The Los Angeles Lakers season has not gone as planned. The team is seven games behind from the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With 14 games remaining, it’s safe to say that the Lakers will not be playing in the postseason. Could this season have gone better for the Lakers, if Magic Johnson had made better personnel decisions?
How Much Blame Does Magic Johnson Deserve for Los Angeles Lakers Season?
D’Angelo Russell Trade
In 2015, the Los Angeles Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick in the draft. Four years later, he earns his first all-star selection, but not for the Lakers. In an attempt to dump the salary of Timofey Mozgov, the Lakers packed Russell along with Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in the 2017 offseason. It was important for the Lakers to get rid of Mozgov’s contract, but they didn’t need to trade D’Angelo Russell too. At the time, the Lakers also had Jordan Clarkson who was just 24 years of age and coming off of a season where he averaged 14.7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. In 2017, the Brooklyn Nets were so desperate for talent, they would have taken Clarkson because of his promising ceiling.
2017 NBA Draft
The Los Angeles Lakers had the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft. This selection was going to be Magic Johnson’s first major decision as part of the Lakers’ front office. The Lakers selected Lonzo Ball, in doing so, they passed on some pretty good prospects. Three picks after Lonzo was selected, the Sacramento Kings selected De’Aaron Fox, who plays the same position as Lonzo Ball. Fox has been excellent for the Kings this season, averaging 17.5 points, and 7.2 assists per game while shooting 46.3% from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc. Right now it’s undeniable that the Lakers would be in much better shape had they selected De’Aaron Fox. In a fortunate turn of events, the Lakers also selected Kyle Kuzma with the 27th overall pick, which was an absolute steal.
2018 Free Agency
As we all know, the Lakers were able to land LeBron James in free agency. However, that should not be an indictment on Magic Johnson. Anyone would have signed LeBron James if given the chance. Getting LeBron James was obviously a great addition, but right now it’s more than fair to question the other decisions that the Lakers’ front office made.
The Lakers let Julius Randle and Brook Lopez walk in free agency. For the Pelicans, Randle is currently averaging 21.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 52.5% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc. The Lakers would love to have that sort of production right now. Brook Lopez has made a huge impact for the Bucks this season with his floor spacing. Given that the Lakers rank 29th in three-point percentage, it’s clear that they could have used Lopez’s shooting development. The Lakers front court depth has been a problem all year, but retaining Lopez and Randle would have solved that issue.
James’ playing style allows him to excel most alongside shooters. Despite that, the Lakers went out and spent significant money in free agency on Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley. All of those players fail to space the floor. Those players have had limited impact for the Lakers, and none of them are expected to remain on the team after this season. The Lakers could have retained Brook Lopez and Julius Randle instead of signing those three. Lopez would have fit well next to James because of his shooting.
With the team on the verge of missing the playoffs, this Lakers’ season has been a disaster. The pressure will be on Magic Johnson this offseason to find a 2nd star to pair with Lebron James. If unable to do so, then there will be very little optimism about Lebron’s stint with the Lakers.