SportsPulse: Jeff Zillgitt and Martin Rogers give their take on which legendary franchise is in worse shape at the moment.
The NBA regular season officially ends on April 10, but in reality it finishes at different times for different teams. For the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns it barely retained any meaning past November. For the Golden States Warriors, it has only just begun.
And for the Los Angeles Lakers, the curtain has just come down and the summer vacation might as well start. Sure, there are 19 games and five weeks still to go officially, but you can put a fork in these Lakers because they are done.
The final rites happened in sorry fashion Saturday in a loss to those dismal Suns, who captured only their 13th win of the season amid a whopping 51 defeats. But such ignominy is the kind of fate that befalls a sorry team, and that’s exactly what the Lakers are now and have been for most of this campaign.
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They’re sorry because they have sorry structure, patched together last summer to try to cater to LeBron James in a manner that appeared haphazard at the time and feels even more like it now.
They’re sorry because they have sorry leadership, with the executive branch having blundered its way through the Anthony Davis debacle and, on the court, James having done little to improve or inspire the youthful talent around him.
The mathematics says that the Lakers could still make the playoffs, in the same way that a five-month old could rise to their feet, walk over to you and begin talking in complete sentences.
At 30-33, Los Angeles has lost eight of 12 since James returned from injury, in a symmetrical pattern of one step (a win) forward, followed by two steps (a pair of losses) backward. Since the All-Star break that was supposed to spark a revival. Los Angeles is 2-4 and sits 4½ games behind the local neighbor Clippers for the eight spot in the Western Conference.
That happens to be the next opponent, a match-up that should have been laced with playoff ramifications had the Lakers not capitulated but is now relevant only for its potential impact on the Clippers’ finishing position.
James hasn’t been effective at doing much apart from putting up solid numbers on his own stat sheet. If he attains a high position in the MVP voting it will be a joke. The award is about value, and he hasn’t provided anything like enough of it.
Maybe he has made attempts behind closed doors at mentoring the likes of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, but if he has, they haven’t worked. All of those young players still know how to display certain basketball skills adeptly, but they have picked up nothing about how to mesh together into a tight unit capable of big things. If that hasn’t happened after nearly a full season of playing with one of the best ever, isn’t something wrong here?
At the start of the season the Lakers weren’t expected to be fantastic, but they were expected to grow, and they haven’t. Remarkable as it sounds for a franchise that has been dismal for the past five years, it feels like things have gone backwards.
It is painful to watch. Against the Suns, James missed a pair of free throws down the stretch to take steam out of a late comeback. He still snarls and struts after dunks but looks limited and sometimes disinterested on defense.
Head coach Luke Walton is now a lame duck who surely won’t be around at the start of next season, and maybe not at the end of this one.
And the Lakers have problems that will linger. Dysfunction is no fun and the purple and gold part of the Staples Center doesn’t look like an attractive destination for any summer free agents.
On the bright side, that’s a problem for a little bit later. Because for now, as a result of their own ineptitude, the Lakers’ summer vacation is underway, despite what the schedule might say.
Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.