Let me preface this by saying I think it’s not likely to happen. LeBron, at this stage of his career and this stage of his life, is in Los Angeles not only for basketball but for his post-basketball career, whatever that may be (Hollywood, business, etc). So it’s likely he’s there because he intends to stay there long-term.
But LeBron needs to leave the Lakers. He has no future there–at least no future that includes competing for another Championship. Which means, of course, that he has no future there, since at age 37, LeBron is focused solely on winning as many rings as he can before Father Time gets him.
The Lakers have done something that no front office of a LeBron team has done in over a decade: wasted one of his best seasons. The Lakers’ front office is now on par with the Cavaliers’ front offices of the 2000s, which failed to surround LeBron with Championship-level talent, compelling him to bolt for Miami at the first opportunity. It’s somewhat understandable why Cleveland was incapable of building out an elite roster: it’s hard to attract talent to Cleveland. But for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have no problem attracting talented players, to try and fail to build an elite roster around LeBron James–that’s a special level of incompetence.
And so, as a result, the Lakers front office has committed one of the most unforgivable and egregious sins an NBA front office can ever commit: it has wasted a prime season of an all-time great player. It’s a miracle that at 37, LeBron is still considered in his prime, but he definitely is.
Do you know how rare it is for a guy to average 30+ points per game on better than 50% shooting from the floor? It is extremely rare.
Kobe never did it once in his career. If we go by effective field goal percentage, Kobe had one season where he averaged 30+ ppg with 50%+ eFG, and it was 2007, when he averaged 31.6 on 50.2% eFG.
Michael Jordan did it only 5 times despite averaging 30.1 points per game for his career.
LeBron this year is averaging 30.3 on 52.4% shooting, 59% eFG.
He’s having one of the best seasons in NBA history, at least individually, yet the Lakers are 31-47 and probably going to miss the playoffs altogether. They’re not even going to make the play-in tournament.
Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have gone a pathetic 4-16. In those four wins, LeBron put up 56, 50, 36, and 38 points on a combined 62% field goal shooting. At age 37, LeBron literally needs to go God Mode for the Lakers to win. He did not sign up for this.
You know what else LeBron didn’t sign up for? For Laker legends like Kareem to randomly just start taking cryptic and passive-aggressive shots at him out of the blue, like Kareem did on Sunday, saying, “You know, some of the things he’s done, he should be embarrassed about” without actually specifying what he was talking about.
LeBron also didn’t sign up for none other than Magic Johnson to go on ESPN’s Get Up with Mike Greenberg and explicitly place the blame for the Russ trade at LeBron’s feet:
Magic says the Laker front office was all gung-ho about signing DeMar DeRozan, but then “LeBron and Russell and them started talking,” the Lakers “nixed” the DeRozan deal.
You can see exactly what’s happening here. It’s clear as day. Magic is loyal to team owner Jeanie Buss first and foremost, not LeBron. Even though Magic resigned in semi-disgrace from his position as head of basketball operations for the Lakers a few years ago, he’s still part of the Jeanie Buss inner circle. She said in February that she still consults Magic for advice on basketball matters, going as far as to say, “To me, he’s still working with us.” Magic in the past has said that Jeanie is like a sister to him. Magic’s comments on Get Up (and we’ll get more into the Russ/DeRozan matter shortly) were a transparent attempt by the Lakers front office to throw LeBron under the bus and pin the blame for this season’s failures all on him.
It feels like the bridge is burned here. That’s the vibe I’m getting; like the Lakers front office has decided that LeBron is the enemy and declared war on him.
And so LeBron needs to get his ass out of there. The Lakers don’t deserve him.
I’m not talking about his teammates, although some of them have been pretty damn bad this season. I’m not even talking about his coach, Frank Vogel, who should have been fired months ago.
I’m not talking about Laker fans, either. They just want to see their team win games. Are they a bit spoiled? Sure, but so are fans of every historically great franchise in any sport.
I’m talking about the Laker front office.
The Lakers have the hands-down worst front office in the NBA, maybe in all of sports.
At least when the Sixers were tanking in the early/mid 2010s and barely winning 10 games a year, there was a plan in place for them to eventually become relevant again. The Lakers have no plan, and they haven’t had a plan for a decade now. They got lucky that LeBron wanted to move to LA and become a Laker, and that’s it. Had LeBron not come to LA, the Lakers would be as bad as the Kings.
And what does LeBron get in return? He gets hung out to dry and blamed for everything that has gone wrong for the Lakers this season.
No way, man. There’s no way he should put up with this nonsense. LeBron needs to get out of there. Without him they will be the worst team in the league again.
I cannot emphasize enough just how abysmally awful the Laker front office is and has been for nearly a decade now.
The Lakers front office is a joke, and it’s because of Jeanie Buss, who is one of the worst owners in all of sports. I know everyone loves her and she’s completely beyond reproach in many people’s eyes, but as long as she is a hands-on owner, the Lakers will always be a disappointment. Always.
It all stems from her. She’s the one who hired all these incompetent people to run the team.
Let’s discuss first just how bad the Lakers have been under Jeanie Buss’ ownership.
