Last week, basketball fans in Los Angeles (outside of Clippers fans, I guess) breathed a sigh of relief as the Los Angeles Lakers leapfrogged six teams to climb to the No. 4 spot at the NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago. For the first time in several months, fans had something to look forward to. Some even thought that this could be a turning point for the franchise headed into a pivotal offseason.
Then Monday happened.
On what was supposed to be a joyous day for new Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson hopped on ESPN’s “First Take” and went full “No Vaseline” on the team’s front office, most notably current general manager Rob Pelinka, who just hours later spoke to reporters for the first time since Johnson’s abrupt departure in April.
Meanwhile, controlling owner and team president Jeanie Buss still hasn’t addressed the media and was a no-show at Vogel’s press conference.
Those five seconds of bliss crumbled faster than King’s Landing, and in this case, Johnson was Drogon.
The biggest chance to right the ship that the Lakers have going forward free agency, but according to Sam Amick of The Athletic, people close to LeBron James seem to think the chances of them pairing him with another All-Star free agent is getting smaller by the day:
Even before Magic’s latest move, sources close to LeBron James expressed concern that the combination of Magic’s messy exit and all the negative Lakers headlines threatened to sabotage their summer. The challenge of convincing another elite star to come to town was already seen as daunting around the league, and now these horrendous optics make that uphill climb far worse. Top-tier talents like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and all the rest of them will have plenty of options when July rolls around, and none – not even the Knicks and certainly not the crosstown Clippers – have the Lakers’ level of dysfunction that’s being exposed right now.
And bear in mind: These people felt that way before Johnson put the whole organization on blast on Monday. It’s unlikely they feel better now.
That’s not to say the Lakers can’t be competitive next season without signing a superstar free agent. In fact, with a new coach, James, roughly $32.5 million in cap space, an exciting young core and the No. 4 overall pick, they have the potential to be a fun team next season.
However, not landing a superstar free agent this summer would make some of their previous moves, like trading D’Angelo Russell two years into his career and letting Julius Randle walk for nothing, look worse than they already do. The whole point of making both of those moves was to open up not just cap space, but cap space for a second star.
While it’s possible that James’ ties to Irving or Leonard’s ties to Los Angeles could land the Lakers their second All-Star, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them come up empty-handed this summer. If that happens, who deserves the blame for it will be fairly obvious.