The Lakers debuted on the road the other day, and the result was predictable. The double-digit setback to the Warriors appeared likely to all and sundry not because it came on ring night for the blue and yellow, and not because the defending champions played hosts at Chase Center. As surefire Hall of Famer LeBron James noted in the aftermath, the visitors lacked any semblance of outside shooting that even casual observers know to be the minimum requirement for competitiveness. “To be completely honest, we’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting and that’s just what the truth of the matter is. It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.”
To argue that James is on the mark would be to understate the obvious. That said, the Lakers had a grand opportunity after their successful title bid in the 2019-20 season to keep their core that included a bevy of spot-up snipers only too willing and ready to take advantage of his timely passes. Instead, they eschewed the notion of running it back; they messed with a winning formula and got mediocre results. They then worsened their situation by casting a moist eye on triple-double king Russell Westbrook, a marquee name on the wane and, worse, sporting a skill set entirely antithetical as a complementary piece to their acknowledged leader.
James himself had a hand in Westbrook’s arrival, of course. He wooed the Los Angeles native, likewise enamored with the thought of pairing with another All-Star despite the evident mismatch in their styles of play. And the Lakers are now paying for their indulgence. To be fair, the soon-to-be career points leader in hoops annals did say their situation “doesn’t deter us from still trying to get great shots, and when you get those opportunities, you take them.” He won’t stop trying, and he won’t be deterred from doing his best under the circumstances.
If there’s anything the Warriors underscored, however, it’s that the Lakers are hard-pressed to win even at their best. James was his usual productive self, with 31, 14, and eight to his name. And unlike in the 2021-22 campaign, the other so-called members of the Big Three showed up; Anthony Davis and Westbrook combined for 46, 17, and three. All the same, the outcome was a familiar L on the slate — with the schedule in the near term not auguring well for a strong start. Over their next nine matches, they’re set to face the Clippers, Blazers, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Cavaliers, and the Nuggets and Jazz twice.
The Lakers could conceivably be in the middle of the pack after their initial run. They could also be dead last with no win to boot. It’s a reflection of their sorry state, true, but an optimist can look at all the uncertainty and see a grand opportunity to prove skeptics wrong. And if that’s what James and Company truly want, they’ll need to put in the effort every time they set foot on the court.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.