As a faithful Angelino, I overloaded my DVR on Thursday to watch the Dodgers and Lakers. I learned two things from the binge watch with certitude.
Them sure ain’t the old Dodgers. Reaching the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades helped me reach that conclusion.
Also, these are the same young Lakers. There really isn’t much reason to think the Lakers are going to be appreciably better than last year.
I will stipulate to you that is an overreaction if you will stipulate that preseason hype about this being a playoff team is an overreaction.
We all get it. Magic Johnson’s first priority was to restore order after the slipshod, play-the-hunch approach from trust-fund baby Jim Buss. I am confident Johnson has taken big strides in a short amount of time.
Yet, the drubbing they took from the Clippers on opening night looked like the same no-defense, no-low post, no identity hot mess from the last three years when the Lakers finished with the No. 2 overall draft pick. Only this year, no matter how bad it gets, the Lakers won’t get any such draft relief. That was traded away.
Let’s be semipositive to start: I didn’t have much of a problem with Lonzo Ball’s nasty debut. He debuted against a chippy defensive expert. Not an easy task. He will improve.
I also liked the fact that the starting lineup included some long-needed tough decisions. In other words, there was an unstated admission that former lottery draft pick Julius Randle can’t stay awake during a game. Overall, there is some rhyme and reason to a starting lineup of Ball, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr. and Brook Lopez. It should get somewhat better when Kentavious Caldwell Pope enters the lineup, bumping either Deng or Nance back to the bench.
But the playoffs? Maybe it’s a better investment to wager that in a Vegas sports book than to buy Big Baller Brand shoes. Either way, that’s not money well spent. This team won 25 games last season. To qualify for the playoffs, it would stand to reason that they would have to win more games than lose this year. To do so, the Lakers would need to win at least 16 more games. That is a huge spike.
Beyond the open paths to the rim the Lakers allowed, despite the addiction to chucking up threes with nary a teammate under the rim in case the shot goes awry, though, I was struck by a third chronic unsolved problem.
Last year, I wrote that the Lakers had no team identity or defined leader. All of that youth meant nothing if the energy was not organized and then molded. Take the Dodgers. They have an identity, a philosophy, that lead to wins. We are going to have depth across the roster — starting pitching, relievers, etc. The Dodgers are called “relentless.” But they also have defined leaders, an ace in Clayton Kershaw, an elite closer in Kenley Jansen, elite hitters in Corey Seager. Most importantly, it seems as if they have a leader in Justin Turner.
Who is the leader of the Lakers? Hell, who is their best player? Do you know? I don’t.
Last year, coach Luke Walton figured he’d just let the roster decide on its own. It was foolish then and it’s foolhardy now. There was no sign of an alpha dog on the floor who would put his teammates on his back through sheer force of will. That’s on Walton. In a roster of youngsters, he’s the adult in the room. If he refuses to put someone in position to lead, he’s going to be out of a job.
It may be the first step for actual growth, which is what — you know — you have to do to become a playoff team in the first place.