Jerry Buss died in February 2013 and his children–Jeanie and Jim–took over the team. There was a bit of power struggle between the two early on, and it resulted in Jeanie forcing Jim out for good in 2017. Jeanie has been running the show for the past nine seasons now, but while the Lakers have now won a Championship under her stewardship, outside of the 2020 season, the Lakers have been one of the NBA’s worst franchises since Jerry Buss passed away:
This chart shows each NBA team’s win totals since the start of the 2013-2014 season, with cumulative figures up at the top. The Lakers have only won 286 regular season games, including this year, since the start of the 2013-2014 season. That’s 5th worst in the league. That puts them in the company of teams like Minnesota and Detroit and Sacramento. That is truly awful.
The 2019 season, LeBron’s first with the team, is widely regarded as a disaster. The Lakers missed the playoffs and LeBron was injured for more than a quarter of the season. But it was still their best season since 2013. That’s how awful the Lakers were before LeBron arrived. I know Kobe was far past his prime from about 2013 on, and he dealt with some serious injuries over that span, but it is not as if the Lakers haven’t had any talent over the past 9 seasons.
This is a team that has had either Kobe or LeBron for 7 of those 9 seasons. They’ve had LeBron and AD for the past 3 seasons, although AD has been injured quite a bit.
This is a dysfunctional franchise. It really is.
You thought the Cavs with LeBron in the 2000s were a dysfunctional front office? The Lakers front office makes them look like Miami or Golden State.
And nobody ever talks about how bad this front office is because the Lakers are seen as a prestige franchise, not just in the NBA but in all of sports.
The reality, though, is that if you take away the 2020 Championship, then basically the Lakers are on par with the Kings and the Pistons over the past decade. That is how bad they have been. They have averaged about 32 wins per season over the past 9 years. The Pistons are about 31.
It is difficult to overstate just how bad the Lakers have been the majority of the time since the passing of Jerry Buss.
Toward the end of Kobe’s career, when the Lakers made him the highest-paid player in the league as something of “Thank You” despite him not being anywhere near the best player in the league, the belief was, “Well, they owe this this to Kobe, but they’ll be fine once he decides to retire.” It hindered their ability to sign big-name players for many years, and they were stuck in a sort of no-mans land where they couldn’t fully commit to the rebuild because of Kobe, but they also weren’t good enough to compete for even a playoff berth.
There was a belief that, after Kobe retired, the Lakers just needed to get that next Superstar player and everything would be right again. They had some well-documented failures on the free agency market (most notably the embarrassing LaMarcus Aldridge pitch in 2015), but it was assumed that they would eventually get someone to come in and be that next Laker Great.
In a way, these sentiments were kind of right. The Lakers struggled for a few years post-Kobe, but then landed LeBron prior to the 2019 season, then they got AD following the 2019 season. They were NBA Champions in 2020, and it seemed as if all was right in La La Land.
But this rosy outlook has to have been shattered by the team’s performance this year. They’re now in 11th place in the West, two games out of a play-in spot with just four games left to play. A lot of people thought the Russell Westbrook experiment would be a disaster, but nobody predicted this team being 16 games below .500 and missing the playoffs entirely.
You can chalk a lot of this season’s failures up to injuries. That’s fair, I’d say. LeBron has missed over a quarter of the season with injuries. And without AD, who has missed more than half the year, I see a Lakers team that is absolutely pathetic on defense and cannot protect the rim at all.
But even with AD this year, the Lakers were barely a .500 team.
Look, it’s fair to say that this 2022 Lakers squad never really got a chance. People are dancing on their graves saying, “I told you so! I told you it wouldn’t work!” but the reality is that LeBron, AD and Russ have only played a total of 21 games together in the starting lineup. They’re only 11-10 in those games, and by no means am I saying this team would be on par with the Suns and the Grizzlies if they were healthy all year, but they absolutely would not be 16 games under .500 if they were all healthy all year long.
I would never count them out if they do in fact secure a play-in berth and AD comes back healthy, but let’s be honest here: this season is finished. It’s all but over.
And the question now becomes, “How did things get so bad in LA?”
Well, I’ve already set the stage to answer that question, but it’s largely because the Lakers have an incompetent front office including ownership.
I know a lot of people are predisposed to hating LeBron and are going to naturally going to want to blame it all on him, but what did we just go over? The Lakers were horrible before they got LeBron. They were perennial bottom feeders in the league, but within two years of signing, LeBron got them AD and got them another Larry O’Brien Trophy.
If not for LeBron, the Lakers by this point would probably be widely viewed as the worst franchise in the NBA–the franchise that failed to develop so many young, talented players that ultimately went on to realize their potential elsewhere, see: Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Lonzo Ball.
Remember, this Laker front office let Brook Lopez walk in 2019 so that they could sign MICHAEL BEASLEY. They had a floor-spacing center who can shoot threes, who once said that playing for the Lakers was a “dream come true” (he was born in North Hollywood, CA) and they could have paired him with LeBron, but instead, they thought Michael Beasley, one of the biggest draft busts of the past 15 years, would be the better option.
The Lakers front office then traded Michael Beasley to the Clippers barely 6 months after signing him–along with promising young center Ivica Zubac, who has been pretty good for the Clippers over the past few seasons. Zubac was a Laker, he wanted to be a Laker, he would be a good piece for them right now, and the Lakers got rid of him. Who did they get in return? Mike Muscala, who wound up playing a grand total of 265 minutes for the Lakers in 17 games.
