When LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent with not much fanfare on his part this summer, it put the Lakers back on the basketball map for the first time since Lakers head coach Phil Jackson retired after the 2011 season.
It means the Lakers are a sure bet to make the playoffs with James’ presence. But they are not in the business of making the playoffs. They are in it to add more championship banners at Staples Center and put more championship trophies in their facility. They haven’t won a championship since 2008, and that’s an eternity for their standards.
From watching the Lakers’ 115-110 loss to the Nets Tuesday night at Barclays Center, they are a work in progress at 18-13. Calling them a work in progress is a polite way of saying they have ways to go before they can be feared and hated like the good ol’ days from the Jackson era.
The Lakers don’t play defense, and they go through lulls. At times, James seems to be disengaged rather than make his impact on the game. It did not seem they were into this for most of the game, though they made it a game in the fourth quarter by going through a 10-0 run that cut their deficit to 100-97 with 5:50 to go , then making this a two-point game by trailing 104-102 with 3:55 to go and then when James hit a 3-pointer with 17.4 seconds to go to cut the Lakers’ deficit to three at 113-110.
Yes, the Lakers made it interesting, but no one thought the Nets were in danger of blowing this lead at any point of the game with the way they shot the ball.
Maybe if the Lakers play defense down the stretch, it could have been a different outcome. Either that or if they did not have 14 turnovers or if they did not attempt three-pointers at first possession.
From watching the Lakers, they don’t have the personnel to play defense. That’s why eventually they will have to trade a core player such as Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball to get that player such as Anthony Davis.
When the Nets can make layups with ease or able to shoot with no consequences, then maybe the Lakers have work to do. No one is going to confuse the Nets with the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers can shrug it off as one of those games or they are finishing up a long road trip, but deep down, they know better. While they have improved with James’ presence, no one is going to think of them as a threat to the Warriors, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets. They are nothing more than an entertaining team to watch.
While it’s great to score points, shots may not go in as the Lakers experienced in the first half. Defense never goes away. With good defense, it keeps a team afloat and it can be the difference maker down the stretch. This is what the Lakers need more than anything.
The Lakers can talk about defense being a work in progress and that can be true, but either the players have it in them to play defense or they don’t. From watching their core players in recent years, it does not look like they have it in them. They don’t have the big guys that can wear others down. They don’t have the quickness and ability to reject shots in the paint. They don’t have anyone who can pound the boards.
This is the same team that gave up 143 points to the San Antonio Spurs, 128 points to the Portland Trail Blazers, 130 points to the Orlando Magic, 124 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 121 points to the Toronto Raptors, 133 points to the Spurs and 128 points to the Washington Wizards on Sunday.
This isn’t just a trend. This has been a common occurrence for the Lakers for years now.
When Joe Harris, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie can score at will against a team, that team is just not good defensively. The Nets’ three will never be confused with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Hiring Jackson as coach won’t make a difference. It has to be the personnel that transforms the Lakers from a nice team to a championship contender.
Until Magic Johnson and James can get those guys, the Lakers will be perpetually work in progress.