That’s what happens when a team loses 116 games in two seasons. It doesn’t matter how many banners they still have hanging, or how much they believe better days are just around the corner. Protracted losing breeds contempt. It doesn’t just rattle fans. It engenders spite, a feeling of disdain founded upon this belief that they’re wrong, because whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re still trying to do, isn’t working right now.
This, in a nutshell, is where the Lakers stand. People still respect them. I’ve even talked to some of those people, a certain number of them connected to rival teams. But the number of people who truly think the Lakers will turn things around on their own schedule are few and far between.
That’s become exceedingly obvious through a series being run at ESPN.com, authored by Baxter Holmes, that’s providing a look at the Lakers from the outside. It’s a sensational series, and I highly suggest you read all of it. There has been a tremendous amount of reporting done, and while Holmes attempts to present and frame the opposite end of the spectrum for readers, that message can fall on deaf ears given all the shade being thrown at the Purple and Gold.
As one NBA executive and one agent told Holmes:
Many insiders outlined paths that, at best, would take a few more years, if not considerably longer. Indeed, the portrait many painted was one of the Lakers lying to themselves about their current predicament.
“The Lakers are still the Lakers no matter what,” one executive said, “but the Knicks have been saying that forever, too.”
Said one agent: “Championship organizations start from the very top. I think the Lakers are hopeless, to be honest. I think they’re the West Coast Knicks.”
Well, fuck. “Hopeless” feels a bit strong. And comparing the Lakers to the New York Knicks, while using the latter as some kind of basement gauge, is absolute bullshit knowing Phil Jackson prioritized, or at least submitted to, building an actual team over the prospect of an overnight turnaround.
The Lakers, on some level, have done this too. They’re still at the behest of Kobe Bryant’s legacy deal, and their decision to sign veterans who don’t move the needle, such as Brandon Bass and Nick Young and Lou Williams, is indeed puzzling. But they didn’t trade away either of their last two draft prospects (yet). They still have Julius Randle. They still have D’Angelo Russell. They’re giving Jordan Clarkson a shot.
No, this doesn’t represent a complete shift in culture, and the Lakers could very well blow this semi-patient model straight to hell in due time. But, for now, they appear to be changing, even if only slightly, even if it’s not enough, and even if certain people on the outside aren’t realizing it.