As the NBA shifts from the regular season to the playoffs this week, one man is very noticeably absent. For the first time in 13 seasons, LeBron James will not be in the playoffs, as the Los Angeles Lakers finished 12 games back of the crosstown Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot. What started as a season full of optimism and hope for a storied franchise looking for a return to glory ended in absolute disaster. The arrival of James coupled with developing young players and seasoned veterans made many in Laker nation believe that their five-year playoff drought would soon end.
On Christmas Day, the Lakers sat at fourth place in the Western Conference standings. All seemed well for the purple and gold, until LeBron James suffered the first major injury of his career that day. Although listed as day-to-day on the injury report, James wound up missing a total of 17 games. Without their leader, the Lakers were unable to maintain their early season success and fell out of playoff seeding for good.
The situation grew far worse around February when New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis’ agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, who also represents James, made a public trade request for Davis to be traded off the Pelicans. Although never specifically said in public, the fact that Davis wanted to be a Laker was one of the worst kept secrets in the league. After many attempts to trade for Davis, including offering all of their young assets (Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart), the Lakers and Pelicans were unable to complete a deal. As the calendar turned from February to March, a grim realization began to enter the minds of Laker Nation: the Lakers were about to extend their playoff drought to a franchise-record sixth season. The LeBron James experiment in year one had failed.
Many pundits had long predicted that head coach Luke Walton would pay for the failures of this season with his job, and they were right. Walton was fired at the conclusion of the season after three consecutive losing seasons. While Walton was an expected casualty of this season, the same cannot be said for Lakers icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Before the start of the Lakers’ regular season finale, Johnson held an impromptu press conference to announce his resignation, citing his unhappiness as the reason.
“I was happier when I wasn’t president of the Lakers,” Johnson told reporters prior to their final game of the season.
Now that a tumultuous regular season has reached its merciful end, the Lakers enter the offseason surrounded by questions concerning their coach, front office and the general direction of the team. Surrounding LeBron with veterans on one-year contracts who could not shoot and inexperienced talent clearly did not yield the results the Lakers were looking for last season. With LeBron turning 35 in the middle of next season, this is likely the last time the Lakers can reset their organization if the team is serious about winning a championship while LeBron is still playing at a high level. To put it simply, team owner Jeanie Buss needs to get this offseason right by hiring a new head coach and executive who mesh well with LeBron and talent that will allow him to maximize his skillset. Time is running out on James’ illustrious career and the Lakers are hoping that they can add at least one more championship before James walks away from the game. If not, James tenure as a Laker will become a mere footnote in the history books, and the Lakers title drought will continue.
Contact Zachary Schiller at firstname.lastname@example.org.