Lakers Doomed by Lack of Vision!
Why the lack of a consistent shared vision between their owner, front office, and head coach has doomed the Lakers to failure
The most successful organizations are always built around a shared vision and common blueprint that drives their everyday decisions on whom to hire, how to build, and where to focus their planning, resources, and efforts.
The Lakers ownership, front office, and coaching staff simply don’t share a common vision of where the franchise is headed, which makes it impossible for them to figure out how to get there. Instead of building an organization designed to succeed in today’s modern 3-point driven NBA, they seem to be trapped in a vicious circle of trying to recreate their iconic teams of the past. Instead of chasing a vision, the Lakers are chasing players and personalities.
Instead of building a front office with a proven, experienced executive who understood the modern game, Jeanie Buss opted to give the reigns of the franchise to Magic Johnson, who had zero front office experience and whose moronic tweets about players and teams were ridiculed as lacking the insight and intelligence needed to manage an NBA front office. Johnson’s brief and unsuccessful stint as Lakers’ head coach should have been warning enough.
To complicate matters further, Jeanie decided to retain the Lakers’ dual executive front office rather than having a single general manager in charge. Magic was thus hired to replace Jim Buss as the head of basketball operations and Rob Pelinka, Kobe Bryant’s former agent, was brought in to replace Mitch Kupchak, despite also not having any experience as an NBA GM. The result was an inexperienced front office and problematic decision making process.
Contrast that situation with the simpler and more streamlined front office structure of the best run NBA teams who have an empowered general manger making their basketball decisions: the Spurs’ R.C. Buford, the Celtics’ Danny Ainge, the Warriors’ Bob Myers, the Bucks’ Jon Horst, the Nets’ Sean Marks, or the Rockets’ Daryl Morey. It’s hard not to blame some of the Lakers’ poor personnel moves to their convoluted dual executive front office structure.
Who’s really making the personnel decisions for the Lakers? What happens when Magic and Rob don’t agree on a move? Whose vision is guiding the team’s decision making? Who’s to blame for the poor decisions they’ve made? The Lakers ambiguous dual executive structure limits accountability and makes it difficult to assign blame. Nobody knows who decided to let Brook Lopez walk or to trade Ivica Zubac and Michael Beasley for Mike Muscala.
Most of the successful general managers listed above also utilize their head coaches as important second voices in making key personnel decisions. Greg Popovich, Brad Stevens, Steve Kerr, Mike Budenholzer, Kenny Atkinson, and Mike D’Antoni are always involved in key personnel moves. That’s obviously not the case with the Lakers as Luke Walton has had zero say in roster moves. That in itself is a serious shortcoming in the Lakers’ organizational structure.
From the start, the vision Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka had for the Lakers was more about building a team of superstars in the mode of former Lakers’ championship teams than in creating a team designed to win in today’s NBA. They traded budding star D’Angelo Russell as part of a salary dump to clear cap space to sign superstars LeBron James and Paul George summer of 2018 and quickly transform the Lakers into a legitimate championship contender.
While Magic was successful in signing LeBron James to a 4-year max deal, critics immediately pointed out that James’ decision was more a family and business decision than a basketball decision. Then Paul George stunned the Lakers by re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder without meeting them, leading them to save their cap space for summer of 2019 and forcing them to allow another promising young star Julius Randle to leave in free agency.
That set the stage for the Lakers unconventional front office to make another fatally bad decision. Rather than surround LeBron with elite 3-point shooters, which had historically been the key to his winning championships, the Lakers chose instead to sign a odd meme team of veteran players to one-year deals whose strengths were playmaking rather than shooting, essentially trying to masquerade what was inept inexperience as genius out-of-the-box thinking.
Despite some early success, that decision and injuries eventually doomed the Lakers’ season to failure as they now have been eliminated from the playoffs for the sixth straight year, breaking LeBron’s 14-year playoff run. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ front office’s bungling performance has undermined free agents’ confidence in the organization to the extent that none of the superstar free agents available this summer appear to be interested in joining the Lakers.
Throw in the laughable unsuccessful attempt by the Lakers to force the New Orleans Pelicans to trade superstar center Anthony Davis to them and it’s easy to see why Lakers fans and NBA pundits view the Lakers as a team in crisis. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka appear on the verge of firing talented head coach Luke Walton as the scapegoat for this disaster of a season though most of the blame should go to injuries and poor roster building by the front office.
Where the Lakers go from here and whether they will do anything to fix their organizational is the big question. Maybe Jeanie Buss will put down her foot and they’ll fire Rob Pelinka and replace him with someone like David Griffin. Maybe they’ll be lucky and LeBron James will be able to convince Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving to join him as a Laker. Maybe they’ll win the right to the number one draft pick and land Zion Stephenson or trade him for AD.
The one thing that seems for certain is the Lakers clearly understand they need to fix their dysfunctional organization and surround LeBron James with elite 3-point shooters. This is likely Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka’s last shot to prove they can transform the Lakers into a championship organization. They’ve already wasted one year of LeBron James’ four-year contract. If they waste a second year, there is no way they will survive. They’re on the clock.
To me, the Lakers’ entire fiasco is Jeanie Buss’ fault. She should have turned to somebody with a proven track record at building a championship team like Jerry West or David Griffin rather than novices like Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Instead, she was sold a vision of Lakers exceptionalism but this is no longer her father’s NBA. The league today is about 3-point shooting and analytics. She turned to the past when she should have looked to the future.