Lakers look to turn things aroundLos Angeles Post-Examiner

Lakers look to turn things around

The swooning period isn’t over for the Los Angeles Lakers. Like it or not purple and gold fans, that may continue for another couple of more seasons. Kobe Bryant is no longer around to bail the Lakers out of their losing doldrums. What the Lakers are currently experiencing is a cycle of life. There are good times, then there are not so good times.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, seen here at the Kobe Bryant Tribute last April, is now President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers

Good times for the Lakers mean winning NBA titles (16 total), just in case you forgot. The not-so-good category means going through six head coaches in seven years. Things happen in cycles.

Right now, the Lakers are going through a cycle period the franchise hasn’t been accustomed to on a routine basis. Ever since Phil Jackson decided to put the Lakers and Staples Center in his rearview mirror after the 2010-11 NBA season, the team has been on the decline — and running a bit chaotic.

The power tug-o-war regarding basketball decisions and operating the franchise has a new crescendo with legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson back in the saddle again as having an official role with the team that he guided to five NBA titles.

Will it change things at the immediate moment? Probably not. Will the move to seek Johnson’s innate ability to help improve the Lakers down the road? That’s a wait-and-see answer. The Lakers couldn’t lose with having Johnson giving advice on what is needed to get the franchise to be counted among the elite teams again.

Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton

As it stands right now, the Lakers are doing nothing but treading water — at best. It doesn’t matter who the coach is. When Jackson left after the 2010-11 season, the Lakers went from decent to apathetic and listless on the attention map. Mike Brown lasted one full season and a couple of games into the 2012-13 season before being bounced out of the door.

Mike D’Antoni got two full years before being shown the door. D’Antoni recorded a 27-55 record in his last season with the team. That set the groundwork for Bryon Scott, a rocking member of the Lakers’ “Showtime,” teams, to get his coaching mojo on.

By the end of his second season, Scott didn’t have a whole lot of cache left after his team recorded the lowest number of wins in team history. Enter Walton, another former Lakers player. The move was ballyhooed for a couple of reasons.

Walton is young. His father, Bill Walton, is in the basketball Hall of Fame. Luke Walton played alongside Kobe. He served an apprenticeship under Golden Warriors coach Steve Kerr and won a championship. That’s good stuff to put on your resume.

Lakers Point Guard D’Angelo Russell shows signs of brilliance but has yet to emerge as a consistent player

If you add the fact that the Lakers have picked up four first round draft picks since 2014, it’s easy to buy into the excitement surrounding the potential or what is to come. What’s to come is that the Lakers need a player personnel upgrade or risk being buried in the NBA abyss for much, much longer.

The Lakers’ inability to get the top free agents around the league is problematic. They can’t afford a few more years to wait until Julius Randle (Round 1, 7th pick), D’Angelo Russell (Round 1, 2nd pick), Larry Nance Jr. (Round 1, 27th pick) and Brandon Ingram (Round 1, 2nd pick) to fully blossom in order to stay relevant with the rest of the league.

As of right now, they are not. The Lakers currently have the second-worst record in the Western Conference. But at least Walton has his team pointed in the right direction. By all accounts this already has been a successful season for the Lakers. Last year, the Lakers, under the coaching of Byron Scott, won all of 17 games during the entire 2015-2016 season.

Mitch Kupchak, who was just fired as GM, with rookies Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac

With Walton running things from the sidelines, the Lakers were riding the premise that this season could be one that could include making a serious run at the postseason.

That was wishful season. Halfway through the season, the Lakers secured 19 wins against 39 defeats, a 33 percent winning clip. That’s not going to get it done in trying to make a push for the playoffs. What the Lakers have run into this season is reality meeting up with hype and over-the-top expectations.

Being a relatively young team means inconsistency can pile up night in and night out. Going 7-25 on the road won’t show consistency to win ballgames. That comes with all of these young players on the same page as Walton. After breaking his leg in his first season, Randle has played well the last two years. This season Randle is averaging almost 13 points and eight rebounds a game.

D’Angelo Russell, who have been projected as the next greatest thing in a purple and gold uniform, has had his moments to shine. Averaging 14 points and 4.7 assists a game, Russell is starting to carve a niche following for himself. Brandon Ingram looks like an uptick for the future. But with the good also comes the bad.

Forward Julius Randle has played very well this season

The bad comes in the form of the back-and-forth message coming from the Lakers front office. A couple of years ago, Jim Buss, the son of the late Jerry Buss, opined that if the Lakers were not in position to contend for either Western Conference or NBA championships, he would step down. A couple of years later, the Lakers are not in position to contend for either the Western Conference crown or an NBA title.

Will Buss, who is in charge of basketball operations, step down like he said he would? Where does this put Magic Johnson? What happens to general manager Mitch Kupchak, who was responsible for pulling the trigger on the out-of-touch Steve Nash trade, at the end of the season? Will Jeanie Buss just supersede everyone and call out the parting shots to get her father’s franchise back in order again?

What we do know is that Johnson didn’t come on board to play tiddlywinks. He is a man of action. He will make something happen. The Lakers need more of that than a whole bunch of talking and infighting drama.

Jeanie Buss (in red), with friends, including actors
Jay Mohr and Denzel Washington

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UPDATE: Late Tuesday morning the Los Angeles Lakers announced General Manager Mitch Kupchak and President of basketball Operations Jim Buss have been fired. Earvin “Magic” Johnson will replace Buss as President of Basketball Operations.

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UPDATE 6:30 a.m. Wednesday Feb. 22: Late on Tuesday, February 21, the Los Angeles Lakers traded guard Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and a first round draft pick.

Photos by Claudia Gestro



About the author

Dennis Freeman is a veteran journalist who has written for various publications in Southern California. Contact the author.

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