The Lakers’ early exit may be embarrassing, but it’s what this organization needed after a miserable year

If the Los Angeles Lakers made it clear at the 2022 trade deadline, it was this: They don’t want to do what it takes to fix this problem. That one-season disaster, the two-year effort to take down a champion, that decade of nepotistic hiring, and the terrible basketball it largely produced. None of these issues are Lakers management seemed entirely interested in solving. These were problems the Lakers hoped to solve on their own.

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said it best in February when she argued that her interpretation of the team’s inaction “was that the Lakers organization, from down ownership, basically decided:” You got into it. This is the bed you made. James [James]Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, all future Hall of Famers, it’s your choice of roster and team, go make it work.'”

Well, they didn’t make it work. On Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns ended the Lakers’ season for the second straight year. This time they didn’t even wait for the playoffs. They knocked the Lakers out of the running for a meager playing position with nearly a week left in the regular season. The Lakers, preseason favorites in the Western Conference, can only finish in 11th place in the final standings.

And their front office was unwilling to do anything about it. Their first-round pick in 2027? Apparently out of bounds at the trade deadline. Courage, Lakers fans. This recruit is going to be a big help for James when he arrives a few months before LeBron’s 43rd birthday. Adding extra luxury taxes to an already bloated payroll proved unthinkable. You just can’t ask a Lakers franchise with an estimated $3 billion local TV deal to outspend the big market Milwaukee Bucks. Their idea for a solution was the buyout addition of journeyman DJ Augustin, 34. He scored no points in the season-ending loss to Phoenix.

This loss, in the end, was probably for the best. After all, those same Suns would have waited for the Lakers in the first round had they managed to fight their way into the playoffs. The Lakers would have lost that streak and they would have lost it badly, but just getting there would have given that front office an excuse, a momentum myth. Of course, their season would have ended the same way, but with just enough punch to warrant further inaction. We have now seen where inaction leads this team.

No, the Lakers needed to be embarrassed. They needed this season to end in such a humiliating way that the franchise’s power brokers could no longer ignore how badly they had let things go downhill. Any idea that they might have the same nonchalant attitude that informed their trade deadline in the offseason had to be erased here and now. There is no momentum here. There are no positives to rely on. There is a fundamentally broken team that needs quick and decisive action from supposed organizational leaders to fix it.

It probably means something different to you than it does to Jeanie Buss. All parties involved probably agree that a coaching change is necessary. It seems unlikely that failed front office Frank Vogel will be held similarly accountable, but any leeway he might have had to slow a rebuild is diminishing. Buss fired his own brother in 2017, and unlike his replacements, his lottery years never included James. The Rob Pelinka-led braintrust has now wasted three of its four seasons in purple and gold. He’s now missed the playoffs as many times in the past four years as he did in his first 15. He would apparently prefer to end his career in Los Angeles. He used the All-Star break to hint that he was ready to move.

If he plays in two of the team’s last three games, which is by no means a given given their lack of stakes, there’s a good chance he’ll win the scorer title at the age of 37. Even after nearly two decades in the NBA, he’s still a viable centerpiece for a champion. Davis, when healthy, is a tried and tested sidekick. These are the only two items on this list who have won significant roles next season.

The Westbrook experiment failed. The same goes for the list-building philosophy that its acquisition represented. The Lakers can’t just pile on big names and hope their star power will overcome a bad fit. James is lost alongside a point guard who neither shoots nor defends. He and Davis can’t have a roster with 10 minimum wage players. The whole plan needs to be rewritten.

And it was only going to happen from below. The Lakers never wanted to have to fix that. They don’t want to spend what it takes on dollars or picks to give James and Davis another realistic shot at a championship. Frankly, they still couldn’t. But if anything was to motivate the Lakers to look in the mirror and re-evaluate the way they do business, it was going to miss the playoffs. This season was just a dismal failure. It was a shame. It was proof that the things this organization believes in no longer win basketball games. Things had to get so bad. Now there’s nowhere to go but up.

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