The Lakers are a mess. You don’t need me to tell you this, of course. You’re reading this, so you have the internet and are likely at least somewhat interested in the happenings of team. It didn’t take a very well reported Baxter Holmes piece to lead ESPN on Tuesday to convince you any more than you already were. No, all that did was bring tangible examples to things we’d already thought or had been implied and hinted at via previous reporting.
Despite the title of this post, then, I’m not going to offer a full throated defense of the Lakers here. As I’ve said — here on this site, on the LFR podcast, in conversation with people both public and private — this team no longer has my benefit of the doubt. The public messiness and negativity that hangs over the franchise has been well earned.
You don’t get to have a season like you just had, then have your President of Basketball Operations suddenly resign in the most embarrassingly public and petty way imaginable, then go radio silent in the wake of that resignation, then botch a high profile negotiation with a championship winning coach to replace the one you were rumored to fire for months, and then have that same former President of Basketball Operations go on television — not once, but twice — to throw barbs and spill secrets and defend himself against criticism, and then have me defend you.
Sorry, I’m not getting over that screen; I’m not making that rotation; I’m actually just going to stand in place and maybe point and tell you that’s someone else’s job. Basically, I’m the Rajon Rondo of defending the Lakers right now.
That said, I think it needs repeating that for all that is bad with the Lakers, not everything is bad. And while certain narratives are now the common thinking of the masses, I think the pile on is a bit much. Not because the things being piled on about are incorrect, but because the nature of piling on is that there’s often little room for things that don’t fit tidily on that pile.
And that’s where we are now. The Lakers do have things going for them. And those things deserve to be a part of the conversation too. They don’t override everything else, but they can’t summarily be dismissed or be totally overshadowed by the negativity. And, too often, that’s what is happening.
If we’re being completely honest, the Lakers are actually in a good position to not only turn things around, but do so quickly to create an on-court product that be competitive in the playoff landscape. They have LeBron James, the #4 overall pick in the upcoming draft, several young players who still carry cachet in league circles (even if they can be polarizing and do have injury history), a max salary cap spot to chase free agents this summer, and a good head coach who projects a combination of stability, basketball acumen, and personable-ness.
Answer me this. Would you rather have this setup or, say, the setup of the Houston Rockets who are capped out, have an aging and breaking down 2nd star (who’s also a 6’0″ point guard) making $40 million a year for the next 3 years, just fired several assistant coaches, and are trying to publicly do damage control after not coming to a contract extension with a head coach who just led the team to a game 7 of the conference finals and then to a game 6 in a second round series vs. the back to back NBA champion and betting favorite to win their 3rd straight title this year?
I’m not trying to pick on the Rockets and if you still want their setup, cool. But, I think my point is worthwhile.
The Lakers are in a position to take a major leap forward this summer and can do so on the strength of 1. LeBron recruiting a 2nd star to take max money while living in Los Angeles and playing for a historically prestigious franchise that doubles as one of the most recognizable sports brands in the world 2. young players at the stage of their careers to make big improvements 3. the ability to leverage those same young players and/or that #4 overall pick in trades for a more established piece.
Could things still go wrong? Of course. And maybe you believe that’s even likely. The drama and leadership structure currently in place with ownership and the front office certainly doesn’t inspire the most confidence. But, if you strip that stuff away — not disregard it entirely, but just weight it differently than being the most meaningful thing to free agents or even to rival executives who are under their own pressures to improve their own teams — the path for the Lakers to be better is right there.
Me saying it and having it come to fruition are not the same thing. And like I said earlier, they no longer have my benefit of the doubt, so there will need to be more showing than talking. But, the Lakers are not as far away as the deservedly bad optics imply. And if some things actually do go right, they’ll have more people defending them, and doing so with much more vigor than I just did.