At this point, the list is getting longer and longer. The addition of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan to a group that includes Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony can no longer be seen as aberrational nor can it be viewed through the lens of a franchise going through a transitional period. Something is very wrong with a Lakers front office still clinging to values and principles that existed before most of the players they are trying to get were born. .
The Lakers will have to endure one more year of questions about their ability to build rosters. That particular critique muted somewhat when the Lakers selected D’angelo Russell in the draft over Jahlil Okafor. It made everyone take notice because that just wasn’t the Lakers style. They covet big men. Their general manager was a power forward. It gave the appearance the Lakers had turned a corner in their understanding and appreciation of what the game has evolved into, even if it is cyclical. Free agents were suddenly interested as they could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
And then came the interviews.
Now it seems the Lakers are back where they started in 2013 when they made the collective decision to inundate Los Angeles County with billboards as if something so marginal would convince Dwight Howard to stay in Los Angeles. Uh, no. Players want three things. They want money. They want to believe and be part of something bigger than themselves. And they want to be understood. While the Lakers may be skilled at granting the first two, they are clueless as to how to execute the third, how and where to start.
The Lakers striking out- it is a national story that excites just about everyone, the Lakers failure ranks high on the NBA happiness quotient- will have little impact on economics. The Lakers will net $100 million in 2015-16; their televsion contract protects them like a wall protects the mainland from a flood. The Lakers popularity has yet to be dented by their misery. They were the only non playoff team whose jersey was in the top 5 in sales during the playoffs. Purely in terms of finance, it is not grim. They outdraw the Clippers in television ratings even when they can barely win four games a month. In this upcoming season, the Lakers can look forward to the young talents of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’angelo Russell, players who were drafted.
It’s been a long, long time since the Lakers netted a Hall of Fame talent free agent, 19 years if you are counting.
Most free agents who have walked through the Lakers doors were gap fillers, very good players who were inexpensive. Rick Fox came in on a minimum contract. Ron Harper, Horace Grant, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Antawn Jamison, Ron Artest, none of these were reeled in because the Lakers dropped a bucket load of money in their lap.
Which is a point of emphasis the Lakers seem to be blind to. Los Angeles Time reporter, Bill Plaschke, who has seen nearly every Lakers invention and re-invention for the past thirty years called what happened Wednesday an “organizational failure“, one in which Kobe Bryant will be wrongly blamed.
The real culprit are the two guys running the show or perhaps, ruining it. In darkness, they have had very small victories, mostly in the acquisition of young talent. But their death grip attachment to the Lakers historical impact and the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a star player in Los Angeles and to make the most money and to be the face of the franchise distorts reality to the point that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak appear like old men who can only talk about how it used to be.
The Lakers are right about one thing though. Team identity is built from community. That is accepted in Cleveland and Memphis and Boston. But, Los Angeles and its residents are continually marginalized for loving Los Angeles, for befriending entertainers and celebrities, for enjoying the beach and weather and gritting their teeth in fire season. Where Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss run into trouble is that the narrow view of Los Angeles as a town of stars distorts their reality and impacts their job performance.
The responsibility of a front office is no different than the responsibility of a coach. They must understand the players they are employing and meet them where they live. There was nothing in LaMarcus Aldridge’s background that shouted out I want to do Hollywood. There was everything in his background that said convince me the team will benefit from my presence.
Expect cynical observers to say the Lakers sell off the court behavior because they can’t sell on the court triumphs. Alas, that is a lazy argument. What they Lakers cannot do is merge the past and present. Like Kobe Bryant, they are way past their prime.
And so, the Lakers failed, just like they failed when they put up stupid billboards around the city that made them a laughing stock and had no effect on Dwight Howard, just like they failed with Carmelo Anthony who was the one guy who loved their pitch but couldn’t pass up all that money the Knicks dropped in his lap. And now this stunning LaMarcus Aldridge defefat- this one hurts worse than all of the rest. Three years and not much to show for it as the Lakers are once again outsiders.