The Lakers always knew they couldn’t possibly top the high they got on the first day of free agency last July. Armed with purpose and the promise the purple and gold invariably carried in light of their storied past, they managed to secure the commitment of LeBron James, and for the long haul. Widely acknowledged the National Basketball Association’s best player by far, he was supposed to be the first in a series of acquisitions aimed at bringing glory back to Staples Center. Instead, what they wound up doing was fill a roster with disjointed talent, auguring a future full of question marks and engendering trepidation, not hope.
The Lakers weren’t helped any by unfortunate turns of events, to be sure. Suspensions on the first day of the regular season were followed by a string of injuries that prevented them from settling on regular rotations, the most critical being James’ strained groin on Christmas Day. His protracted absence triggered a swoon; from fourth in West standings, they tumbled down to 11th. And when he returned to finish out the 2018-19 campaign, he couldn’t bring back the esprit de corps that hitherto had them humming; rumors of everybody but him being expendable in their desperate bid to trade for the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis disrupted chemistry.
Considering the tumult that accompanied the Lakers, it was but fitting that the last game of their sixth straight season out of the playoffs featured the resignation of living legend Magic Johnson as president. Even the press conference he called to announce the shocker was absent any organization; it was hastily called, and occurred before he could convey his departure to franchise owner Jeanie Buss. He wasn’t happy in his role anymore, he said. “I want to go back to having fun.” Perhaps he also knew the gravity of the work that would have been his in the offseason; most importantly, he and general manager Rob Pelinka would have been hard-pressed to pair James with another transcendent star to truly jump-start their projected run of success.
In any case, Johnson’s “No Mas” moment underscored the depth and breadth of the Lakers’ dysfunction. And how they will move forward is anybody’s guess. Who will Buss tap as the new head of hoops operations? Will it have any effect? With such notables as Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson set to be available for the taking in July, the last thing they needed was another setback. They always survive, though. They always do. Whether they will while James is still putting up big numbers is, however, another matter altogether.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.