The Future

Well, here we are. Last game of this torturous season. Got so bad a couple months ago there just wasn’t ever 5 Things to Like or even get pissed off about. It was just…bad. Real bad. The collateral damage is still piling up, though, with as of yet undetermined casualties in the coaching room and the locker room. My expectation is that Jeannie Buss will not fire Magic or Rob this summer. Everyone else not named LeBron James should prepare for bad news.

Magic put the coaching situation one out there early and the plot line has certainly remained unresolved. Will Luke be back to fulfill the final guaranteed year of his deal? Or, like literally every coach before him not named Phil Jackson, will he get a pay check without having to coach for a whole year? My thinking is Luke gets the axe and the entire coaching staff goes with him, even nice guy Brian Shaw. I’ve waffled on this for awhile now for two reasons: I’ve always appreciated the way Luke approaches the game and he’s been great at developing our young players with what influence he has over them. This ain’t the 80’s when Riles could draconically lord over his roster, run through whatever practices he wanted and let God sort ’em out. There are rules for those kind of things, also science has shown us that running premier athletes into the ground during practice is a bad idea.

What do I like about Coach Walton’s approach? It’s flexible. It’s based on the simple, achievable things any NBA team can do if they simply try and work hard. His offensive schemes are generally unrecognizable because I don’t think he has too many which has strengths and weaknesses, especially where young players are concerned. He’s neither an acolyte of the modern NBA nor overly old school; he understands the value of the three point shot and the low post game. Like Phil he understands that you get out of the way of the great players and try to do everything you can to give them the space and tools to succeed.

What don’t I like about Luke? I’m an easy-going guy, it truly is hard to ruffle my feathers. But Luke is an easy going guy in a job that requires a little more of an edge. Especially when you’re dealing with veterans who have accomplished something in the game. As we saw when the one-year vets blew up at Luke in the locker room he doesn’t necessarily possess the gravitas to hold a ruptured locker room together and that only showed itself to be more true as the season collapsed. If the reason for Luke getting fired is they want a coach with more weight in the game than that’s a reasonable one. Only problem is you gotta go find that coach, if he doesn’t already have a job. Some dude fresh off a cute NCAA run or an assistant coach ain’t that guy. Not too many names fit that bill.

The only thing that could save Walton his job might just be LeBron James. If LeBron comes out of his exit meeting saying something like “I want these guys back, we’ve got unfinished business, this is my team” or some such statement it could delay the axe falling. Personally I feel that, given the roster construction and the injuries there is reason enough to retain Luke simply because there aren’t too many great, viable alternatives out there. Other than that, I can’t really see a reason why Magic wouldn’t fire the coach he threw under the bus to kick the season off. It’s been set up from the get go, just waiting for bowling ball to roll down the lane.

The other thing that could do it is the idea of actually, finally, building something. I have to tip my cap to Rob and Magic for untangling the terrible contracts the Lakers had accumulated in the final years of the Jim/Mitch regime. That’s now where the compliments stop for me. Honestly, they could have gone a different route if they had simply waived and stretched both Deng and Mozgov in subsequent seasons. Trading Lou Williams has revealed itself to be folly. Even our scouting department who is great at finding late first round talent and even better at finding 2nd rounders that can have an impact can’t seem to get the lottery picks right. Except for Julius Randle…

But they aren’t team building, they’re can-kicking and overly focused on one, small aspect of the game: superstars. Maybe too much so in that, yes, you do need great talent to win at this level. But you also need things like trust, camaraderie chemistry and a strong sense of team first. Those are all areas where Magic and Rob, frankly, suck eggs. Big time. From Rob not being wholly honest with his players to Magic telling them they need to toughen up to the entire team being put on the trading block the front office doesn’t seem to value any of the traits that are normally associated with a winning culture.

The future can still be bright. If I had my way I’d be all in on keeping Kuzma and Ingram simply because they are both so versatile. If nothing solid emerges as a potential trade than I think Rob and Magic will likely keep most of the roster into camp. Not sure what we can offer for AD that we didn’t already offer and we won’t have KCP’s money to balance out the salaries so it would have to be for someone whom the young core’s money matches up with. Besides, if you’re looking elite guards or centers there are a couple of each coming on the market this summer. Magic and Rob don’t need to make good on Magic’s oh so silly proclamation that he’s going to get another superstar this summer, they just need to do their jobs better and that idea trickles on down.

Luke needs to do a better job of keeping the locker room and devising ways to get easy buckets, Jeannie needs to do a better job of keeping the big picture in everyone’s mind and the players need to do a lot of work this summer to catch up and become who I’m sure they believe themselves capable of being: All Stars and playoff contenders. No playoffs means a waste of LeBron and the fans time. We’re not watching The Process in Philly and we’re not watching the Miami Heat assemble a super team of stars looking to take a little less to play together. We’re watching one of the greatest sports franchises the world has ever seen try and pick itself up out of the muck. I don’t think anyone knew how much of a struggle it would be. They do now.