“Nobody wins when the family feuds” – Shawn Carter
It’s been a week from hell for the Los Angeles Lakers. A week that seems to be the culmination of a season riddled with disappointment. Disappointment that will result in wholesale changes in La La Land.
Kareem’s digs at LeBron James felt personal, as he, in my opinion, unfairly criticized how LeBron handles the weight of his platform. On Sunday, Kareem expressed to the Los Angeles Times that some of LeBron’s actions throughout the course of his career are “beneath” him; and was later on quoted as saying: “It’s hard to figure out where he’s standing. You’ve got to check him out every time.”
A sentiment Kareem walked back shortly thereafter, but the message was already clear. Kareem rang a proverbial bell and the echoes from his statements can’t be taken back; meanwhile, LeBron is inching closer and closer to eclipsing Kareem as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Then the very next day, Magic Johnson, while on a press run to promote his upcoming Apple+ documentary, candidly spoke about the Lakers’ mismanagement of acquiring talent this off-season. He suggested that a move for DeMar DeRozan and a subsequent trade for Buddy Hield was greenlit but ultimately disregarded at the last minute in order to secure a trade for Russell Westbrook, which many have considered to be one of the worst trades of the past 25 years. But Magic wasn’t done…
He also intimated at the prospect of trading away Anthony Davis. The very same superstar they mortgaged their future for and who helped them win a title in 2020.
And to make matters worse, by Tuesday, the Lakers were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
In a mere 72 hours, the Lakers found themselves at rock bottom.
What exactly has gone wrong with this iconic franchise?
As we near a decade since the passing of the legendary Dr. Jerry Buss, the Lakers have consistently shown themselves to be one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NBA.
The 2012-2013 season marked the beginning of this strange run for the Lakers franchise; a 10-year stretch that’s resulted in them missing the playoffs seven times. That year, in particular, is eerily similar to this campaign. a much-anticipated superteam was crafted with the acquisition of mercurial superstar Dwight Howard, and future Hall of Famer Steve Nash. A direct organizational pivot from the much-discussed Chris Paul vetoed trade.
That season ended in disaster. Finishing only four games above .500 and getting swept in the first round of the playoffs. In the off-season, Dwight Howard made his way to Houston, despite the Lakers brass’ grand effort to keep the former Defensive Player of the Year and MVP candidate in purple and gold.
After that season, the Lakers wouldn’t see the playoffs again until they made the Finals in 2020. During that time frame, they went through four different head coaches, never winning above 40 games; with the franchise bottoming out; with a historically-low 17 wins during the 2015-2016 season; the final season for the late great Kobe Bryant.
In that span, the Lakers have been just as dysfunctional within the front office and ownership. Whether it was having Jim Buss run basketball operations, only to be fired by his sister Jeanie; who then replaced longtime general manager, and former Laker Mitch Kupchak, with Laker legend Magic Johnson; who then found himself, in his own words: “being backstabbed” by a familial presence of the Lakers’ organization, Rob Pelinka.
Even Lakers legend Jerry West, who serves as the NBA logo, had his season tickets revoked without even a mere phone call. Very Machiavellian issues.
The Lakers’ demise has read like a Shakespearean tragedy, with siblings fighting for power, allegiances being created by past members of Lakers royalty, ostracism, and back-stabbing. I can’t decide if this is an NBA franchise or an Emmy award-winning HBO series.
For as novelty as it may be, you can’t run an NBA franchise like a family business. The game is past that, and the league is past that.
When the valuation of your franchise is more than the GDP of most small countries, a figure that pales in comparison to what you’d receive on the open market – there are expectations and ideologies needed to excel in that rarified air. A set of expectations that can’t waver nor become secondary to solely “making money.” That’s not fair to the fanbase nor the league that needs one of its marquee franchises to be that.
Unlike the yesteryears, when the NBA was a struggling league on the verge of bankruptcy and having Finals games on tape delay, this iteration of the NBA is a much different business. A business that finds itself run like the multi-billion dollar corporation it is, whose private sectors are run by owners with hedge fund backgrounds and billions of dollars at their disposal. How life has changed…
But with a shifting environment comes the need for adaptation. Adaptation to survive the elements. When Dr. Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers back in 1979, he turned a perennial second-place franchise into a pillar of excellence. Rattling off 10 championships before his passing in 2013.
The passing of the Patriarch of the Buss family business left a power vacuum that still resonates to this day. A figure that had the foresight to elevate the Lakers to something more than just ‘basketball’; to turn the Forum into a destination; to make Magic Johnson the face of the franchise; to bring Shaq out West; to take a chance on a high school phenom from Philly that many questioned. Dr. Jerry Buss had a singular vision that the Lakers seem to still be chasing to this day.
Too many factions of Laker royalty are fighting for power. Fighting for their voice to be heard. Fighting to build the legacy in their light. Further fracturing the vision and the framework of a franchise that only missed the playoffs five times between 1948 and 2005.
While this season left plenty of fans disappointed and pointing the finger at the players on the court; and rightfully so. A decade of disappointment is deeper than just X’s and O’s. The Lakers were never meant to be run like a family business; and if this decade of dysfunction is par for the course, then it’s time for the Buss family to sell the team.
..because nobody wins when the family feuds.