The 2018-19 Lakers season was nothing short of a disaster, as injuries ravaged a roster that was already poorly constructed to fit the needs of their new superstar LeBron James.
Once it became clear the playoffs weren’t going to happen, LeBron was shut down for the remainder of the season, joining Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart in that regard, and the postmortems on the Lakers season could, officially, begin. Dissecting what went wrong in Los Angeles requires some nuance and an understanding that a lot of parties are at fault for the team’s failures this season.
Luke Walton is likely to bear the brunt of the blame, at least in terms of the person most likely to lose their job over the team’s performance. Whether that’s fair or not is up for debate, but all indications are a new coach will take over this summer. LeBron himself will have to take on some of the blame as well, both for his play (which was undoubtedly hampered by his groin injury) and the rumors that swirled about an Anthony Davis trade at the deadline that involved the majority of the team.
The rest of the players on the roster also will have to answer questions for their play around LeBron (and without him while he was out), but the majority of the blame seems to belong to those at the top of the organization. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka brought this group together and insisted they would compete, ignoring the roster construction of literally every other successful LeBron-led team in recent history.
Beyond that, there are those that have serious questions about the management styles of both Magic and Pelinka. Johnson’s biggest problem is how much he loves to talk, publicly and privately. Magic tried to address the team after the trade deadline, calling for them to be tougher, a message that wasn’t received particularly well — and he then doubled down by saying the same thing to the media. Pelinka, on the other hand, seems to have a problem that makes sense given his former job as an agent: telling people what they want to hear.
In a well-reported and thorough look at the Lakers failures this year on The Athletic from Bill Oram and others, a particular anecdote indicates this issue with Pelinka. Oram notes the GM met with Kyle Kuzma at All-Star and reassured him he’s part of the long-term plan in L.A, but then relays that a similar conversation took place a year ago with Larry Nance Jr., not long before he was shipped out to Cleveland in a salary dump.
Nance Jr. and his fiancée, his college girlfriend, were interested in buying a house. He wanted to get a sense of whether the Lakers planned on keeping him around, and Pelinka told him that the Lakers would only trade him if it meant landing one of the game’s three best players. He told him to buy the house, multiple sources confirmed.
Before Nance could get that far, however, he received a call on the morning of Feb. 8, 2018. He and Jordan Clarkson had been traded to Cleveland in a salary dump that cleared cap space for the Lakers to be able to offer two max slots in the summer.
Pelinka is far from the first GM to offer a player assurances and not follow through., but it’s certainly not a good look. For a GM who already apparently struggles with agents not liking him because he used to be one of their competitors, further angering them by making promises that you quickly go back on seems unwise and illustrates just one of the issues the Lakers have to figure out if they’re going to succeed in building a team around LeBron.