The Lakers have been a dysfunctional franchise for 9 years now, and the biggest problems facing this 2022 Lakers squad, which began the season with sky-high expectations (including from yours truly) and the second-best Finals odds behind Brooklyn, stem from the front office’s decisions in the offseason.
But more than that, this 2022 season is the latest in a long line of failures and disasters that are ultimately attributable to the Lakers’ front office and ownership. And it has gotten so bad that not even LeBron James can overcome it all.
Let’s go back not even one year, to the 2021 offseason, when the Lakers front office engineered a major roster overhaul that set the stage for this disastrous 2022 season.
They blew up the roster, when what they should have done was simply retool the roster. They got rid of basically everybody except for LeBron, AD and THT. Kuzma, KCP, Trezz, Schroder, Marc Gasol, Caruso, Wesley Matthews, Markieff Morris, Andre Drummond–all were sent packing. Some of these guys–Caruso, KCP, Kuzma–played big roles on the Championship squad of 2020.
The proper move–which I admittedly couldn’t see at the time–would have been to just go after either DeMar DeRozan or Buddy Hield instead of blowing up the roster to trade for Westbrook. They could have simply added one (or possibly even both) of those guys to the core that won the 2020 Championship, and had a 2-1 playoff series lead on the eventual Western Conference Champions before AD was knocked out of the playoffs with an injury.
And that’s the thing: the fanbase and the sports media certainly panicked over the first first-round playoff series loss of LeBron’s career. But the front office shouldn’t have panicked. It’s the fans’ and the media’s role to panic and blow things out of proportion. The front office should not succumb to that. They bought into the hype that the team needed to be blown up.
In reality, the Lakers probably beat the Suns if AD stays healthy. Maybe not in 5 games, but they would have won that series. Chris Paul was hurting, and the Lakers really looked like they had figured the Suns out by the end of game 3.
It’s possible the Lakers even repeat as Champions if AD was able to stay healthy last year (I know this is becoming a bigger and bigger “if” as more time passes, and AD is starting to become more of an idea than a real, actual basketball player).
But instead, the Laker front office panicked and blew up the roster so they could trade for Russell Westbrook and sign a bunch of 36-year-old veterans.
I don’t want to turn this into a Russ slander post, but it’s difficult to ignore how bad this team has been with him this year. He’s had some good moments, but ultimately I think he’s a net-negative level player at this stage of his career as his athleticism wanes, and he doesn’t work well with LeBron.
The good news is that the Lakers can get out from under Russ’ contract probably either in the offseason or at the trade deadline next season. Teams that are looking for expiring contracts will pursue him, even though he’s clearly not the player he once was. This will probably only be a one-year experiment.
But the bad news is what the Lakers missed out on by going after Russ. As I said earlier, they should have just gone for DeMar DeRozan and/or Buddy Hield and upgraded the 2021 roster, instead of blowing it up and rebuilding it from scratch around a big three of LeBron, AD and Russ.
Now, I’ll admit, I was one of the few who thought it would work with those three. I figured LeBron and AD would never sign off on the move unless they were certain it would work. I figured they had talked it out with Russ, and Russ said something like, “You know what, I’m ready to change my game so we can win a Championship.” I expected to see a different Russ this year, and also a different LeBron. I expected to see a Russ that was more of a slasher, more of a get-to-the-rim attacking two guard who also dished out tons of assists, while LeBron played more of a facilitator role. Or, if Russ wanted to be more of a pure point guard, then LeBron could play off-ball and be more of a pure scorer. I just thought it would be able to work–the pick-and-rolls with Russ and AD, all three guys throwing oops to each other left and right. I really thought it would work.
But it obviously hasn’t worked.
And now, Team LeBron (Clutch) and the Lakers front office seem to be trying to pin the blame for the Russ trade on each other. “Hey, it was your idea to trade for him.” “What? My idea?! It was your idea!”
The popular wisdom was that it was LeBron and AD who pushed for the Russell Westbrook trade, and that they are the ones to blame for the Lakers.
After all, we all know about “LeGM.” It’s conventional wisdom that LeBron is the real GM of every team he’s ever been on.
But a report surfaced recently, courtesy of Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, claiming that it was Rob Pelinka’s unwillingness to give DeRozan a three-year contract that ultimately forced him to sign with the Bulls:
“Everyone knows by now that LeBron James tried to recruit DeMar DeRozan to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. All along, however, fans and experts alike thought that it was the Russell Westbrook trade that killed the team’s chances of getting DeRozan.
According to new information from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, though, the Lakers actually passed on DeRozan. Apparently, while LeBron wanted to pair up with him in LA, Rob Pelinka and the front office refused to give him a three-year deal. To recall, the veteran wing signed a three-year, $85 million deal with the Chicago Bulls.
Haynes made the revelation in a Twitter Space on Tuesday. While there is no video recording of the discussion, several Twitter users who watched the Space corroborated the report. A lot of people also pinned the blame on Pelinka and the Lakers’ front office over the failure to sign DeRozan and opting to trade for Westbrook instead.”
