Before Tuesday, the Lakers were on a three-game winning streak and many loyal fans were excited. I’m loyal, but not excited. After all, I remember when three-peat referred to winning three championships, not three games.
Reality hit when the Golden State Warriors came to town. For much of the first quarter, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson had more points than the entire Lakers roster. (At quarter’s end, L.A. outscored Thompson 25-22.) As a fan since 1960, I can assure you that, these days, when the Lakers win, they lose. Let me explain.
At their current rate the Lakers will end 2016 with 18 wins, which would be their worst season in franchise history and by far their worst three-season record ever. Thus, the Lakers’ future may depend on their upcoming first-round draft choice. Assuming they have one.
The Lakers’ first-round draft choice for 2016 will go to Philadelphia unless the Lakers have at least the third-worst record in the NBA. (Even then, they have to finish third or better in the ping-pong ball lottery, or they still lose the pick.)
Many Laker fans, including Magic Johnson, and me, for that matter, are rooting for the team to lose as many games as possible. That’s what it’s come to. As Hardy used to say to Laurel, “This is another fine mess you’ve got us into.”)
As painful as the Lakers season is, hopefully it’ll get worse. Among the season’s lowlights is a Christmas Day loss, their eighth-straight to their hometown rival, the Clippers. (Hardly a rivalry, especially when the average loss has been by 22 points!)
Then there was the loss a few weeks ago to the Oklahoma City Thunder by 35 points, which was progress. A week before, they lost to the Thunder by 40!
With just over 40 percent of the season played, the Lakers are a whopping 25 games behind the Warriors. These are definitely not your father’s Lakers. Or your grandfather’s, for that matter.
Lakers optimists (I used to be) point to next season: Kobe Bryant will be retired, and there could be as much as $70 million in cap space to lure top-quality free agents. The hope is that combining the young current talent (D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson) with a few top-tier free agents could put the Lakers back among the elite teams. Only problem: It ain’t gonna happen.
Marque free agents are not going to want to come to the Lakers when they can take their talents to teams already among the elite, or close to it. Our beloved Lakers aren’t even close to being close.
Top-quality free agents have a limited shelf life, and they all are chasing championship trophies. And by that I don’t mean looking at them in the display case at the Lakers’ office.
So who do I blame for the Lakers’ precipitous decline? And that brings us to Jim Buss, Jerry’s eldest son, who’s is in charge of basketball operations. Many have said that Jim has been an unmitigated failure. Others haven’t been so kind.
In 2014, Jim announced that he would voluntarily step down if the Lakers weren’t NBA title contenders within 3 years. That would mean that at the end of next season, 2016-2017, if they weren’t in the Western Conference Finals (his definition of “contending”), he would leave Lakers management. One question: Why wait?
Jimmy, let’s get real. There is zero chance the Lakers will be in next year’s conference finals. Can you say Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets?
Buss has been under heat since taking over operations several years ago. It has been widely reported that the decision to let Phil Jackson go after 2011 was his call, that the decisions to bring in Mike Brown, fire Mike Brown, then hire Mike D’Antoni over Jackson were also his. Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch!
Jerry Buss’ Lakers were in the NBA Finals 17 of 33 seasons. Not long after he passed away in February 2013, I wrote, “Dr. Buss Must Be Spinning.” Actually, It’s been all downhill since. (An odd expression considering going downhill is easy.)
Here’s a sign of the changing times. The Clippers charge more than the Lakers for their top courtside seats ($2,840 versus $2,750). Even Jack Nicholson doesn’t seem to go to Lakers games anymore.
So, Lakers fans, where does that leave us? If you’re religious, I suppose you could pray that the Buss siblings sell the Lakers to Magic Johnson. (If the Clippers were worth $2 billion, could the Lakers be worth $5 billion?)
Barring a religious miracle, Google “Ben Simmons LSU.” (Former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal also went to LSU!) So, with Simmons in mind, and with the slim chance of the Lakers keeping their first-round draft choice, let’s root for our Purple and Gold to lose them all for the team.
Jack also writes Laughing Matters, which appears every Friday. He’s at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org.