The Lakers made LaMarcus Aldridge their top free agent target. They set up a meeting with him right at the opening of free agency, used social media as a tool to express their desire to have him sign (#LAtoLA), and brought in their full crew of basketball and off-court team to the pitch meeting to go over every possible angle of what being a Laker for the next four years would mean.
Despite this full court press, it is being reported Aldridge will not sign with the Lakers:
The fact it was, supposedly, a “50-50 choice” is somewhat encouraging on the surface and should not be totally disregarded. The Lakers were a bad team last season. Beyond Kobe Bryant, they currently only have Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, and Nick Young under contract. Yes, they have all-rookie 1st teamer Jordan Clarkson and just drafted D’Angelo Russell (and Larry Nance Jr.), but overall he would be joining a team with a legend who doesn’t have a lot of time left in the league and several young, unproven players who are not on the same timeline as him to win now.
Choosing not to sign with the Lakers should not be a surprise, then. In saying, that, though, none of the reasons stated above are actually being reported as the reasons he is choosing a different team:
Let’s try to unpack this a bit more since you can only glean so much from 140 characters.
I’ve no clue if what’s being reported here is a shot at the Lakers’ talent level, an implied lack of analytics driven data to maximize him as a player, a perceived lack of strong coaching, something entirely different or a combination of all the above. What I do know, however, is that it’s not a great look for the Lakers. At some point, perceptions do become reality and if the team is consistently trying to sell something besides basketball and it comes at the expense of basketball, that is not likely to make a great impression.
Further, the idea — subtle or not — that Kobe could be seen as some sort of obstacle towards bringing in a talented player is…worrisome. Again, we do not know all (any?) of the facts here. None of us were in the room and the tweet above mentions outright the vagueness of what led to that lack of connection between Kobe and Aldridge. But, on the heels of Dwight leaving (no matter your feelings about Howard as a player, teammate, or anything else, the Lakers wanted him back) and Kobe’s reported role in greasing the wheels of that exit, the above is something worth taking note of. Not worth putting all the emphasis on, just as an additional talking point.
Ultimately, maybe all of this is a bit unfair. The Lakers have been a bad team for two consecutive years. Last year they won 21 games. They have a roster of mostly unknown, unproven players and Aldridge — who is 30 — is trying to win now. The Spurs (the presumed front-runner) won the title the season before last, just signed the MVP of that Finals series for five more years, brought back Danny Green, and also still have Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili. If we’re looking at rosters and the money is even close to the same, this ins’t really a choice. The fact the Lakers were in this at all, again, is somewhat encouraging.
But that nagging feeling the Lakers don’t have it together persists. Even if that’s not true (or fair), perception is starting to shift that way. So, while I can say with a straight face that I am not really heartbroken over Aldridge not signing — especially when his fit on the roster is not ideal — the reasons why he made this choice do cause a bit of concern. Not because we should take the reports above as 100% accurate, but because they contribute to a perception which is shifting more and more towards unflattering about the Lakers.