And why would Pelinka not want to give DeRozan a three-year deal? The salary cap. Maybe he thought the contract would limit the Lakers in building their roster. Or maybe it was ownership’s reluctance to pay a heavy luxury tax bill (more on this shortly).
Regardless, the popular wisdom on the Russ trade being LeBron’s idea may not actually be true.
You can brush Haynes’ report off as a Clutch leak trying to pin the blame on the front office, and that may well be what’s going on here. But Haynes is a very well-respected NBA reporter, first of all, and second of all, LeBron and DeRozan seemed to be yukking it up at the All-Star Game. LeBron chose DeRozan for his team, remember, and after LeBron hit the game-winning shot, who was the first guy he went to celebrate with? DeMar DeRozan.
The way I look at that is, if LeBron didn’t want DeMar DeRozan, and instead wanted Russ, I don’t think he would have been so friendly with DeRozan at the All-Star Game. And I don’t think DeRozan would have been so friendly with him, either. Remember, DeRozan all but admitted he wanted to play for the Lakers, and that he would even take a hometown discount to do so. You think he would be buddy-buddy with LeBron if he knew LeBron spurned him for Russell Westbrook? I don’t think so.
So, I do think there might be some truth to the claim that it was the Lakers front office, rather than LeBron, that preferred to trade for Westbrook.
Now I don’t think LeBron was opposed to the Westbrook trade, in fact I think he was for it. But only once it became apparent that the Lakers were not going to acquire DeRozan.
I mean, just think about this for a second: does trading for Russell Westbrook really sound like something LeBron James would push for? Of all the teams he’s been on in his career, and of all the teammates he’s had, he has never had a teammate like Russell Westbrook–an inefficient, ball-dominant, shoot-first point guard who can’t shoot.
There is a very clear and defined formula for a LeBron James-led team with Championship aspirations: it’s him, a second scorer who can fill it up (Wade, Kyrie, AD), a big man who can defend the rim and do the dirty work (Bosh/Udonis Haslem, Love/Tristan Thompson, AD/Dwight Howard), and a bunch of veteran 3&D guys who can knock down threes when LeBron kicks it out to them.
Where does Russell Westbrook fit into that equation? Unless you believed he was going to change his game to be more like Dwyane Wade, I really don’t see any reason LeBron would look at him and say, “I need that guy on my team.” Westbrook has never fit the prototype of a “LeBron guy.”
That’s why I can totally buy into the claim that the Russ trade was not LeBron’s idea. It just doesn’t fit with what he has historically prioritized in terms of the pieces around him. LeBron has never played with a player like Westbrook in his career. Guys like Westbrook are not part of the LeBron formula.
Now, I could see the argument that LeBron was desperate for a third star–any third star–given that at the time, Brooklyn was viewed as the prohibitive Championship favorite, and they had KD, Kyrie and James Harden. But if LeBron was concerned about Brooklyn, then why would he want Russell Westbrook? Russell Westbrook is not an efficient enough scorer to go toe-to-toe with Kyrie. DeMar DeRozan would probably have been a better fit in terms of matching up against Brooklyn–DeRozan would have been a better matchup against James Harden.
You see what I’m getting at: LeBron has a very high basketball IQ. He knows what type of player Westbrook is and what type of player DeRozan is. He knows which guy would have been the better fit with him. The Westbrook trade just seems out of character for LeBron. That’s what I’m trying to say here.
Okay, you still don’t believe me that the Russ trade wasn’t LeBron’s idea. You don’t believe Ramona Shelburne’s report that Russ made an “emotional pitch” to LeBron and AD to get them on board for his trade to the Lakers.
You believe the Westbrook trade is all LeBron’s fault. Because “LeGM,” of course.
But to act like LeBron and AD are the GMs of the team, and that the front office is little more than a bystander that simply rubberstamps whatever they want–this is an exaggeration. Certainly, those two have a great deal of say in team decisions, but the buck ultimately doesn’t stop with them.
You think LeBron wanted Alex Caruso gone? Absolutely not. LeBron wanted Caruso back on the team, but the Lakers low-balled him. Caruso wanted to stay. He even gave them the chance to match the Bulls’ offer, but the Lakers refused, saying it would push them too far into the luxury tax. They were paying $44 million, and matching Caruso’s offer from the Bulls would have tacked on an additional $17.5 million for a total luxury tax bill of $61.5 million.
It’s a reasonable concern for the Lakers to have. After all, the Buss family has to pay that out of pocket, and that’s a hell of a lot of money. But the thing is, when you are competing for a Championship, you pay that luxury tax if it brings you closer to greatness. That is the job of an NBA owner.
Say what you want about Dan Gilbert, but when LeBron was on the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert never balked at paying eye-popping luxury tax bills. He paid a $65 million luxury tax bill for the 2016 season. At the time it was the second-highest luxury tax bill in league history.
Now, in fairness to the Buss family, Dan Gilbert has way more money than they do. He’s worth a reported $22 billion and is the second-richest owner in the NBA behind Steve Ballmer. Gilbert is an independently wealthy businessman who founded Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, while Jeanie Buss is one of the “poorest” (a relative term) owners in the NBA with a reported net worth of $500 million, most of that deriving from the Lakers.
