This is the NBA franchise that has been iconic forever. Their ownership–Jack Kent Cooke and Jerry Buss–evinced stability, passion for winning and a magic touch. Their executive team, symbolized by Jerry West, was astute in talent evaluation and maneuvering within the league so that they had the capacity to rapidly reload their roster. They have won 16 NBA Championships with 26 members in the Hall of Fame. They assembled teams composed of NBA legends. Jerry, Wilt and Elgin were followed by Showtime–Kareem, Magic and James, which was followed by Kobe and Shaq. But last season the Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs for only the second time in 20 years and their record was their worst ever in Los Angeles. Only hardcore fans had any idea who most of their starting five were. What does this portend for the future? It would be helpful if the Lakers revealed what their plan for the future is.
When the Lakers met last week with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony it is difficult to conceive of an attractive sales pitch. “We only have three players on the roster from last year. The first is Steve Nash, 40 years old, who has been perpetually injured the last two years. The second is Kobe Bryant, all-time great. He is in his late 30s, has started to become injury-prone, has a contract that eats up a major part of the salary cap and make no mistake–it is his team. Next we have backup center Robert Sacre. In the draft, we selected forward Julius Randle. He is 19 and may end up being a solid player but few are predicting superstardom. “We have enough cap room for one maxed-out player.”
The free agent pitch continues: “Our coach is ______________________ and the system he will employ is ___________. This is a Laker town. Pay no attention to that franchise we share Staples with that has two of the most marketable and talented players in the NBA, a talented and inspirational coach, and a new owner who paid $2 billion for the franchise.”
The key to winning in sports is the quality of the organization. Jerry Buss was a brilliant strategist who knew how to hire the quality talent to build a dynasty. His son, Jim Buss, has not yet shown those qualities. General manager Mitch Kupchak has made astute moves in the past, but this is the most challenging of situations. On July 9 there is still no head coach and the options are dwindling. Rebuilding the Lakers will take shrewd personnel evaluation, astute player moves and inspired coaching. There is little public evidence of a plan to implement.
L.A. fans, with the exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers, are not long suffering. After last season, the patience of fans paying premium prices for far away seating in Staples will not last long. Kobe is a beloved figure and will always have a large following, but losing deters ticket buyers.
I grew up rooting for the Lakers, with a picture of Jerry West over my bed, and this situation is distressing. There is no joy in Lakerville; the team is striking out.