Sunday, July 13, 2014

How LeBron Sank The Lakers

Wake up, Lakers fans. Stop dreaming of a rosy future. Time to get real. Here's how you should be looking at it. Your team is the Titanic and it just collided with an iceberg. You're going down.

What happened?

Well, defying consensus, tradition and logic, LeBron James, mostly because of  home loyalty, made a decision that rocked the NBA. He abandoned Miami and signed with Cleveland. Free agency, in a holding pattern until he made his decision, was suddenly up and running. Carmelo Anthony went back to New York. Kevin Love may follow LeBron to Cleveland but he's not coming to LA. Finally it's clear. The Lakers, after the worst season in franchise history, have been desperate for a free-agent savior. But they aren't going to get one. No one is coming. What's worse, another key Laker abandoned ship. Pau Gasol, the team's best big man, went to Chicago. Not too long ago, the team had already lost point guard Jordan Farmar to the Clippers. No question, the ship is sinking..

Remember how crappy and laughable the Clippers used to be? That's the mess the Lakers have become. They don't even have a coach, and haven't had one since they dumped Mike D'Antoni on May 1. They'll probably hire Byron Scott. If he does get the job, condolences rather than congratulations are in order. Why? Because the Lakers' roster is bad, really bad.

The big star will be a broken-down Kobe Bryant, an aging superstar who only played in a handful of games last season due to Achilles-tendon issues and a bum knee. The weight of the team rests on his shoulders. Unfortunately he's not good enough any more to carry a team. What's worse, he's such a maniacal competitor that he'll press and press and most likely push himself  into another injury that will keep him out, once again, for part of the season.

They did draft a promising rookie, Julius Randle. But you can't count on a rookie. He could be the next Zach Randolph or he could be a bust. They just signed point guard Jeremy Lin, a skilled ball-distributor who's a wizard at creating his own shot. But he's a weak defender who'll be eaten alive by the legion of quality point guards in the Western Conference. Their big returnees are Nick Young and Jordan Hill. But Young is a selfish gunner and Hill, a defensive specialist, is wildly inconsistent. Both are nice pieces for a good team but sore thumbs on a bad team like the Lakers. No doubt management will sign more players but, for sure, no one who's going to make an impact.

What's funny is that, as awful as the Lakers are, if they were in the Eastern Conference, which is cluttered with bad teams, they would probably make the playoffs. But the West is loaded with first-rate teams. The top ten in this division are all superior to the Lakers, who won't be barging into that elite circle any time in the next few years.

What has screwed the Lakers? Mainly a lot of bad decisions. First of all, they should never have hired D'Antoni as head coach. He was an abysmal failure because the personnel was wrong for his run-and-gun offense. In addition, Jeanie Buss should never have paid Bryant over $20 million a year when he's now not even worth half that. Money that could have been used to improve the roster was wasted on him. Squandering a ton of money on over-the hill Steve Nash was another idiotic move.

Another major blunder was not hiring Jeanie's beau, Phil Jackson, as coach or GM or consultant or something. Instead, boneheaded Jim Buss let his bad feelings toward Jackson cloud his thinking, forcing Jackson into the waiting arms of the Knicks. In the Lakers' glory days, Jerry Buss was around to steer the franchise. His kids lack his savvy and smarts. The team sorely misses its late owner.

Most of all, what has hurt the Lakers is that times have changed. In the old days, when the team had a major hole to fill, they had the clout to attract a Kareem Abdul Jabbar or a Shaquille O'Neal to help pile up championships. Used to be that LA was the prime destination, the shimmering franchise everyone wanted to be part of. But, with the radical media evolution,  it's different now. You don't have to play for LA to make big money in commercials or to become a big star. Places like Dallas, Chicago, Golden State, Miami and San Antonio are much more attractive than LA.

Players want to sign with a well-run organization, with a good team that makes the playoffs. That certainly ain't the Lakers.