Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss Continue to Waste LeBron’s 20th Season

The Lakers were up 54-43 on Dallas at halftime on Christmas Day, but then got outscored 51-21 third quarter and wound up losing 124-115. They are now 13-20 on the season. We are just about at the point where LeBron’s 20th year has officially been wasted by the most incompetent front office in professional sports, which also wasted his 19th season as well.

LeBron himself had 38 points on 13-22 shooting, along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists and just 2 turnovers. LeBron was a +2 in his 34 minutes, but his team was outscored by 11 in the 14 minutes he sat. And if you filter out the garbage time numbers (Dallas was up 124-103 with 3:20 to play) it’s even more lopsided.

LeBron finally got a fair whistle for once this season, which resulted in him making 12 trips to the free throw line. He was able to hit all 12, although Luka went to the line 16 times.

But yeah: 38 points on good efficiency. His three point shot is still ice cold (0-4 in the game) but he was still effective.

No big deal, just a guy in year 20 notching his 7th straight game of 30+ points and 50%+ shooting. It was probably the best year 20 game we’ve ever seen and nobody even bats an eye.

You know there have only been 9 players in league history to play more seasons than LeBron? Kobe, Kareem, Jamal Crawford and Udonis Haslem played 20 years. Dirk, KG, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis went 21. And then Vince Carter is the only guy to play 22 seasons in the NBA.

Do you know how many of them dropped 38 points in their year 20 seasons? One. And he only did it one time. It was Kobe going for 60 in his final game.

Vince Carter‘s best year 20 game was 24 points on 10/12 shooting in 29 minutes. He was 40 at the time. That’s impressive for sure. But he only scored 20+ points a handful of times in year 20.

Dirk had a 23 point game in year 20 at age 39.

Kareem’s highest point total in year 20 was 21 points (twice).

The most KG got in year 20 was 18. Robert Parish maxed out at 16.

Kevin Willis barely played once he got up there into year 20, same with UD. Jamal Crawford honestly shouldn’t even count because his 20th season was really just him coming back for 12 games in the bubble for the Nets. He played a grand total of 5 minutes and 58 seconds. However in his defense he did close out year 19 with a 51 piece on 18/30 shooting, but that was year 19.

So only Kobe’s final game. That’s the only instance of a year 20 player posting more points than LeBron did in the Christmas Day game against Dallas. And I think it goes without saying that the circumstances around Kobe’s last game were very different than the circumstances around the Christmas game. I don’t think we need to discuss that further.

LeBron is so much further ahead of anybody that has ever gotten to year 20 it’s insane. You can’t put any of those 9 other guys into LeBron’s category. LeBron is playing the most minutes on his team. His team relies on him to score 30+ or they don’t have a prayer. His good games are not just pleasant surprises; the announcers don’t say things like “He’s turning back the clock!” It’s expected that he does this. LeBron is still treated like he’s 27 and in the absolute prime of his career.

Dude is 38 and still being defended like this:

No other Laker starter was in double-figures for the game: Thomas Bryant had 8 points, Pat Bev had 8 points, Dennis Schroder had 7 and Lonnie Walker had 9.

That comes out to 32 points total, so LeBron outscored all 4 other starters.

LeBron scored or assisted on 18 of the Lakers 39 made field goals.

It’s okay to say he’s a top-3 player in the league still. It’s just the truth. He’s elite. People are hesitant to say it because it shouldn’t be true given how old he is, and how bad his team is, but he absolutely is right there in the discussion for best player in the league. His team is not bad because he’s old and washed.

When people try to dismiss LeBron’s accomplishments as “longevity” that misses the mark so badly you have to question their motives and character. Because it’s not just the fact that he’s played a long time; it’s the fact that he’s played at an elite level for 20 seasons, which nobody has ever done before.

Do you know that Steph Curry would have to play for another 716 games averaging his career scoring pace of 24.5ppg in order to break the all-time scoring record of 38,387? That’s 8.7 more seasons, assuming he plays all 82 games for 716 games straight.

In other words, as great as Steph Curry is and has been, he doesn’t have any chance at all of breaking the Kareem scoring record. He would probably have to play 25 seasons to do it, and that’s assuming he could maintain a high level of play for the next 9-10 years. No chance.

KD is still 11,903 points away from Kareem, and KD is in year 16. He’s 34. He’d have to average 27.3 points a game for the next five and a half seasons, playing all 82 games and not missing one single game, to break Kareem’s record. The odds that KD even breaks Kareem’s record, which will soon become the old record and second place on the all time list, are very low. KD’s chances of catching LeBron, wherever he ultimately leaves the all-time scoring record (40,000+ almost certainly), are even more remote.

