’ve also developed a pattern of having players come back on the later side of prognoses if not after the promised return dates have passed altogether.
As a result, the Lakers have made their first firing of the offseason, and it’s somewhat promising, even if literally everyone was hoping it would be Rob Pelinka (who is currently coordinating exit interviews and seems safe, for now):
The Lakers fired athletic trainer Marco Nuñez on Weds, sources told ESPN. Nuñez joined LAL as an asst trainer in 08-09 & ascended to the head position in ‘16, succeeding Gary Vitti. LAL players had missed 212 games due to injury in ‘18-19, 9th most in the NBA, per Spotrac— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) April 10, 2019
The Lakers have already removed Nuñez’s name from the training staff employee page, which seems notable. Nuñez was promoted to the position he held last season after Gary Vitti stepped down in 2016, as McMenamin points out.
For what it’s worth, Lakers players didn’t hold Nuñez or his staff directly responsible for the team’s injury struggles this year.
“I know they have my best interests. Certain things just come up later,” Lonzo Ball told reporters at his exit interview Wednesday morning before the news of Nuñez’s dismissal broke. “I trust them. It sucks. I can’t say too much other than that, I don’t like being hurt.”
Ball has yet to play in 100 NBA games — he’s played in 99 — despite being two full seasons into his career. His injuries as much as (if not more than) anything have really taken a toll on the Lakers’ hopes since he was drafted, seeing has his primary backups have been Tyler Ennis and Rajon Rondo.
Josh Hart, who missed 19 games last year and 15 this year (though was hampered severely in many of the games late in the season by knee tendinitis he eventually addressed surgically), echoed Ball’s sentiment.
“It was just freak accidents that you really can’t blame anyone for. We knew that’s a part of the game, and we just wanted to take it a game at a time,” Hart said. “It was frustrating just with how it ended and not making the playoffs and that kind of thing, but we have a longer summer so we can focus on getting better getting stronger and getting our bodies right.”
Lance Stephenson keeps mentioning injuries. I asked if Marco Nunez could have done something to limit those. "No he was doing a great job. he’s been doing a great job. It’s definitely tough because that was my guy. I worked with him a lot. He did an amazing job with me.”— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 10, 2019
Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times updated the story with an interesting tidbit. Apparently, this move had been in the works for quite some time:
The Lakers considered firing Nunez after last season and this move fits with the emphasis they have placed on injuries. As an organization, they've decided to peg injuries as the main problem this year. They've certainly had a lot of injuries, but other factors share blame.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) April 10, 2019
Injuries weren’t the only problem for the team, but they certainly were a large one, and so while this is almost undoubtedly a step in the right direction, that’s only if the Lakers learn from their mistakes. Nuñez was promoted from within with basically no known candidate search beforehand. Yes, he had technically been groomed for almost a decade before receiving that promotion, but a team’s medical and training staff is far too important to not even interview other candidates.
If the Lakers follow this move by merely promoting whoever is next in line to Nuñez, they risk yet another disappointing season for the exact same reasons they find themselves here in the first place. But hey, based on Pelinka’s continued presence with the team, learning lessons doesn’t really seem like something the Lakers are all that interested in doing. Let’s hope they prove me wrong.