Since 1947, the Los Angeles Lakers have missed the playoffs only five times in their history. That clearly shows that the teams of the past have been well-managed and have had the right kind of players to don the purple and gold. As the 2013-2014 season nears the end it will mark the sixth time that the Lakers will miss the playoffs since their existence in 1947. It will be their worst win-loss total in franchise history as well. From here, Lakers management must decide how to fix the mess that they have created. Dwight Howard, was the first big-time superstar to leave the franchise on his own in favor of a younger, stronger team that currently has championship aspirations. The Lakers front office can no longer sell potential free agents on their past sixteen championships. It didn’t work for Howard, and it’s just not going to work anymore period! The Lakers now have to sell their future, and not rely on their past.
Forget about having a statue, a jersey number retirement, or the marketing value of Los Angeles. Those days are long gone, and the problem is the Lakers front office doesn’t know that yet, but maybe the picture has become even clearer. The NBA landscape has changed teams like the Lakers who were accustomed to going over the salary cap, and didn’t even blink an eye.
They are now more conscious than ever because the luxury tax bill is no joke! It’s clear that the new Lakers regime being guided by Jim Buss, son of former owner Jerry Buss has a new way of doing things. So far his moves haven’t worked out, but maybe he is learning the hard way from his past mistakes.
The Lakers have to now look at how small-market teams have gained so much success in their time of demise. Owner Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak need to stop thinking that they are going to get LeBron James or any other top dog. LeBron James would simply brush off the Lakers as just another team at this point.
If the Lakers truly wanted a guy like that, then retaining Howard last year should have been the goal. The new goal going forward should be gaining young assets, having smart players, and a great coach who can motivate Kobe Bryant while re-starting the Lakers franchise, giving the team a new identity.
The days of “Showtime” and the “Shaq and Kobe” era are gone. It’s great to reflect on the past, but the past is no longer helping with the future. The Lakers are still in the “Kobe” era. Kobe Bryant has been through this rebuild before, but this one looks a little tougher this time because he is at the end of his career and Phil Jackson is no longer a potential savor.
Jackson has moved on to the New York Knicks as the Vice-President of Basketball Operations. Phil represented a great era with the Lakers, but the problem is he got older and simply didn’t want to coach anymore. Sure he helped coach the Lakers to five championships, but that was the past and at some point, the Lakers were going to have to move on from the greatest coach in NBA history. Phil moved on, now the Lakers must to do the same.
Moving on from the past can be difficult, but building toward a future could be exciting. The past is filled with great memories, but the Lakers goal should be to make new ones. This could happen with the right decisions over the next two summers. Teams can still be assembled through free agency, but that is risky in itself. One bad contract can destroy chances and hamper the rest of the team.
Look at Steve Nash, he was one of the top three guards in the league as a Phoenix Sun, but has been an injury plagued veteran since joining the Lakers. This is one thing that the Lakers should not continue to buy into, the big-name players who are up there in age. The front office for years has brought in big-name players who were at the tail end of their careers, and couldn’t produce on a consistent basis. Past credentials and stats are great on paper, but the Lakers have to be more selective of players they bring in from now on and ask the never-ending question, how can this player help the team going forward? Every decision and free agent signing is critical for a team that wants to win and compete every year. At this point the past should be a learning experience for the Lakers front office, because big names don’t always produce the glitz and glamour that they are accustomed to.
The future is dim now at the moment, but will start for the Lakers this summer whether they like it or not. Building a championship caliber team should be the goal, not buying one. Buying success is short-lived not just in the NBA, but in all sports. The front office has to think long and hard about buying success or building success.
Pat Riley was lucky to land the three best free agents back in 2010 for the Miami Heat, but they are now on the down slope, while teams that have been building are now on the rise. The Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder are perfect examples of building success, not buying it. Of course, the Lakers haven’t built a team through the draft for decades, but that may have to happen sooner or later. The Lakers need to decide at this cross roads whether they are going to buy or build success for the future. With the amount of salary cap room they have over the next few years, they could probably do a bit of both with Kobe Bryant on the team, while being somewhat competitive.
Kobe Bryant isn’t in their past yet. And I’m sure if the Lakers had a time machine, things would be different for the team right now. It is possible for the Lakers to build and buy with Kobe on the team as long as he is a mentor and a leader. The Lakers can’t afford to have Kobe whine about the team, they need him to be a leader and not criticize.
His ability of being a good teammate has been a question for many years, but he’s going to have to change that perception especially if he wants help! Those traits are important especially if they are going to go with a young team. Kobe may be out of time, but he can guide the next era of Lakers to a path of success well after he’s gone.
It’s time for the Lakers to build toward something great again. To restore the Lakers franchise into one of the top teams in the NBA, while remembering what the Lakers stand for; winning. The future should be all about winning and gaining back that championship swagger that they had for decades. Every franchise has its ups and downs, but the Lakers are not just another franchise, they are the Lakers. They win and are competitive night in and night out.
Their past is filled with wealth, but they can no longer sell that wealth. It’s all about the future. In a what have you done for me lately world, the Lakers are going to have to learn from their past while building toward their future. It’s possible, but it won’t be easy. The past will never be forgotten, but it’s now time to sell the future and build something that will last for years because that’s what the Lakers have done and will continue to do. The Los Angeles Lakers are a franchise that will not let their past haunt them into the future because the future is right around the corner.