Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times here with your Lakers newsletter.
As I hit send on last week’s e-mail, I wondered if I didn’t spend enough time discussing the idea of who to blame for the Lakers’ current state. No one expected them to miss the playoffs for a sixth straight year, not the front office, not ownership, not the players on the team. But that is the fate that awaits them in April. The e-mails I’ve received in the last couple of weeks showed just how frustrated fans of the team have been with this.
“Tell any employee in any business that they are expendable, and ship out their coworkers, when they are in a competitive environment (fighting for the playoffs and for playing time mid-season in the Lakers’ case) and you have a recipe for employee (player) anger, apathy, and revolt,” wrote Ron from Santa Ana. “Laker management ruined this season so I’m not going to attend any remaining games, and I’m canceling my NBA league pass subscription (which I’ve never done before). I feel for the majority of the players, who are just trying to do their jobs, but have to work in this toxic environment.”
Several people emailed with similar sentiments. Some blamed LeBron James. Some blamed the front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka. Johnson’s response to the players after the trade deadline didn’t sit well with many. One reader even called for Mitch Kupchak’s return. Many people wrote that they hoped Jeanie Buss could see the problems they saw and would make changes accordingly.
Buss is, of course, the final arbiter on where things will go from here. Something will have to change next season, and that change is unlikely to come in the front office. Buss has said she wants Luke Walton to be the coach for the next decade. Will she allow the front office to fire Walton despite that? Will Johnson push her to let him? Or will the Lakers rely on the hope of another big win in free agency changing their circumstances?
These are questions that will unfold during the next few weeks.
How is LeBron James taking this?
James has never been in a situation like this. Sure, his teams missed the playoffs in his first two seasons, but he was a young player still learning how to be part of a playoff team back then. He’s now a seasoned veteran and still one of the best players in the NBA.
After the Finals in 2015, James’ first loss to the Warriors, James said he’d rather miss the playoffs than lose in the finals.
“That was in the moment, ‘I’d actually rather not make the playoffs than lose the Finals,’” James said this week. “I mean obviously I would love for the team to be in the postseason. Even if I’m not a part of it, the postseason I’ve always loved. But right now it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that. Definitely I’ll be watching it if we’re not in there.”
James has no choice but to accept the reality that the Lakers are all but eliminated from the playoffs, and he seems to be making an effort to handle it with as much grace as possible. He’s having to think about things the Lakers have had to think about for several years now – what do you play for if not a championship?
“I’m not one to dwell in the past,” James said. “So I’m going to focus on the present and what can get better in the future. It’s easy to say, ‘if, if, if, if, if.’ But you can’t do that. And for me I can’t do that. It’d be cheating myself.”
Asked what he can personally gain from the next 15 games, James said it was an opportunity for him to play more games with the Lakers’ young players, which can help aid chemistry. He also talked about the opportunity for young players to face playoff teams and learn from those experiences.
Since last we spoke…
--Our Nathan Fenno has been reporting about a series of e-mails related to the Clippers’ Inglewood arena project. In today’s story, he details the Lakers’ communications with an Inglewood business mogul with ties to Madison Square Garden, which owns the Forum. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss entertained the idea of the Lakers moving back to the Forum after their lease with Staples Center is finished. She also had some pointed words about Clippers owner Steve Ballmer whom she refers to as “Ballz.”
--This has been a really tough week for the Lakers and the worst news came on Saturday when they announced Brandon Ingram had a blood clot in his right arm that would end his season. That’s a condition that requires blood thinners and can be life threatening if not properly treated. It can be career threatening too, but isn’t always.
--James has a close relationship with a player whose career ended because of recurring blood clots: Chris Bosh. I checked in with James about what he remembers that being like for Bosh. He said there was a lot of uncertainty and “why me?”
--Later that day the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics. Our columnist Dylan Hernandez questioned the Lakers’ leadership right from the top.
--They decided last week to begin monitoring James’ minutes to preserve him for the future. In the game he played to top Michael Jordan in all-time scoring, James only played 33 minutes. He’s been around that mark ever since.
--Moe Wagner got his first start against the Celtics. Teammates really like Wagner, and are constantly talking about what a cocky young player he is.
--LeBron put on a show with his dunks in the Lakers’ Tuesday night win in Chicago. Yes, a win! The Lakers snapped a five-game losing streak with that win and for a moment they all got to have some fun.
--Lonzo Ball has been shut down for the season. I chatted with him about how he feels about that and why his diagnosis changed midway through his recovery. In a nutshell, his initial MRI did not show the bone bruise in his left ankle because the MRI happened too soon after his ankle sprain.
--Andre Ingram has returned and he’s just as gracious as he was last season when the Lakers gave him the chance to play in NBA games for the first time. He’s 33 now and still has gray hair. Even though he only played two minutes against the Bulls, he loved every second.