But do Laker fans care about this? Do players care about this? Sure, the Buss family may be one of the least-wealthy NBA team owners, but they’re far richer than most fans and players (except LeBron–he’s probably worth more than the Buss family. But he’s not allowed to pay the luxury tax bill out of his own pocket.) At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter: if you’re not willing to do what it takes to chase NBA Championships, then maybe you shouldn’t be in the business of owning an NBA team.
No one can claim that the Lakers’ front office and ownership did not know what they were getting into when they signed LeBron. When you sign LeBron, that means you are all-in on winning as many championships as possible in the near term. You trade away all the future draft picks (which the Lakers have done), but you also have to break the bank if that’s what it takes. There is no excuse for not being willing to shell out top dollar to win championships.
And so, you see what I’m getting at here: the people who pay the bill are the ones who have final say. LeBron may have a lot of influence, but at the end of the day, he’s not the one signing the paychecks.
Let’s look at another example to emphasize this point:
The Lakers not hiring Tyron Lue as Head Coach–you think that was LeBron’s doing? Just the opposite: LeBron wanted the Lakers to hire Lue as head coach back in the 2019 offseason, but the Lakers hired Frank Vogel instead. Apparently, the Lakers wanted Lue to bring on Jason Kidd as an assistant coach, and Lue refused to do that, so negotiations broke down. Vogel was willing to have Kidd as an assistant coach, and the Lakers’ front office went with him.
Now, Jason Kidd wound up being a great hire for the Lakers, and he was a big part of the reason the Lakers’ defense was so elite in 2020 and 2021 (and you can see how much it has suffered with Jason Kidd gone, and how much Kidd’s Mavericks have improved on defense). And Vogel ultimately coached the Lakers to a championship. But the point here is that if LeBron was truly the team’s GM and the buck stopped with him, the Lakers would have hired Ty Lue as the head coach, not Frank Vogel. Lue was the guy LeBron wanted.
Beyond the Jason Kidd situation, another reason the Lakers didn’t hire Ty Lue was because they lowballed him on the offer. They offered him basically the average NBA head coach salary, and Lue was reportedly insulted by the offer because he expected to be paid like a coach who has won a Championship. For whatever reason, the Lakers were not willing to pay him the salary he deserved. On top of the low-ball salary offer, they also only offered him a 3-year contract, which was pretty transparently a message to him that they only wanted him as their coach for as long as they had LeBron. Lue felt insulted because it was an insulting offer from the Lakers: basically, they were telling him that they were only interested in him because LeBron wanted him, and that they would only tolerate him for as long as LeBron was in LA.
The worst part of it all is that Tyronn Lue played for the Lakers way back when! This is a guy who is not only one of the best coaches in the NBA, but a guy who won Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers back in the early 2000s. And still the Lakers front office treated him like crap.
I would have told them to pound sand, too. I don’t blame Ty Lue at all.
And as you can see from the Clippers (and Lue’s tenure as Cavs head coach), Lue is a damn good coach, and the Lakers would probably be better off with him. Ty Lue is not afraid of LeBron. At one point during the 2016 season, he told LeBron to “shut the fuck up,” which apparently earned him LeBron’s respect. He also had a difficult conversation with LeBron at halftime of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, in which he said something to the effect of “I need more out of you.” It ended up working out.
Now, none of this is to say the Russ trade wasn’t LeBron’s idea. It still may have been his idea first and foremost. But the Lakers’ front office still had to sign off on it. They have the power to overrule him, and they have done so in the past. Let’s not act like they’re just bystanders here.
It is now clear that they made a monumental error in choosing Russell Westbrook over DeMar DeRozan. And it is not a valid excuse to pin it all on LeBron. If that’s the case they’re essentially saying, “Don’t blame us; we’re too weak and irrelevant to call the shots around here. We don’t actually have control.”
No. That doesn’t cut it. There’s no way this argument can be made, especially when Rob Pelinka was getting so much credit and praise for being the architect of the 2020 Championship squad. It wasn’t “LeGM” back in 2020; now, with the Lakers in shambles, “LeGM” is the scapegoat.
That’s not how it works. Either LeBron is the GM of the team, or Pelinka is. It can’t be that Pelinka is the GM when the Lakers are good, and LeBron gets the blame when they’re bad.
Speaking of Rob Pelinka, this leads us into our next and most important point regarding the Laker front office: the whole thing is dysfunctional and has been for years now.
The Lakers fired longtime General Manager Mitch Kupchak in the middle of the 2017 season. This was a guy who had been the team’s GM since 2000, and was the architect of at least 2 Championship teams (Jerry West technically gets the credit for the Shaq-Kobe three-peat from 2000-2002 because he was the team’s GM from 1979-2000, and he was the one who acquired both Shaq and Kobe. But Kupchak was the Lakers’ assistant GM since 1986, so he had a hand in creating those teams).
Firing Mitch Kupchak was another red flag. He’s now President of Basketball Operations for the Hornets, and wow, what do you know? For the first time in, pretty much ever, they’re actually not half-bad. They’re young, but they’re definitely better than the Lakers right now.
If you’re going to fire a guy like Mitch Kupchak, you had better have a superstar lined up to replace him.
