By Henry Curi
At the start of the 2018-2019 NBA season, high expectations were placed on the Los Angeles Lakers season. The summer of free agency saw them land some big names, one of those being three-time champion Lebron James. Along with Lebron, the team’s front office acquired Michael Beasley, Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Rajon Rondo.
With the addition of these players to an improving young roster including Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers seemed to have all the pieces necessary to end their playoff drought and compete in the highly competitive Western Conference, especially against the Golden State Warriors — the team who’s had the league in shambles in recent years.
Fans and media alike were excited for what was to come for the team, as it looked like the Lakers organization was back in the running for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Unfortunately, this has not turned out to be the case.
Nearing the end of the season, and currently sitting in 11th place in the Western Conference, the Lakers have lost 10 of their last 13 games, slowly killing their chances to make the eighth seed and sneak into the playoffs to compete for a title.
Avid basketball fans and spectators have wondered, what happened this season? How come at this point of the season, the Lakers have only seen a one-game improvement on their record as compared to last year when their roster lacked experience and depth?
The team can look to a number of factors that have hurt them throughout the year, both physically and mentally.
Physically, the team has had a number of important players go down with injuries that sidelined them for weeks and weakened the team’s rotations.
Lebron suffered a groin injury back in January during a game against the Warriors on Christmas day, which the L.A.-based team ultimately won. The 16-year veteran was sidelined for about a month and the team’s record suffered, falling below .500 without him on the court.
Ball went down with an ankle injury in late January and has been sidelined since, and while he is nearing a return, it may be too late for him to help turn things around.
Kuzma very recently rolled his ankle in a game against the Denver Nuggets and was taken out of the game and did not return. His status is day-to-day.
More severely though, Ingram was recently sidelined as well, as he’s been diagnosed with deep venous thrombosis in his right arm, which are caused by blood clots.
These injuries and setbacks are just a few to name. Aside from this, there were other problems that transpired as well.
Before the trade deadline and All-Star break, there were rumors that the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, was ready to give up almost all of his young assets in a blockbuster trade package that would result in the acquirement of New Orleans Pelicans’ superstar Anthony Davis.
The trade did not go through, however the team’s chemistry and trust with one another was damaged, as the media and fans pointed to Lebron as being one of the main factors for the trade almost being complete. It is believed that he was also behind the scenes, advocating for the big move to occur, as he was desperate to make a championship run this year.
The lack of team chemistry, has caused the team to suffer, especially in clutch situations, where the Lakers seem to fall apart both offensively and defensively.
The Lakers have lost to some of the worst teams in the league during their late playoff push, when absolutely every single game has been crucial for them.
They’ve lost to teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, the Memphis Grizzlies and even the dead-last Phoenix Suns. These losses were absolutely unacceptable and should’ve been guaranteed wins that helped their late season run instead of hurting it.
Aside from being outplayed by some of the worst teams in the league, who have promising players of their own, Coach Walton has also contributed to the team’s abysmal season.
It is likely that after this season, he and the organization will part ways in search of a new head coach that will lead the team in a better direction.
One of the reasons for his firing might be the way he misuses the roster. His rotations have proven ineffective; Walton fails to put the right players in at the right time, which compromises players’ abilities to play to their strengths. Walton’s errors include playing his most important role players, such as Josh Hart, for under 10 minutes a game, limiting their useful contributions to the team. It may not be a surprise if he finds himself out of the job after this season.
With the playoffs starting on April 19, the team has already made the decision to restrict Lebron’s minutes in order to reduce his workload, a sign that the team has already given up their hopes for a playoff run.
This may be the first time we will watch the NBA Finals without Lebron James since 2010, and the first time we see a playoffs without the generational superstar since 2004.
The team has a lot of work to do in the offseason if they hope to compete for a championship before Lebron’s contract expires or he falls out of his prime.