The Los Angeles Lakers are all but eliminated from competing in the Western Conference playoffs. With eighteen games remaining in the season, the Lakers currently sit 5.5 games out from the 8th seed, which is currently occupied by the San Antonio Spurs. Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings are also trying to claim that last seed in the Western Conference. Yet, the Lakers look as though they are devoid of answers. After their failed attempt to trade for Anthony Davis before the trade deadline, The Lakers have gone 2-7 with losses to the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks. Luke Walton all but appears to be out of a job when the NBA season comes to a close, but the blame for the failure should go higher than just Walton. Magic Johnson should be facing scrutiny for his inability to make any trades of significance during the season. Looking ahead to the summer, there appears to be little interest in joining the Lakers among the Association’s elite free agents.
Luke Walton is little more than a scapegoat in this situation. He has been tasked with trying to bring together a team of young players that need a playing time and a positive atmosphere and old players that are past their prime. The cohesive unit for success was supposed to be Lebron James, but it simply has not worked out. James unfortunately suffered his first major injury of his career, which saw him miss several games. The Lakers were never meant to challenge for a spot in the Finals this year, but they were expected to make the playoffs. A team of Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball should be able to compete for a playoff spot if led by Lebron James, but once James suffered his injury, that group of players immediately becomes less formidable.
Magic Johnson placed all of his chips in the Anthony Davis pile, and while they still have a chance of trading for him in the summer, other teams such as the Boston Celtics will be able to get in the mix. Boston has a much better wealth of trade chips than the Lakers, and the way the Davis situation was handled by Johnson and the Lakers make it less likely for New Orleans to want to work with them. The “tampering” by Lebron’s and AD’s agent, Rich Paul, in requesting a trade would have certainly been known by Magic Johnson. He would have thought that it would have been the move to get AD to LA this season. However, the New Orleans Pelicans did not react the way the Lakers would have hoped.
Johnson also seems to think that every player would love to play for him and alongside Lebron in LA. What could be a better combination? If recent free agent trends are anything to go by, the days of big markets being the choice destination for free agents are over. Players are able to get the most out of their brand regardless of the team that they are on. Lebron is getting older by the season even though his impact can never be understated. Eventually, though, a player like Anthony Davis would become the face of the Lakers’ franchise. Another top player would need to join him to make LA true competitors for a title.
The Western Conference is flush with talented players and Championship caliber teams. While the young superstars are present in the Eastern Conference, the West still possesses the best teams. Golden State, Houston, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Portland are all better than LA, and may be even better than LA with Anthony Davis. If Magic Johnson is unable to get a high profile free agent like Kwahi Leonard, Klay Thompson, or Kevin Durant, then the Lebron James project could be done before his second season in LA kicks off. Johnson should be under pressure to get it right. He will have to get inventive to trade for Davis with prospects that do not have franchise changing potential. Fans will be itching to see the Lakers get back into the playoffs, which they have not done since 2013, and will be becoming increasingly frustrated with the decisions made by the Lakers.