The Lakers instead chose to hire Rob Pelinka, Kobe’s agent, as GM in large part because he was part of the “Laker family.” They also named Magic Johnson team President, although he and Pelinka did not get along at all, and it ultimately led to Magic stepping down from his role.
Pelinka has made some good moves over the past few years. He was able to acquire Anthony Davis, assemble the 2020 Championship squad, and he made some nice moves to set the 2021 squad up for success. But while Pelinka has not been the root of the problem, he’s definitely not one of these elite-tier executives like Toronto’s Masai Ujiri, or Philly’s Daryl Morey. Rob Pelinka is not one of these guys’ whose entire career has been evaluating talent. Pelinka played college basketball for Michigan, and was actually on the 1989 National Championship squad, but after college he became a lawyer and then a sports agent, eventually repping Kobe Bryant and coming to fame via Kobe.
And it’s because Pelinka was Kobe’s agent that he was named GM of the Lakers by Jeanie Buss. It’s not because Pelinka had grinded through the ranks of the scouting department over the years. He was, as Kobe’s agent, simply a Made Man in Laker World, and that was enough for Buss.
Same with Magic Johnson, too: Magic Johnson was named EVP of Basketball Operations in early 2017, but it was not because he was a rising star in the NBA executive scene, but because he was Magic Johnson. He, like Pelinka, was a Made Man in Laker World, and so Jeanie Buss gave him the keys to the franchise with no hesitation.
I understand why Buss would look at Magic as the answer for the Lakers’ front office. He’s obviously a legendary figure who is held in extremely high regard by virtually everyone, and he was super close with Jerry Buss, even referring to Buss as his “second father.” But Magic had no experience running an NBA front office before being named EVP of basketball operations.
The Lakers probably figured it would work out with Magic because it worked out with Jerry West in the past–Jerry West was a legendary Laker point guard who became an incredible GM for the team, so why couldn’t Magic do the same?
Well, the difference is that Jerry West went right into coaching and scouting after he retired as a player in 1974. Jerry West was the head coach of the Lakers in the late 1970s, then was a scout for 3 years before becoming the team’s GM in 1979. Certainly, Jerry West didn’t rise up the ranks from obscurity, but he at least put in the work and earned his way into a leading front office role.
Magic didn’t. Magic had been out of basketball–in terms of being involved with a team and making personnel decisions–for nearly 20 years by the time he was hired as the EVP of basketball operations in 2017. He was never a scout. He was never an assistant GM. He was never a guy who was in the weeds, spending late nights breaking down film, traveling to obscure colleges in the Midwest in January to scout college players, or flying off to far-flung countries to get a look at 16-year-old European prospects, etc.
It was just assumed that because he was Magic, the sheer force of his personality and his charisma would be enough to ensure success as a front office executive. Anyone could have seen that it wasn’t going to work with Magic. He just wasn’t qualified for the role. The reality is that running an NBA team’s front office is not a glamor role; it’s a grinder role. It requires working long hours and being in the trenches for much of the year. A guy like Magic Johnson, one of the most accomplished basketball players ever, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and already a world-renowned celebrity, was just not cut out for the role. It’s about more than just being the face of the franchise and being a person who everybody loves and respects. In fact, you often have to be the bad guy who makes difficult decisions as a front office exec–you have to be ruthless, cold, calculating.
Magic and Pelinka never got along, and when Magic announced his resignation, he went out of his way to insinuate that Pelinka was behind a lot of the “backstabbing and whispering” that ultimately forced him out. Say what you will about Pelinka and his body of work as the team’s GM, but he at least understood that Magic was not cut out for the role and was unwilling to put in the work required to succeed.
Beyond Magic and Pelinka, another key decision-maker for the Lakers is longtime Lakers assistant coach and former Laker player Kurt Rambis, who Jeanie Buss hired as a senior basketball adviser in 2018. Linda Rambis, Kurt’s wife, is also highly placed in the Lakers’ organization, with an official title of “Executive Director of Special Projects.” Kurt, Linda and Pelinka are considered to be the “pillars” of Jeanie Buss’ inner circle. Kurt Rambis I can understand just because he’s been involved with the NBA for his whole career, but Linda Rambis is just Jeanie’s BFF. The Rambises are where they are today because Jeanie considers them to be her close friends. Kurt is a Made Man in Laker Land, and Linda is a Made Woman.
You can see the consistent trend here of Jeanie handing the keys to the franchise to her close friends and/or people who are considered Laker Royalty.
It really seems like the Lakers are run like they’re a small-market semi-pro team from the 1970s or something. It’s a family-run operation in a league of professionals. You look at a team like the 76ers: their front office is run by Daryl Morey, a guy who studied statistics at Northwestern and got an MBA from MIT. The Suns are run by James Jones, who obviously was a longtime NBA player, and immediately upon retiring he moved into the Suns’ front office and began learning the ropes.
To be in charge of the Lakers, the only necessary qualification is that you’re BFF with Jeanie Buss.
People look at the Lakers as the most deep-pocketed team in the NBA, but they’re just the opposite. They are often viewed as on par with the Cowboys and Yankees, but they’re not. The Lakers are cheap, and actually one of the poorest franchises in the NBA. They just don’t have the leadership to compete in an NBA that is full of teams run by actual basketball professionals and grinders, and people who have worked their way up the ranks into the front office.
