For those of you who know me, you know how big of a Lakers fan I am. Although I’ve spent the last 16 years in Atlanta, Georgia, Los Angeles will always be the place I call home. Growing up watching Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant battling the West to capture the last three-peat we’ve had in the National Basketball Association is every kid’s dream in Los Angeles.
But it’s been nearly a decade since Lakers fans like myself have had something to cheer for. Bryant led the Lakers to two more titles in 2008-09 and 2009-10, as he was at the top of the game. Years later, he continued to play great basketball until injuries sidelined him for most of his last three seasons.
The Lakers tried everything to get Bryant his sixth ring, but it never worked out. But now, there’s a new star in town, and he’s ready to bring the Lakers to back to the championship caliber team we all know them as. That star is LeBron James, and he joined a young Lakers squad with no playoff experience.
These guys are so young, that most of them have been in the league no more than three years. They also came in as mostly lottery picks and have yet to live up to the hype. That’s why the Lakers got rid of two of the four lottery picks already.
They traded D’Angelo Russell, who was named an All-Star for the first time this season. In that trade, they were able to use their pick to get Kyle Kuzma, who has a very high ceiling.
They eventually let Julius Randle (the first of their four lottery picks) walk away in free agency. I’m not sure how I feel about either one of those moves, but I do love Kuzma and think he’ll be a great piece of the puzzle for the Lakers in the future.
However, I don’t think that future includes the playoffs this season. I mean, yeah, Kuzma had played well this season, especially while James was out for 18 games with a hamstring injury. But James has his mind set on being the greatest. In the Lakers’ recent loss, James recorded his 79th career triple-double to pass Wilt Chamberlain (78) for fifth all-time. James also became the first player to be top 10 all-time in points and assists.
But that’s not what’s important to him right now. James signed a four-year deal with the Lakers to be on a team who will compete. They started pretty decently behind his leadership, until he got hurt. Before James missed time, the Lakers had gotten a big win over the Golden State Warriors and were 4th in the Western Conference standings.
Now they’re currently 11th in the West and have been struggling to find ways to close out games. With their recent slump of four losses in the last five games, they have some significant concerns that should’ve never been there.
I think James said it best with his comments over the last few days. There is an apparent lack of urgency in this Lakers team, but there are more issues the Lakers have lacked this season. I will give you three additional factors the Lakers lack that will keep them out of the playoffs.
1. Lack of Chemistry:
We entered the season knowing that team chemistry was going to be something the Lakers needed to work on. James instantly tried to get chemistry with a couple players. Those players were third year guard Brandon Ingram and second-year forward Kyle Kuzma.
It took the Lakers some time to get that, but it felt like once they had it, injuries and trade rumors took it away. All the talk of trading for Anthony Davis got in the heads of the young guys who thought they might be traded. Instead, the Lakers traded Ivica Zubac and Micheal Beasley.
Regardless of the trade deadline passing, that thought is still in the heads of the players. Let’s face it, most of this Lakers team won’t be there next year anyway because Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have different plans in mind.
2. Lack of Defense:
One of those plans could be finding a coach who can coach defense. Now, I like Luke Walton and what he’s able to do for the team, but he’s not the one making the decisions. Please tell me you see it too.
The Lakers have had some tough losses, but they had a chance in each of those games at the end to actually win. They just forgot all about DEFENSE. In the Lakers’ recent loss against the Grizzlies, they came within a point of taking the lead and possibly the win, but the Lakers didn’t play enough of defense in the last minute of the game. There have been several games like that all season. It was even an issue last season too, but it was the 3rd quarter that caused them problems then. It’s not just the young guys though, even James has been part of giving up on defense.
3. Lack of Health:
I also think James stayed out longer than expected from the injury to try to get as healthy as possible. At the same time, PGs Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball got injured. Ball is still nursing an injury. There has been plenty of injuries to key players, which has impacted the chemistry and defense. Guards Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart have missed time as well.
Hart is one of the first guys off the bench for the Lakers. He has brought the energy off the bench to help fuel the Lakers to many clutch moments this season. He played great defense against the Warriors on Christmas Day to help the Lakers hold them off.
Put it all together
Let’s bring everything together and see why the Lakers lack urgency this season. Lack of urgency is a sum of all three above factors going wrong. For the young guys like Ingram, Ball, Kuzma and Hart, it’s about making the playoffs for the first time and proving why they deserve to be part of the Lakers after this season. We all know this year may be their last as a Laker.
For James, it’s about not missing the playoffs. It’s also about proving he didn’t make a mistake signing here. Then there’s, of course, the free agent class this off season. If LeBron and the Lakers don’t figure out a way to get in the playoffs with 22 games remaining, you could look for another struggling postseason for the Lakers.
Let’s be honest, James may be the greatest player, but not many people want to play with him. It’ll be interesting to see what really happens with this LeBron led Lakers team throughout the rest of this season and into next.