Is it too late for the Lakers to find an identity? Some scouts think so
Exactly who the Lakers are has not yet been defined, yet with 58 regular-season games in the books, there might not be enough time left for them to become the team that was once considered a serious contender for the NBA championship.
They do not have an identity, said several NBA scouts during the All-Star break, and that is an issue the Lakers must grapple with when the season resumes later this week.
Time is not on their side, the scouts said, even if the Lakers showed some life in their last two games before the All-Star break.
“Well, I love the way we’ve played the last few games,” LeBron James said during his news conference at the All-Star festivities in Cleveland over the weekend. “I feel like after the trade deadline the energy shifted in our locker room, and I love the way we’ve played the last couple games. One resulted in a win, one resulted in a loss in the Bay [Area].
“But I hope we can just continue that same energy, that same connectivity and as a leader of the team, obviously it starts and ends with me , and we go from there.”
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The Lakers are 27-31, 21 games behind the Phoenix Suns, who have the best record in the Western Conference and the NBA.
The Lakers are in ninth place in the West, putting them in the play-in tournament.
The Lakers are at the bottom of the NBA in several statistical departments.
They are ranked 26th in the league in points allowed (112.4), 29th in free-throw shooting (72%), 26th in turnovers per game (14.0) and 16th in defensive rating (110.3).
“If you’re still searching for an identity right now, you don’t have one, right? And they are,” said a Western Conference scout. “If you haven’t figured out who you are, figured out like the chemistry by now, you’re not going to figure it out. If you haven’t figured it out in  games, you’re not going to figure it out.
“The sense of urgency has been there too. They’ve said this for the last month and a half, ‘Oh, we got to figure it out!’ Well, it’s proven that you can’t figure it out now.”
The Lakers have 24 regular-season games to get moving in the right direction. But they have the third-toughest schedule left in the league, meeting teams with a combined 53.8% winning percentage.
They open play after the break with a home game against the hard-playing Clippers at Crypto.com Arena, followed by home games against New Orleans and Dallas then at the Clippers before hosting Golden State. The Lakers have 11 road games in March.
“That’s the issue right there: Who are they? They don’t even know,” another West scout said. “What can they hang their hats on every night? Nobody knows.”
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They actually made their big move last summer in trading for Russell Westbrook, but that has been an uneven union so far.
“It’s just a team that doesn’t fit together,” an East scout said. “That’s the easiest way to put it. It all stems from Russ in that they made a move getting rid of other pieces that helped them win a championship for one piece that hasn’t worked. And they didn’t solve it before the trade deadline. So, there’s nothing they can do that’s going to fix the problems that they have from a buyout guy. You’re looking for a buyout guy to save the day that’s got to be done by a trade.”
Even the playoffs aren’t assured for the Lakers.
As the ninth seed, they currently would meet the 10th-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in a play-in game if the postseason arrived today.
If the Lakers were to win that game, they would then meet the loser of the Minnesota Timberwolves (seventh place) and Clippers (eighth place) play-in game for the eighth seed and a likely matchup against the Suns or Warriors.
As one scout said, it would be “must-see” if the Lakers and Clippers would meet in the play-in game to determine which team gets into the playoffs.
“Like, Portland is rebuilding. If they can’t beat Portland, you don’t deserve to get in. But they can beat Portland,” a West scout said. “But can they beat the Clippers if they meet in the second play-in game? If PG [Paul George, who is out with a right elbow injury] is back, no, I don’t think so. If PG isn’t back, I would say the Lakers have a chance, but I still wouldn’t give it to the Lakers. I’d say it’s 50-50. That’s insane, absolutely insane.”
James has done his part by averaging 29.1 points per game, third best in the league.
He remains encouraged with these Lakers.
“I know it’s been a hellstorm of a season for us so far,” James said. “But if I can get our group in the games, all we can ask for is a chance.”
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