A 3-5 record isn’t anything to be proud of, but it’s completely understandable for these new-look Lakers. However, early reports indicated that Lakers team president Magic Jonhson didn’t see it that way, going as far as ‘admonishing’ head coach Luke Walton for the team’s slow start, after a winless two-game road trip over the weekend.
But Lakers are still a very young team coming into their own, and playing with five brand-new veterans in Rajan Rondo, Michael Beasley, JaVale Mcgee, Lance Stephenson, and of course, LeBron James.
And playing with James is no easy feat, especially when you are young and haven’t played with a star NBA player, let alone the league’s best player. It takes time getting accustomed to it, and that is what we are seeing.
Derrick Rose described it as ‘super awkward’ playing with James. Even future Hall-of-Famer Dwayne Wade and perennial All-Star Chris Bosh found it tough to play with him at first. During their go-around in Miami, the Heat started 9-9 in their debut season before things began to click all the way to an NBA Finals appearance.
And in his return to Cleveland, that Cavaliers team started off 19-20 before going on to make it to the NBA Finals. This is not to say that the Lakers are finals-bound, but it’s been proven that wherever LeBron James goes, the team will need time to get rolling.
Throw in four other guys who may not be the best fits, and it’s easy to see why it’s taking time to get accustomed. Plus, Brandon Ingram missed four games, Rondo three and the Lakers have a legit ten guys (at least) that deserve playing time, so Walton has the tough task of finding the lineups that work.
And Walton has the near-impossible job of trying to win now while also developing the younger guys and teach them how to play winning basketball.
However, the Lakers coach didn’t sound worried, telling the media (via Bill Oram), “I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.” And we may have interpreted the situation wrong, with newer reports being more favorable towards Walton.
Magic Johnson was angry in the meeting he had with Luke Walton (first reported by @wojespn and @mcten) but he doesn't make rash decisions. Several sources told me and @BA_Turner that Luke Walton's job is not in danger. Further, ownership still very much believes in him.
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) November 2, 2018
Sources close to Magic said he was stern with Luke Walton during the meeting more about not having a system in place than the wins and losses. Magic wants to see Luke have the Lakers run an offense that he has yet to see. Sources said that maybe the meeting opened Luke’s eyes.
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) November 2, 2018
Not only would showing Walton the door have been shocking, but simply questioning his job security is a bit surprising. They had a grace period this season because a championship was not the expectation. Besides, it’s not like the team has been an absolute bust.
They have played a tough schedule to begin the season (five playoff teams from 2018 and another 7-1 team) and have been in every game they have lost. All five losses have come against playoff teams from last season, while they have beaten both teams they were supposed and handed the 7-1 Denver Nuggets their only loss on the season.
From the five losses, one was by a single point to the San Antonio Spurs which would have been a victory if LeBron James had made two free throws to ice the game. Two others came on the road by four points each. And the other two were by nine, but one possession contests late before the opposition created breathing room.
It’s as simple as a young team failing to close games out. That’s the growing pains of a team that has a rotation half-filled with 23-year-old-or-younger players. It comes with experience and they are also learning that they cannot solely depend on LeBron James to take care of everything.
And it’s a bit surprising that Magic Johnson was getting on Walton’s case about offense. They may not be running the offense he wants to see, but are seventh in the NBA in offensive efficiency. And they are doing this without consistent shooting from outside.
If anything, Walton should be criticized for the Lakers having NBA’s 23-ranked defensive efficiency after finishing in the top half of the league last year. A defense that has failed to collect stops down the stretch which has led to all these close losses.
If the Lakers were winless and not competing with these teams, then questioning Luke Walton’s job security would have more validity. However, he does not deserve the Mike Brown or Ty Lue treatment because things are going as scheduled. It’s only a matter of time before we start to see what these Lakers are capable of doing.