At the stratosphere of NBA superstardom, the world is incredibly small. Players talk to each other about their experiences in their respective franchises and those reputations can be difficult to reconfigure. If the Lakers don’t find a way to put a viable roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the second straight season, Jeanie Buss probably wouldn’t like the message they might send about their time in Los Angeles.
Ironically, Buss said she had to take over the franchise and relieve her brother, Jim, of his duties because of damage he was doing to the brand with all the losing the Lakers were doing for draft positioning. A counterargument now given how things have gone is, well, at least back then, the Lakers had a direction. Now, the Lakers seem to be positioning themselves for a rebuild while they still employ a version of James capable of scoring 40-plus points in consecutive games. It’s inherently counterintuitive and inconsistent with her stated goals.
One unfortunate theme of the Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka Lakers has been short-sighted decisions that hurt the long-term health of the franchise. Far too often, the Lakers have been pennywise, dollar dumb.
As an example, Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves were both signed to deals one year shorter than they could’ve been. Horton-Tucker’s free agency and Buss’ frugality forced the Lakers into choosing between him and Alex Caruso. We all saw how that’s gone. This offseason, Reaves is going to get paid, which will mean next year, rather than having him one another year’s rookie salary, he might be making upwards of eight figures.
So if as a result of Reaves’ payday, the Lakers are reluctant to pursue another player because of luxury tax implications, they’ll only have themselves to blame.
Why am I talking about all of this? Well, mostly because it’s all I think about all day, everyday, but also because that same criticism of short-term thinking is very much applicable to their handling of James and Davis.
Yes, looking to the future as Davis is still out for the foreseeable future and with James just having turned 38 makes sense in a vacuum. Every asset is going to matter as the Lakers embark on a rebuild after this era. But as Pelinka himself declared, they’re tasked with maximizing these last few years of James’ career. You can’t do that if now all of sudden you’re drawing lines in the sand.
Picture James, who is quite clearly and rightfully frustrated by the supporting cast Pelinka has put around him, pushing for his departure after this season with these last two years fresh in his mind. Then, he gets asked by some up-and-coming star about whether the Lakers can be trusted with their careers, or whether they’ll do whatever they can so long as the player holds up his end of the bargain. How do you think that conversation is going to go?
Probably not great!
Good thing James isn’t the cornerstone figure of an entire agency known for attracting absolutely elite talent. That would sure be a bummer.
What’s crazy is this is the same organization who boldly brags about how forking over $48 million over two years to Kobe Bryant before he’d even stepped onto a court post-achilles tear. Buss and Pelinka should know firsthand how doing so reverberated around the NBA’s superstar economy. Them both somehow forgetting this is legitimately concerning, even given all the baggage between the Lakers and Klutch Sports.
So when you’re doing the math on whether it’s even worth it to try to save this season, the implications of forcing James to play a brand of basketball he says doesn’t sit well with him on even a chemical level absolutely have to be taken into account.
This isn’t just about finding a way to compete around a fading star. No, this is about the next superstar the Lakers hope to build around. All players of that generation looked up to James as they climbed to the pinnacle of the sport. To them, James is their Michael Jordan. Their Kobe Bryant. If Buss and Pelinka aren’t willing to do right by James as he plays at this level, how can Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, or whoever your favorite 20-something might be trust this organization to do what it takes to remain competitive for them?
Today on “The Anthony Irwin Show,” I spoke to Jorge Sedano about all this, the wide open west and whether we think the Lakers will ever wake up and make a move.
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.