It has gotten to the point where the Clippers are now everything the Lakers should be. The Clippers are the team with the deep-pocketed owner. The Clippers have the far superior front office. The Clippers have the superior coach. The Clippers have the superior system and culture.
It wasn’t this way when Jerry Buss was alive. It has gotten this way since Jeanie took over.
If you’re LeBron James, do you really want to be a part of this dysfunction for the remainder of your career? I wouldn’t.
The worst part of it all is that the Lakers front office are now trying to blame LeBron for their own incompetence. They are throwing LeBron under the bus as we speak.
I would not want to hitch my wagon to an owner with a 9-year track record of failure, mismanagement and incompetence. I would not want to hitch my wagon to a GM like Rob Pelinka. And as sad as it makes me to say it, I would not want to hitch my wagon to an injury-prone player like Anthony Davis.
If I were LeBron, I would leave the Lakers ASAP. It’s the right move for him. He owes them nothing, especially after the way they’ve tried to pass off all the blame for this season onto him.
More importantly, leaving LA is LeBron’s only hope of winning another ring before it’s too late.
Where would LeBron go?
Good question. He could probably go back to Cleveland. I’m sure they’d take him back. They have an awesome core of young guys right now–Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen–and of course LeBron’s old buddy Kevin Love.
However, I’m sure the Cavs want to try to move on from the LeBron era. When you have LeBron on your team, you sacrifice the future in a major way because you’re in full win-now mode. Nothing but the current season matters to you when you have LeBron. The Cavs are now finally out from under that, they’ve been able to accumulate young talent and build for the future.
If they were to get LeBron, it could screw up all their long-term plans. Who knows who they’d have to jettison, which guys they wouldn’t be able to afford, etc.
But wouldn’t it all be worth it for another Championship? I think so.
Let me tell you something: I was in Cleveland when the Cavs won in 2016, and it was magical. Heaven on earth. One of the most incredible nights of my life.
Cleveland will take him back for one more taste of that.
Look, I love Evan Mobley and Darius Garland. I love the whole Cavs roster, honestly. I think they’re one of the best and most promising young teams in the league.
But unless Evan Mobley turns into KG and Garland turns into another Damian Lillard, this Cavs team probably won’t be able to contend for a Championship in the next 3-5 years. At the end of the day, you need at top-5 player to compete for a Championship. LeBron would give them that.
I doubt the Cavs would have to give much up to the Lakers for LeBron. For one thing, LeBron only has one year remaining on his deal in LA, and the Cavs in theory don’t need him because they’re good already and they can just say, “Hey, we’re happy with our young core for now.” The Cavs can wait out the Lakers. They are under no obligation to give up the farm to the Lakers in a LeBron trade.
The Lakers really don’t have a lot of leverage here. If LeBron wants to be traded, he’ll be traded. The Lakers next season will be in a position where they either get something for him in a trade, or nothing when he leaves in free agency next summer.
So, will Cleveland do it? I don’t know. I’m sure LeBron will eventually retire a Cavalier when all is said and done, but I don’t know if that moment is this offseason.
If Cleveland won’t trade for LeBron, then LeBron should go back to Miami.
It’s the one scenario nobody is really talking about, but in my view, it makes the most sense for both the Miami Heat and LeBron himself.
I’m sure Pat Riley and Spo would take him back, especially if the Heat flame out in the playoffs this year. It seems like Spo is getting sick of Jimmy Butler’s antics, especially after that bizarre incident where they almost fought during a game.
Honestly, Jimmy seems to wear out his welcome everywhere he goes. He’s just difficult to deal with. It seems like he’s getting to that point in Miami.
If even the legendary Heat Culture™ can’t make him fall in line, will he ever? I don’t think Pat Riley likes what he’s seeing, but he tolerates it because the team is really good right now.
But I’m telling you, if they flop in the playoffs, I would not be shocked if Pat Riley gets rid of Butler.
Why not just swap LeBron for him? Both guys have only one year left on their contracts. The Lakers would be able to get both Jimmy and Westbrook off the books in the summer of 2023.
LeBron back in Miami would be incredible. With Bam, Kyle Lowry, Herro and Robinson–are you kidding me? Plus, Udonis Haslem is still there–that’s LeBron’s boy.
LeBron would fit perfectly on that team. A veteran point guard who can knock down shots, two three-point specialists, and a high-quality big man in Bam Adebayo who can protect the rim and is a lock for 18 and 10 a night.
That’s the LeBron formula right there, only better than he’s ever had it before. LeBron back on the Heat might be his best supporting cast ever. He wouldn’t have any single player quite as good as D-Wade, Kyrie or AD, but I think the overall depth of talent that would surround him if he went back to Miami would be better than anything he’s ever had in his career.
You also have PJ Tucker, Markieff Morris who won a ring with LeBron in the bubble, and Max Strus is very underrated. And I forgot about Victor Oladipo, who has been unfortunately injured for most of the past 3 years, but if he can ever get healthy he’s a guy who can get his own buckets.
And here’s the best part: LeBron would go from the worst front office in the league to arguably the best front office in the league. LeBron knows what it’s like in Miami–he played there for 4 years. If there’s anybody who truly understands just how bad the Lakers front office is, it’s LeBron, and it’s because he knows what the best front office in the league looks like in contrast.
