The Lake Show Is Over

When people bring up glamour franchises in sports, the Los Angeles Lakers are likely to be one of the first teams to enter the discussion. And make no mistake about it, they deserve to be in that discussion. They’ve captured 16 NBA Championships in their franchise history. The Lakers have competed in the NBA Finals at least once in every decade in NBA history. Their down years were merely a rarity and a preamble to future successes. The pantheon of players that have donned the purple and gold read like a who’s who of NBA royalty. From George Mikan all the way to LeBron James, the Lakers have been flushed with star power and glamour that you would expect of Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the Lakers, everything must come to an end. All stars must burn out and fade away.

At the vanguard of the glamorous Lakers organization once sat once of the best to ever do it. Dr. Jerry Buss bought the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979. During his tenure as owner of the Lakers, they enjoyed an unprecedented level of consistent success. They appeared in 16 NBA Finals, won 10 NBA championships, and failed to make the playoffs only three times. As the owner, Buss introduced many innovations that helped turn basketball into an entertainment sport. Since his passing in 2013, the Lakers have turned into a broken shadow of their former glory. They’ve become a team dripping with dysfunction. Since the passing of Dr. Buss, they’ve experienced internal power struggles between siblings, made baffling hires, and made head-scratching personnel decisions. Also, they have failed to make the playoffs or finish with a .500 record even once in the past six years without Dr. Buss at the helm.

The announcement of Magic Johnson stepping down as the team’s President of Basketball Operations is the latest in a long line of organizational dysfunction. Magic didn’t even bother to tell Team President Jeanie Buss that he was stepping down. And that leaves the question of what has happened to this once great team. The problems start at the top. The children of Dr. Buss have struggled and failed to fill his shoes. In fact, they’ve taken gasoline and a match to their father’s work. Their hires revolve around nepotism or big names from the Lakers past. They hired Byron Scott, Magic Johnson, and Luke Walton because they have ties to the Lakers. General Manager Rob Pelinka had zero experience as an NBA executive before the Lakers hired him. But since he was Kobe Bryant’s agent, the lack of experience was excused. When marketing to potential free agents, they rely on tired old tactics. They’ll sell players on living in LA when just about every one of them already owns a home there. They’ll pitch players on marketing and star power when it has already been proven those things can be acquired outside of big markets. And most egregious of all, they’ll sell the Lakers brand and history. A brand and history they had no part in creating.

The Los Angeles Lakers fall from grace has been a sad thing to watch. They’ve become that team that feast on past glory while failing to adapt to the modern realities of the NBA. They focus on star power while the successful teams focus on basketball. They revel in their past, while successful teams focus on the now and the future. They hire people connected to them instead of hiring the best person for the job. The next series of hires may very well decide what direction the Lakers go in. They can hit the hires out of the park and get things back on track, or become league laughingstocks. It’s hard to believe that this is what has happened to the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers.