In the face of the Lakers’ implosion and imminent elimination from the playoffs, not a few quarters have seen fit to look ahead and speculate on the changes that will inevitably be made in the offseason. The roster is due for upheaval, and not simply because it’s littered with player rentals; anybody not named LeBron James is open season for prospective trade partners with star power, the Pelicans included. Off the court, though, one departure already being touted as certain is that of head coach Luke Walton, and for reasons other than the need to feed critics a sacrificial lamb.
Whether or not Walton deserves the pink slip is subject to debate. He has occupied the hot seat for the last three years, and his record during the period has undoubtedly been underwhelming. On the other hand, there’s so much he can do, and could have done, with the cards he’s dealt. It’s one thing to fall prey to the injury bug, as all others in the league invariably do. It’s quite another to have to face lineup challenges even with a complete complement. A cacophony of talents does not a competitive team make, especially in the deep West.
The arrival of James didn’t make things easier for Walton. In fact, it made his job infinitely harder, and in large measure because front office support by way of recruitment proved mediocre at best. Along with outsized expectations came a mishmash of a supporting cast for the four-time Most Valuable Player. A specific style of play that led to the latter’s singular streak of eight straight Finals appearances was set aside in favor of a spread-offense initiative supposedly requiring more play.makers in the fold. There was just one problem: The utter lack of shooters gave way to an up-and-down campaign susceptible to — and, in the final analysis, undone by — aggravating circumstances.
And so the Lakers figure to extend their playoff drought to an unprecedented six years. With the extended time in their hands, they’re likely to be busy planning and making moves that may or may not pan out. Walton is almost surely gone, but, no, he won’t be replaced by current Clippers mentor Doc Rivers. Whoever does succeed him better have a good relationship with James, a necessity moving forward. More importantly, they better bag a second and third transcendent star to herald their cause through the next season and beyond.
True, James is still very, very good at 34, as his numbers show. Nonetheless, no one wins against Father Time, and there can be no stopping his decline. For the Lakers to not just arrest their swoon but actually contend with consistency anew, they need to effect a smooth transition — which means their work is cut out for them. The glitz is still there, but the glamour is gone, and recovering the glory requires no less.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.