I honestly think LeBron should try to go back to Miami the more I think about it.
I think it should be his Plan A. He should reach out to Pat Riley and say, “I want to come back,” and then tell the Lakers front office to trade him to Miami.
If he could bury the hatchet with Dan Gilbert in 2014 to go back to Cleveland–after the things Dan Gilbert said about him, and after the way that city turned on him after The Decision–then he can certainly bury the hatchet with Pat Riley, who was apparently furious with LeBron when LeBron went back to Cleveland and made some comments to the effect of “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.” LeBron obviously didn’t like to hear that, and I guess was not on speaking terms with Riley for a while.
But in recent years, Riley has softened his stance significantly, saying that he now views LeBron’s 2014 decision to return to Cleveland as “the right thing to do.”
Not only that, but just last year, Riley misheard a question on a radio show and went into a whole heartfelt soliloquy about how he’d welcome LeBron back to Miami without hesitation:
[Pat] Riley was on a 24-hour streaming event by Dan Le Batard and was asked about his comment he would “leave a key out” for Dwyane Wade if the new part-owner of the Utah Jazz wanted to come back to the Heat fold. Riley, however, misunderstood the question and thought it was about still active player LeBron James. What follows is Riley’s answer, via the Miami Herald:
“I would leave the key under the doormat if he would call me and let me know that he’s coming. I would do that, but I doubt very much that key… That key is rusted now. LeBron, look, he’s one of the greatest of all time, and for four years down here, if we want to go back and remember what those four years were like, it was four years in the Finals, four years of excitement, two world championships with LeBron, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Udonis [Haslem], all of them. It was the best time for the Heat. So I wish him nothing but the best, and if he ever wanted to come back, I’ll put a new shiny key under the mat.”
So clearly the Heat would be open to a LeBron return.
I think at this point of his career, LeBron might be open to it as well, honestly. I know he wouldn’t want to move his family, because they’ve settled into Los Angeles, and his two sons are in high school now, but athletes figure this stuff out all the time.
LeBron only has a few more years of elite level play left in him–at best. He might not even have any–this could be the last elite year we’ll ever see out of him, although I doubt it.
He needs to maximize his window of opportunity right now. I don’t think there’s a better place for him to do that than in Miami, the more I think about it.
At this point in LeBron’s career, I don’t see him as a guy who will leave the Lakers for any random team. I don’t think he would go to the Knicks or anything like that and start a new relationship and a new legacy with a new team–he’s too old for that. I don’t think he wants to play for a fourth franchise in his career–at least until Bronny gets to the NBA.
I think he either toughs it out in LA, or he goes back to a team he’s played for, where it would be like picking up where he left off, where there’s familiarity with the organization and the city and the culture and all that.
Getting traded to Miami works out for LeBron because he would play out the 2023 season with Miami, then sign a one-and-one with them for the 2024 season while Bronny plays college ball. Then, assuming Bronny goes one-and-done in college and is drafted in 2024, LeBron will be a free agent, able to sign with whatever team Bronny goes to. Maybe Pat Riley makes him a promise that he will do everything in his power to acquire Bronny, assuming he doesn’t turn into like a top-5 pick or something.
I just think Miami is the best possible destination for LeBron. The Cavs are good, and obviously Cleveland is home for LeBron, but the Cavs are too young right now to seriously compete for a title, even if they were to add LeBron.
If you put LeBron on the Heat, they instantly become title contenders, even in the stacked Eastern Conference. They’d have to contend with Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philly and Boston, of course, but I think they’d be able to do so with LeBron. Look, if Miami can contend for the #1 overall seed in the East with Jimmy Butler, they certainly can with LeBron.
I just think this is the best possible move for LeBron right now. And the way Pat Riley talked about him in that quote above–it’s like a long-lost best friend. Pat Riley is over here talking about leaving a key out under the welcome mat for LeBron if he ever wants to come back. I’m picturing Pat Riley awake late at night, staring longingly out his window, hoping and praying that one day he sees LeBron walking up the driveway, like the return of the prodigal son.
Meanwhile the Lakers are sending Magic Johnson out to go on ESPN and make sure everyone knows that it’s all LeBron’s fault the Lakers wound up with Russell Westbrook instead of DeMar DeRozan.
I would not put up with that garbage for another minute if I were LeBron. The Lakers were horrible before they got LeBron, and he got them AD and a title within two years of signing with them.
Now, not even two years after that Championship, the Lakers front office has evidently decided that it’s time to hang LeBron out to dry.
So LeBron should leave and let them go back to being horrible again. The past 9 years have shown us that the Lakers are nothing without LeBron, but they don’t seem to realize that. In fact, they seem to believe he’s the one holding them back.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the Lakers front office. They are completely out of touch with reality and as ungrateful as it gets. This is unsurprising given the fact that Jeanie Buss inherited the team from her father, and all the top decision-makers for the team got to where they are not because they earned it but because of their friendship with Jeanie Buss.
No superstar in their right mind should want anything to do with this dumpster fire of an organization. LeBron has made a career out of knowing when he’s in a no-win situation and bolting for greener pastures. It’s time for him to do it yet again.
Miami is the move for LeBron.