I don’t think people fully appreciate LeBron’s unprecedented longevity. It’s not just playing for a really long time. It’s being the best player in the league for significantly longer than anyone else has ever done it.

Even Michael Jordan, how long was he the best player in the NBA, six years? Seven tops?

In my view, LeBron has been the best player in the NBA since 2006. I’m in the minority here on this one but I still think he’s the best player in the league, in that if you actually give him a competent roster, he’s the single most dangerous player. The single greatest threat to winning a championship in the league. The only thing that has changed is his supporting cast is atrocious.

LeBron has a better on/off plus/minus that Giannis. He has the same on/off (+5.5) as Kevin Durant. He’s behind guys like Jokic, Luka and Steph, but keep in mind, those numbers are also skewed by your supporting cast, because even though they try to isolate the individual player, he still has 4 other teammates on the floor with him at all times.

Russell Westbrook had 17 points but he was a -30 in only 24 minutes. That’s a special kind of bad.

I caught a bit of this game, the start of the second half. I had a feeling the Laker lead would evaporate quickly and it did.

I’ve written this before, but it’s just so damn hard for them to score points. They don’t get any easy buckets, really. Meanwhile, I saw the Mavs swing the ball around the arc and find a wide open guy for a three on like three straight possessions. The Mavs, as maligned as they are, at least have guys who can hit open threes. The contrast against the Lakers was unmistakable; the Laker offense simply cannot do that, even though it’s pretty much essential in today’s NBA.

Just 4-5 passes, open man, three pointer, good.

The Mavs–and just about every other team in the NBA–can do it. The Lakers can’t.

Oh, and the Lakers also can’t play defense, either. They were pretty good on defense earlier this year, and it’s supposed to be Darvin Ham’s speciality, but they’re now letting up an average of 118 points a game to opponents, which is 4th-worst in the entire league. But even for a bad team like this, letting up 51 points in the third quarter is unacceptable. You think about how the Warriors’ hallmark has always been winning third quarters, and that’s something great teams do consistently nowadays–you’ve got halftime to make adjustments and so typically the better-coached team comes out hot in the third quarter. The Lakers, on the other hand, got crushed in the third quarter.

So defense is supposed to be Darvin Ham’s speciality, but the Lakers are an atrocity on defense.

It obviously doesn’t help that AD, their best defensive player, is out indefinitely, but they were bad on defense even with him. They have no other real rim protection or perimeter defense to speak of.

We went over it the other day, but the Lakers don’t have the proper personnel to compete in the modern NBA. They just don’t. Even with AD, they need him and LeBron to both play at a Finals MVP level on a nightly basis, even against terrible teams, in order to win games because of how bad their roster is overall.

Even the players on the Lakers who aren’t half bad–Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker, Thomas Bryant–are often forced to play outside of their comfort zones and skillsets to compensate for the massive deficiencies on the rest of the roster.

At one point in this game they had 5 guards out on the floor. I’ve annotated the picture along with heights:

No player on the Lakers over 6’5″, no player on the Mavericks under 6’5″.

You’v got three guys on the Lakers who are giving up at least 4 inches of height to their Mavericks counterparts.

Lakers were down 12 with about five and a half minutes to play, so the game was still winnable at that point.

I just don’t understand what’s going on here. You’ve got three point guards on the floor and two shooting guards.

If the idea was for the Lakers to have shooters out on the floor, that’s a bust because only Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker are remotely competent three point shooters. Schroder is a 33.3% shooter from deep this year, Pat Bev is at 29.9%, and Russell Westbrook is shooting an abysmal 27.6% from three point range.

To boil it down to the simplest possible terms, in the NBA, you are generally trying to find a good balance between shooting and size. Typically, if you have too much size, you’re lacking in shooting, and vice versa. When coaches “go small” or play a “small ball” lineup, the idea is typically to maximize shooting. When coaches “go big,” obviously the idea is to maximize size, interior scoring and defense, etc. It’s usually a tradeoff.

That lineup the Lakers had out there on Christmas featured neither size nor shooting. It was baffling.

The easy answer here is that Darvin Ham threw the game. Sabotaged it. But why would he want to do that? It makes no sense at all for him to do that.

And here’s another thing: Vogel’s lineups last year were suspect as well. People were complaining throughout the 2022 season that Frank Vogel’s lineups made no sense and that he was sabotaging the team because they were so incompatible and ineffective.

So that’s two Laker coaches in a row that have made highly questionable decisions in terms of the lineups.

That can’t be a coincidence. The coach changes but the lineups are still tantamount to throwing games. Why is that?

