Mired in the throes of a four-game losing streak, the Los Angeles Lakers got together for a team meeting Thursday. Only this particular team meeting felt a little different from your everyday gathering. This one felt more like a group-therapy session meant to alleviate some anxiety, if you’re to believe those who spend most of their time around the team.
Hmmm. The business of the organization. Could it be that some of the team’s players, most of whom are very young, are starting to wonder just what, exactly, the front office has in mind for the future? Or, more specifically, if a certain 6-foot-8, 250-pound all-time great currently plying his trade in Cleveland might be headed westward?
Per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register, “Plans to chase two maximum-level free agents next summer have made certain players uneasy about their futures with the team.” If you have even a cursory knowledge of the NBA gristmill, it won’t take you long to deduce one of those two is none other than LeBron James, who has been rumored to be Lakers-bound for months.
In addition to dealing with off-court drama, something the Lakers are accustomed to (see: Ball, LaVar), the team just isn’t playing well. Not only had the Lakers lost the four straight headed into Friday night’s loss to the Clippers, they’d also dropped 12 of 15 since a couple of Thanksgiving week wins, and have now fallen to 11-23, third-worst in the Western Conference and fourth-worst in the league. Forward Julius Randle, one of L.A.’s more productive players, has seen his minutes fluctuate, playing 11 in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday and eight in a road win over the Rockets exactly one week prior, with three 19-plus minute games in between.
Lakers Coach Luke Walton, who called his team’s malaise “normal, middle-of-the-season NBA type of stuff,” said of Randle, who is averaging 12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, “[Julius] has shown us how great he can be, and I believe in Julius and I continue to challenge him. And some nights when he doesn’t play big minutes, it’s because other guys are rolling. And some nights it’s because I don’t believe he is playing up to the standard that he set for himself.”
Meanwhile, rookie point guard Lonzo Ball has missed the Lakers’ past three games — Friday night included — with a sprained left shoulder. Ball’s absence from the lineup has kept his pops out of the headlines this week, but you can bet the Ball family patriarch, who has been openly critical of Walton more than once since the season started, has noticed the team’s struggles.
A couple of wins could fix everything for the Lakers. And what young player wouldn’t be interested in the potential arrival of a player such as LeBron and whomever he decides to bring along (looking at you, Paul George). The Lakers’ core — Ball, fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, last year’s No. 2 overall pick — isn’t going anywhere.
This may all be nothing. Again, the Lakers have dealt with daily drama pretty much every day since drafting Ball and his father. Or it could be evidence of a pervasive problem that plagues them for the rest of the season and into next summer’s free agency, when the whole “business of the organization” trope will be settled by whatever LeBron decides to do next. We just have to watch. And with these being the Lakers, it’s safe bet that everything will be out in the open for all to see.
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