If the Los Angeles Lakers made anything clear at the 2022 trade deadline, it was this: they don't want to do what it will take to fix this. This disaster of a season, the two-year-long effort to tear down a champion, this decade of nepotistic hires and the terrible basketball it has largely produced. None of these are problems that Lakers management seemed all that interested in addressing. They were problems that the Lakers hoped would fix themselves.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne said it best in February when she argued that her interpretation of the team's inaction "was that the Lakers organization, from ownership on down, basically decided: 'You guys got yourself into this. This is the bed you have made. LeBron [James], Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, all the future Hall of Famers, this is your choice of roster and team, go make it work.'"
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Well, they didn't make it work. On Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns ended the Lakers' season for the second year in a row. This time, they didn't even wait until the postseason. They knocked the Lakers out of the running for a meager play-in position with almost a week left in the regular season. The Lakers, preseason favorites in the Western Conference, can finish no better than 11th in the final standings.
And their front office wasn't willing to do a thing about it. Their 2027 first-round pick? Apparently off-limits at the trade deadline. Cheer up, Lakers fans. That rookie is going to be a huge help for James when he arrives a few months before LeBron's 43rd birthday. Adding extra luxury tax dollars to an already bloated payroll turned out to be unthinkable. You just can't ask a Lakers franchise with an estimated $3 billion local television deal to outspend the big-market Milwaukee Bucks. Their idea of a solution was the buyout addition of 34-year-old journeyman D.J. Augustin. He didn't score a point in the season-ending loss to Phoenix.
That loss, in the end, was probably for the best. After all, those same Suns would have awaited the Lakers in the first round if they'd somehow managed to squeak their way into the playoffs. The Lakers would have lost that series and they would have lost it badly, but just getting there would have given this front office an excuse, a myth of momentum. Sure, their season would have ended the same way, but with just enough oomph to justify further inaction. We've now seen where inaction takes this team.
No, the Lakers needed to be embarrassed. They needed this season to end in such a humiliating fashion that the franchise's power brokers could no longer ignore just how bad they've allowed things to get. Any notion that they could carry the same nonchalant attitude that informed their trade deadline into the offseason needed to be erased here and now. There is no momentum here. There are no positives to build upon. There is a fundamentally broken team in need of swift and decisive action from supposed organizational leaders in order to be fixed.
That probably means something different to you than it does to Jeanie Buss. All parties involved likely concede that a coaching change is necessary. It appears unlikely that the front office that failed Frank Vogel will be held similarly accountable, but any latitude it might have had to slow-play a rebuild is dwindling. Buss fired her own brother in 2017, and unlike his replacements, his years in the lottery never included James. The Rob Pelinka-led braintrust has now squandered three of his four seasons in purple and gold. He has now missed the playoffs as many times in the past four years as he made it in his first 15. He'd seemingly prefer to finish his career in Los Angeles. He used the All-Star break to hint that he's open to moving.
If he plays in two of the team's final three games, by no means a given considering their lack of stakes, there's a good chance he'll win the scoring title at the age of 37. Even after almost two decades in the NBA, he is still a viable centerpiece for a champion. Davis, when healthy, is a proven sidekick. Those are the only two components of this roster that have earned significant roles next season.
The Westbrook experiment has failed. So, too, has the roster-building philosophy that his acquisition represented. The Lakers cannot simply stack big names and hope that their star power will overcome a poor fit. James is wasted alongside a point guard who neither shoots nor defends. He and Davis can't carry a roster with 10 minimum-salaried players. The entire blueprint needs to be rewritten.
And that was only ever going to happen from the bottom. The Lakers never wanted to have to fix this. They don't want to spend what it takes in terms of dollars or picks to give James and Davis another realistic chance to win a championship. Frankly, they still might not. But if anything was going to motivate the Lakers to look in the mirror and re-evaluate the way they do business, it was going to be missing the playoffs. This season wasn't just an abject failure. It was an embarrassment. It was proof positive that the things that this organization believes in no longer win basketball games. Things needed to get this bad. Now, there's nowhere to go but up.