My theory is that Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss have a hand in the starting lineups. They tell Darvin Ham who to start. I can’t remember where I heard it but I remember seeing somewhere over the past few days that Pelinka promised Pat Bev and Dennis Schroder major minutes, and so Darvin Ham has no choice but to start them and play them.

Against Dallas, Beverley had 32 minutes and Schroder had 28.

I don’t think Darvin Ham is the one making the start/sit decisions here, at least not fully. I think his hands are largely tied.

What’s more likely: that Darvin Ham, a guy who played professional basketball for 12 years and has been a basketball coach in some form for 15 years, doesn’t know how to set lineups and doesn’t know that the lineups he sends out there are completely dysfunctional in terms of personnel?

Or that Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss, probably the two most incompetent and short-sighted morons in any north American professional sports, are the ones who ultimately have final say over the starting five, and are forcing Ham to run these ridiculous lineups because of idiotic promises they made to players in the offseason?

I just can’t believe that people on Lakers Twitter can see that these lineups the Lakers are running don’t make any sense, but Darvin Ham cannot. Lakers Twitter is not smarter than Darvin Ham. There has to be a logical explanation for why he is running these seemingly illogical lineups out there on a nightly basis.

I don’t think Rob and Jeanie care about winning this season. In fact, I pretty much know that for a fact: why else would they not have made the move for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield? The price for that deal was Westbrook and the 2027 and 2029 first round picks. There is zero doubt that this trade would’ve made the Lakers better this season, and so the fact that they didn’t make that trade leads me to believe that they simply don’t prioritize winning this season. Their priorities lie elsewhere.

My conclusion is that they are perfectly content with punting on LeBron’s 20th season because they want to have a bunch of cap space and trade assets for the offseason, in which they will pursue Bradley Beal or some other All Star level player. Probably in their minds they think they can get Kyrie Irving or even Kevin Durant.

They won’t trade Westbrook because doing so will in all likelihood force them to take on bad contracts–meaning contracts that still have multiple years on them. I don’t believe they ever seriously entertained the Hornets trade because Gordon Hayward will be under contract through the 2024 season.

Their plan is to just ride this season out, let Westbrook’s contract expire, so that they only have basically LeBron and AD under contract (and they’ll probably re-sign Austin Reaves). Jeanie Buss is terrified of paying the luxury tax, and her main priority is getting under the cap so no additional money comes out of her pockets.

After this season, the Lakers will only have five players under contract: LeBron, AD, Max Christie, Damian Jones (player option), and then both Austin Reaves and Scottie Pippen Jr. will be restricted free agents, although Pippen is back down in the G-League.

The league salary cap is expected to jump from $123.7 million up to $134 million for the 2024 season, and as the Lakers have $91.8 million in obligations for next year, that means they will have about $42 million in cap space for next summer.

I am assuming their plan is to try and trade for Bradley Beal, even though he is making $50 million a year and will just by himself put them over the cap, forcing them to fill out the rest of their roster with veteran minimum guys.

This strategy has been an utter and complete failure for the past two seasons, but Rob and Jeanie still probably feel like it’s the best way to pursue a championship.

Not only that, but they are doing their best to blame it all on LeBron, or “LeGM”:

The whole “LeGM” thing started off as a joke, but now pretty much everyone believes it wholeheartedly: LeBron really is the actual GM of the Lakers. He has final say in all personnel decisions. He has more power than Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss.

While it’s true that he has more influence than most players on the roster, and that AD would not be a Laker if not for LeBron and Klutch Sports, to act like he’s the one who makes roster moves is absurd. He’s not the one signing the check, that’s Jeanie Buss.

If Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka do actually allow LeBron to overrule them and literally serve as the de facto GM of the team, then that’s on them. They’re idiots for that. They have no one to blame but themselves for that. The idea that this is all somehow LeBron’s fault is totally ridiculous if you think about it for 10 seconds: the only way LeBron would have control over the roster is if Rob and Jeanie gave him control. No matter how you slice it, it all goes back to Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss.

And so the latest from tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumb is that they are hesitant to make a move because they believe they’d only be compounding their problems:

Which jibes with what I was saying earlier: their biggest priority right now is to just let Russell Westbrook’s contract expire at the end of the season, and get rid of it that way, as opposed to trading him away in exchange for other bad contracts.

But Rob and Jeanie fundamentally misunderstand the situation: their biggest problem is not the Russell Westbrook contract.

It’s the fact that they are now committed to wasting yet another year of LeBron and AD when both are playing at extremely high levels. Rob and Jeanie should be doing everything they possibly can to turn this roster into a winner now.

Not next year. Now.

Jason Timpf sums it up well:

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