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After getting one of the best players in the history of the game LeBron James this past offseason, the Lakers had high hopes for this season. With LeBron, their young nucleus, and the addition of some key veterans the expectation was a playoff birth. Vegas pinned them with the second-best odds of winning the NBA title. So now sitting in 11th place the Lakers time is running out. Also, their young star Kyle Kuzma will miss some time after injuring his ankle Monday night. Los Angeles sits 6.5 games back of the Clippers for the last spot in the Western Conference and according to ESPN's Power Basketball Index LeBron's Lakers have less than a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs. Also, they have to leapfrog three times to get that 8th and final spot. That's basically impossible and it will be the toughest task LeBron would have to take on in his career. So why are the Lakers spiralling out of control?
One of the things that hurt LA this season was LeBron's injury on Christmas day. The Lakers would stun the Warriors and had a 20-14 record after that win, but lost LeBron James in the process due to a groin injury. LA was only 2 and a half games back from being number one in the West, but the dominoes began to fall quickly thereafter. The Lakers would lose to the Sacramento Kings and then four of their next five games. They would beat the Mavericks and Pistons back to back but lose to LeBron's former team the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without LeBron the Lakers were 6-11 and their record dropped to just one game above 500. Despite dropping in the standings, LA had enough time to get back on track. The Lakers won in LeBron's return in double overtime against the Clippers, but since then they have been playing worse than when LeBron was injured, playing a dismal 3-10 record.
While on the court the team was struggling, the morale of the team was worse off the court. With rumors swirling about Anthony Davis going to the Lakers and LeBron trying to play the role as GM again. The young core of players were feeling the wrath of social media. In early February the Lakers played the Indiana Pacers, just days before the NBA trade deadline. Lakers forward Brandon Ingram was on the free throw line late in the third quarter and the fans started chanting “LeBron's gonna trade you”. JaVale McGee also had a taste of the heckling chants from the Pacers faithful, with chants of “not worth trading”. Imagine being a player early in his career and that's what he's hearing. Imagine being Lonzo, Kuzma or Ingram? The three young players who are supposed to be the future of the Lakers and LeBron comes in and would rather have Anthony Davis as his teammate. Do you really want to play for the Lakers especially if LeBron feels like he doesn't want you on his team? There's no way the morale on the Lakers hasn't hit rock bottom. It was the type of distraction that hurt the Lakers and pushed them further down.
LeBron's front office meddling harmed the Lakers and made him look like less of a teammate. LeBron has had made a career out of “calling the shots” but this isn't Cleveland. Magic Johnson calls the shots and LeBron needs to just play and help the young Lakers win games. Let Magic and the front office handle the player transactions.
Luke Walton will not come back next season as the Lakers head coach unless LA goes on a crazy tear and they miraculously make the playoffs. Even still, Walton has had verbal altercations with the likes of Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee. He thought they were playing selfish and ripped them for it. Michael Beasley almost got physical with his coach as the confrontation almost escalated. Beasley got traded a few days later after the dispute and isn't even playing in the NBA right now. And ownership isn't likely to ignore the other player's concerns with the current rotation. In short, Walton has lost the locker room entirely.
The Lakers thought Walton had potential and hoped he'd be their next big head coach amongst the other great Lakers coaches in the past. Walton came in this season with a lot of pressure on this back, with hopes of coaching the Lakers to the playoffs but it hasn't panned out.
Things will change in the offseason, new coach, new players (maybe Anthony Davis?), but for now the Lakers will just have to get through the next month and go back to the drawing board. Magic Johnson and company will have a busy summer ahead.