Whenever their season ended without a champagne bath in the locker room and a parade through downtown Los Angeles, the Lakers typically asked themselves a simple question. Why did they not win the NBA championship?
The Lakers hardly just fell short of reaching that goal. They missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season after finishing with a 26-56 record, the third-worst mark in the NBA. That partly explains why Lakers governor Jeanie Buss hired a former Hall-of-Fame Lakers (Magic Johnson) and a respected sports agent (Rob Pelinka) to oversee the front office. Nearly two months into that job, they have tried to seek clarity on a significant question.
Do the Lakers show patience in their young roster, or do they break it up in pursuit of more veteran players?
“There are going to be some changes,” Johnson said Monday on AM570’s “Lunchtime with Roggin and Rodney.” “I wouldn’t say a lot of changes, but there’s going to be some changes. We still haven’t sat down and set a plan in place on who we’re going to change on. What we’re waiting on is to see if we’re going to keep our pick or not.”
The Lakers will have to wait until May 16 for the NBA Draft lottery. Then, the Lakers will learn if they retain their top-three pick otherwise owed to Philadelphia as part of the ill-fated Steve Nash deal. The Lakers have a 46.9 percent chance of landing that pick, while having 15.6 percent odds of jumping up to No. 1. While Johnson argued the Lakers will be in “good shape” if they keep the pick, the Lakers will only have the No. 27 pick as part of the Lou Williams deal to Houston.
All of which leaves the Lakers tackling a complicated question. Do they need to clean house or just revamp the culture?
“You have to change the culture first,” Johnson said. “It’s easy to say we’re going to clean house. It’s easy to say that, but it’s not easy to do. I think what we have to do first is change the culture in terms of holding everyone accountable and also making sure they know their roles.”
Johnson and Pelinka made those initial steps as they observed practice and watched film to evaluate players for their performances and work habits. They consulted with players occasionally with the blessing of Lakers coach Luke Walton. They also held exit meetings last week in which they harped on every player about reducing their body-fat percentage, while also outlining individual goals for each player. That process will continue on Tuesday when they meet with second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell.
“We feel good about the young core,” said Johnson, which includes Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Ivica Zubac, Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black. “They still have to learn how to win and also hate to lose. That’s how we have to grow. Again, we have talented guys. But they all need to improve and get better. So I’m excited about the young players we do have and I’m excited about Luke as the coach. But we have to play harder.”
After all, the Lakers finished 28th out of 30 NBA teams in points allowed (111.5), last in defensive field-goal percentage (48.3) and 30th in fast-break points allowed (16.2). Johnson conceded he found issue with the Lakers’ overall effort level even when accounting for the team’s collective inexperience. So despite Johnson’s tempered expectations on if the Lakers will light off fireworks in July during free agency, he plans to lead a full-court press.
“We’re going to look at every scenario. We’re going to look at every option,” Johnson said. “This town and team has always had a superstar and a guy who the fans fall in love with and a guy who also makes his teammates better. That’s what we’ll try to bring in here. We’ll work hard to do that.”