Shame on the Lakers.
Shame on them for turning a magical championship season into an unabated clown show.
Shame on them for spending the last 15 months deconstructing their rebuilt credibility and allowing themselves to crumble back into the same old mess.
Magic Johnson ripping from the cheap seats. Kurt Rambis sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. A coach getting publicly skewered and probably fired. Lofty banners obscured by dirty laundry.
Remember in April 2019 when Johnson abruptly quit as the Lakers president, sending the organization spinning into weeks of confusion and embarrassment? Rob Pelinka was ridiculed, Kurt and Linda Rambis were ripped, and the coaching seat was soon swept clean.
It’s all happening again.
After a humiliating 111-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena, the Lakers confirmed their identity as a mediocre team with major problems caused by serious mismanagement, and there is no easy solution in sight.
“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” said coach Frank Vogel before the game.
He’s under siege. The ugliness starts with his situation. The Lakers are preparing to make him the scapegoat for their personnel mistakes. It’s just a matter of time. He could be fired this week, ornext week, or sometime next month, or this spring, but he will almost surely be fired for being unable to connect a passel of mismatched dots that can turn them into a championship contender.
It’s not even remotely his fault, but what are Pelinka and Rambis going to do, fire themselves? To save their jobs, they will willingly sacrifice the 2020 championship coach as if he has suddenly forgotten how to coach. They will betray one of the league’s defensive geniuses even though this team desperately needs to improve on defense. They will release a good guy to protect their bad ideas.
Those ideas manifested themselves in the fourth quarter of a game Wednesday against a badly overmatched losing team. The Pacers outscored the Lakers by 11 points against a lineup that didn’t defend, didn’t attack, didn’t think and couldn’t mesh.
Vogel took a long time to meet the media afterward. He made a slow walk from the locker room to the interview room. He kept his head down.
“This is definitely a disappointing loss, a team sub-.500 on our home court, we feel like we should win, you got to win the game you feel like you should win,” Vogel said.
In a massive gesture to the misguided front office, Vogel didn’t play celebrated acquisition Russell Westbrook in crunch time, benching him for the final 3:52, a move that led Westbrook to leaving the court and heading for the locker room in the final eight seconds.
“Playing the guys I thought were going to win the game,” Vogel said.
This will not endear Vogel to a front office just waiting to cut him loose.
They’ve already embarrassed him by privately talking about his situation so much that their thoughts have landed in the media. Now Rambis, who quietly has great influence over the basketball operation with wife Linda, is even further embarrassing Vogel by sitting in daily coach’s meetings.
“It’s healthy,” said Vogel of his relationship with the front office.
It’s unhealthy, it’s unprofessional, and it all points to Rambis working his way back to a spot on the bench with the coaching staff, a place where he’s never fit.
“Everyone is working together to leave no stone unturned in terms of getting this thing going in the right direction,” said Vogel.
That’s the problem. Since they won a championship in 2020, they have turned over so many stones that the once hallowed ground beneath the Lakers’ sneakers is unrecognizable.
Think about this: There are only three players on the current Lakers roster who have continuously remained with the team since the 2020 title run — LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker.
So, what, Jeanie Buss, you allow the trashing of a champion in 15 months?
Now think about this: Last season the Lakers were 28-13 before injuries ultimately doomed their hope of repeating, yet they currently have only those same three players from that team.
C’mon, Jeanie Buss, you allow a winning team to be blown up because of a high ankle sprain?
The list of players Pelinka sent packing in the two years since the championship makes a Lakers fan wince: Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Danny Green, Montrezl Harrell, Markieff Morris and Wesley Matthews.
The list of supporting players currently on the roster mostly makes Lakers fans wince even more: Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, DeAndre Jordan.
Yet this is Frank Vogel’s fault?
“I feel good about what we’re doing with our team,” said Vogel before the game. “Don’t always feel good about the result, but I believe in what we can do this year.”
They’re not doing anything this year. Even with Davis probably coming back next week from another lengthy injury timeout, they’re just too poorly constructed to survive more than a week or two in the postseason.
With the exception of the forever-young James, they have no consistent championship threat, and that includes Davis, who can’t stay healthy enough to be the necessary cornerstone.
They don’t have the goods to make a trade. They don’t have the big expiring contracts to make a big offseason move. The clown show could continue through the spring of 2023.
The words of Magic Johnson in Saturday’s infamous tweet ring true, with one exception.
“Lakers fans can accept being outplayed but we deserve more than a lack of effort and no sense of urgency,” Johnson tweeted. “Owner Jeanie Buss, you deserve better.”
No, by backing a front office that has bumbled through the last 15 months, Buss is getting what she deserves.
Frank Vogel is not.
Usually when a coach is seemingly on the verge of being canned, fans chant for his firing. There were no such chants Wednesday night.
They simply booed and walked away early. Smart of them, shame on the Lakers.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.