Russell Westbrook has been labeled as everything from an innocent bystander whose life has been ruined by the Lakers after trading for him to the sole reason the Lakers find themselves in this situation. As usual, the answer is somewhere in the middle but trying to assign blame to Westbrook for the macro issues facing the Lakers misses the point and lets those actually responsible off the hook.
Two straight offseasons as abysmal as the Lakers have had don’t happen without some legitimate organizational rot. The issues with the Lakers run deep, and until they are addressed, chances are, mistakes like the Westbrook trade will continue to be made and, in this season’s case, not addressed.
Jeanie Buss might not like that it gets brought up as often as it does, but her refusal to go through a traditional hiring process for positions high up in her organization has hampered the Lakers. Loyalty from employees is obviously a valuable trait, but it looks from the outside to be her top priority in building out her executive staff.
LeBron James might not appreciate those who wonder aloud about Klutch Sports’ influence over the Lakers, but when you see that all the Lakers’ last three midlevel exception signings share that agency, it becomes fair to wonder if that relationship has limited the talent pool the Lakers can pull from in filling out their roster.
When Magic Johnson stepped down from his position, Rob Pelinka stepped into that power vacuum, which, fine. But he never hired someone for his old job, a role that could’ve gone to someone with more experience running a team. And sure, when the Lakers won a championship, no one cared that they didn’t employ a general manager, but two brutal offseasons later and, yeah, this bare bones front office is now the subject of the fan base’s ire.
Don’t worry, though, everyone! Jesse and Joey Buss are now reportedly moving up the ranks. Sure, every other Buss sibling has outright failed to live up to their dad’s legacy. Sure, he left impossibly large shoes to fill, but good lord, maybe come close?
So while it’s easy to look at this roster and point to Westbrook’s bloated contract, poor shooting and inconsistent defense as the reasons why the Lakers find themselves here, that ignores the nepotism, cronyism and ambiguity that plagues the front office.
If things were working, no one would ask these questions at each level of the organization, but they clearly aren’t. For the second straight season, even while James and Anthony Davis are healthy, it’s painfully obvious the Lakers aren’t title contenders. It’s honestly an accomplishment to put last year’s roster together and follow that up with whatever the hell fans are forced to watch now.
So as the Lakers continue to wait for some better offer to come along and pray that James and Davis stay healthy as they fight and claw to keep this farce of a roster afloat until that trade comes along, we’re all forced to wonder whether this front office can overcome all the inherent flaws within the walls to figure this out.
This week in “The Lakers Lounge,” Harrison Faigen and I take a close look into what seems to be Jeanie’s top priority in running the Lakers, why that might be the case, and whether we think she can alter course if need be.
And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.