The Los Angeles Lakers are not officially eliminated from playoff contention, but Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers felt like a breaking point.
At 30-34, the Lakers are 4 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot with 18 games and a difficult schedule remaining. In the past two weeks, the Lakers have stumbled several times, losing to bad teams at a critical juncture in their season. There’s little to suggest they can climb out of this slump and rally for the postseason over the next five weeks.
Much of the attention, of course, has gone to LeBron James. Perhaps this fate would have been avoided if James hadn’t injured his groin on Christmas and missed a month of the season, a stretch that saw the Lakers go 6-12, falling from fourth place in the West.
It’s natural for there to be questions about whether James, at 34, can still lead a team to a championship and who he can recruit to help turn things around.
There has also been a great deal of focus on the Lakers’ young core, namely Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball. All three were heavily involved in Anthony Davis trade rumors during the season and seemed to let it affect their play.
Their roles and performances were analyzed continuously, mainly because James has made no secret of his preference for veteran players, and these young players were thrown into the fire, asked to take on more prominent roles to lead the Lakers to the playoffs.
However, one of the reasons the Lakers appear set to miss the postseason is something most saw coming since July — the bizarre free-agent signings the Lakers made to fill out their roster.
Shortly after landing James on July 1, the Lakers added JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, and re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, all to one-year deals.
The NBA world immediately questioned these signings. James has thrived with shooters and defenders around him. The Lakers’ signings offered very little of that. Instead, they seemed poised to clog the paint and take the ball away from James. It certainly did not help that players such as McGee, Stephenson, Rondo, and Beasley are NBA journeymen with questionable on-court value.
The Lakers reasoned these signings by saying they wanted to surround James with more ball handlers to ease the load on James. They wanted “tough” players with intangibles that could help win a playoff series. They said nobody could beat the Golden State Warriors by emulating the