The 2018-19 NBA regular season is coming to an end, and contrary to popular opinion at the beginning of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers will most likely not be in the playoffs. Plenty of things went wrong for the Lakers throughout the course of the year, however, the Lakers front office did the team no favors. So let’s dig in on what went wrong for the Lakers in this lost season.
What Went Wrong for the Lakers?
Entering the offseason, the Lakers had expectations of signing Paul George, LeBron James, and DeMarcus Cousins while trading for Kawhi Leonard. They did get James but struck out on the other three. Getting James is a win as he is the best player in the world, but not being able to get George, Cousins, or Leonard meant that LA needed to resign players or sign other role players. With LeBron on the roster, they needed shooting. All his championship teams have had good shooting players. So logically, they should have re-signed one of their players who shot 35% from three last season, Brook Lopez. Instead, they got JaVale McGee, not exactly the knockdown shooter they wanted.
Julius Randle was one of their best players last season and was one of the reasons the NBA community was so high on the Lakers young core. But LA let him walk in free agency, so to replace him the Lakers got Michael Beasley. The same Michael Beasley who they traded for Mike Muscala.
For a backup point guard, they got Rajon Rondo, which was actually a good move, but re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wasn’t. He has not been terrible for the Lakers, but his shooting numbers from three have fallen off, going from 38% last season to 34% this season. Lance Stephenson has been entertaining but has not been as valuable as the Lakers would have liked. Hindsight is always 20-20, so we now know that the Lakers did not make the right decisions, but going into the season there was hope.
The Trade Dilemmas
Everyone and their Grandma knew the Lakers were interested in New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis, but the way the Lakers handled the situation could have been better. According to various reports, Jeanie Buss reportedly considered trading LeBron James because she thought James’ agent Rich Paul was leaking the LA’s interest in Davis. When the trade deadline was nearing, the team’s chemistry was falling apart. People started to play for themselves, and the team wasn’t playing well. LeBron being out didn’t help.
The worst trade might have been the Ivica Zubac trade. Zubac was one of the players who started to really emerge as a possible cornerstone. They traded him and Beasley for Muscala, who barely plays and didn’t fill their need for a shooting big anyway. Zubac was averaging 19.6 PPG and 11.3 RPG on 58% shooting per 36 minutes before the trade. Against the Golden State Warriors, Zubac had 18 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks in a game that many thought it was a coming out party for the Lakers. That was not the case.
Hope for Next Season
The Lakers had injuries galore. Three of their most valuable players (Lonzo Ball, James, and, Brandon Ingram) all missed more than 15 games. Ingram will miss the rest of the season with a blood clot in his arm. Rondo missed time on two separate occasions for hand injuries. Their backup center Tyson Chandler has also missed time with a neck injury.
Before James’ injury, they were in fourth place in the Western Conference and had just beaten the Warriors. This team was gaining momentum and would have been a problem in the playoffs had they stayed the course. If the Lakers are able to stay healthy, next season will be much better than this one.
Free agency will be big for the Lakers. The 2019 free agency class is very talented and very deep. Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson are players who the Lakers could target. One or two of these would be able to elevate the Lakers to a level near the top of the Western Conference. The Lakers front office will be tasked with getting these free agents, and perhaps a new coach.
Los Angeles will have high expectations next season, as they do every season. If they can’t make the Conference Semi-Finals next season, however, then the future of the team would be in serious jeopardy. Magic and Company have their work cut out for them. The only way to know what happens is to wait and see.
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