The Lakers keep getting kicked while they are down from members of their past outfit. James Worthy always keeps it real on the halftime broadcast, but now Magic Johnson, another Lakers legend emerged from the shadows with condemnation for the underachieving group. He said the owner deserved better.
It’s some impeccable timing. Jeanie Buss deserved better than what Johnson gave her while serving as president of the Lakers from 2017-2019. His behavior was a stark contrast to his TV persona of all smiles and giggles. Behind the scenes, as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes reported, he was a bully who didn’t have the stones to tell his boss that his welcome was worn out, even after he rambled on to a dazed and confused press corps about their “amazing relationship.”
At building a team, Johnson was no good either. When LeBron James arrived and made the Lakers relevant again, he incomprehensibly decided to construct a team around his star player that didn’t maximize his abilities. Johnson said scrap the shooting, let’s put playmakers around the man who reluctantly finds someone he trusts with the ball.
Then Pelinka was left as his successor. He’s most responsible for the state the Fakeshow finds itself in. Each year under his control the identity of the team has changed. Heading into 2019/2020, LA loaded up with defensive role players plus the addition of Anthony Davis from New Orleans. AD and Rich Paul held NOLA hostage and ultimately got their way, while the Pelicans, to this day, are fumbling with what’s left of that exchange.
That Lakers team won it all. Next, in their 71-day offseason, Pelinka altered the group’s core by letting go of the unit’s defensive role players for an offensive identity.
This past summer, Pelinka reached for the stars. It cost the Lakers much of what was left of their championship DNA, trading for Russell Westbrook, who’s fit with James and co. has been suboptimal to this point.
In the interest of transparency, I was one of those people who thought the Lakers were back in business after their swap but have recently sold as much stock on LA as possible. Davis’ eventual return cannot save this team because he’s not an effective perimeter player. The Lakers have spacing issues already in his absence and they even resorted to running James at center to help stretch the floor. It was a gimmick that only worked on the bottom tier teams.
Spacing is far from the team’s only issue. Westbrook’s decision making as lead guard incessantly digs the Lakers in a hole they can’t climb out of. Over LA’s last six games, #0 has made his last 25/87 attempts (28%) from the field.
In the loss on Jan. 12 at Sacramento, the Lakers went on a 10-4 run in the last five minutes to cut the deficit to four. Then Westbrook came waltzing upcourt, readjusted on the left wing and hoisted a triple from 25 feet out that bricked. On the next possession the Kings splashed their own 3-pointer, burying the Lakers, now done seven with less than a minute to go.
A few nights later at Denver, the Lakers couldn’t hang with the Nuggets and all they had to show for themselves was a loss by 37 points and bowed heads. It was their poorest showing of the season, less than a month after the group’s second worst defeat– an L at home to San Antonio by 28 points on Dec. 23.
On Monday, the Lakers delivered on James’ promise of improvement, holding the fourth-seeded Utah Jazz, a group 13 games above a .500 record, below 100 points. The Stifle Tower made 6/8 shots in the restricted area and the Jazz converted 16/21 attempts total in that zone. Utah’s undoing this night was their fiending for long range bombs. Triples were 55% of their attempts, while they barely made over ¼ of their rounds fired from deep.
On Wednesday at home against the Indiana Pacers, Rick Carlisle’s group hammered away at LA’s interior. Domantas Sabonis kept catching help when assaulting the interior on a mismatch and finding the open man– ending up with a triple-double, making 75% of his field goals. Late in the game, Vogel benched Westbrook. Russ kept slicing his way into the paint but falling short all but once in his 11 tries.
Someone’s going to have to pay. Unfairly, it might just be Vogel who gets the axe. Reports from The Athletic said he was “coaching for his job” after the Denver smackdown. This tells this mad observer that Pelinka is a man with close to zero basketball character. How convenient for the man who builds the team for the coaching staff to use, to not have any heat on them from ownership, to my knowledge, for his performance improving the roster.
Vogel is not a perfect coach, but he does have a ring, won only 15 months ago. If he is let go, good luck to Pelinka finding someone that’s going to trust him. Championship coaches don’t grow on trees.