After winning their 17th championship in Oct. 2020, the Los Angeles Lakers have been on a downward spiral that currently has them at 2-8 through 10 games of the 2022-23 season.
There is not one singular person responsible for this as every department has had its missteps whether it be ownership, the front office, coaching staff or players themselves.
The fact of the matter is though that the Lakers do not look like a championship contender as currently constructed and don’t have many avenues of improving to get there.
New head coach Darvin Ham has constantly preached that it will be a process to get this team going in the right direction. Despite that though, he pointed out after Monday’s loss to the Utah Jazz how the Lakers are at a disadvantage as far as the salary cap goes paying so much money to three stars in LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook while not being willing to carry a tax bill as high as some of the other top organizations like the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers, via NBA.com:
“I mean, you have to put everything, all cards on the table. We can’t act like something is happening that isn’t real, you know what I’m saying? And with that I mean from the way our salary is constructed, our salary cap and our budget, all the way to injuries, guys being available, playing style, new coaching staff and guys having to buy into how we’re playing and what we’re doing. So all of that is real. And guys having to step up and play better, some of our younger guys, some guys who don’t have as much experience in the league that are in our rotation, they have to step up, have that confidence and play better. And those are just the real facets of our game. We can’t go out, we’re in the tax — we’re a tax offender, right? We just can’t go out and start spending money everywhere to build a team. We have three big-time, future first-ballot Hall of Famers that a chunk of our budget is being spent on, and there is only so much left, so we have to do our due diligence and go out and again, establish the way we want to play. Which I thought we’ve been doing, we’ve regressed a little bit defensively, our offense is coming around here of late, and just keep fighting the good fight, pushing forward one day at a time. Just have an honest dialogue, not sugar-coating anything, looking at everything for what it is and being real. Like being real, we’re not one of these teams as of right now where we have $30, $40, $50 million in cap space. We don’t have that today.”
Ham is right that the Lakers don’t currently have cap space, which means their only way of improving in the middle of the season would be a trade.
The Lakers have been hesitant to deal both of their 2027 and 2029 first-round picks though while also being hesitant to take on long-term salary, which has made it awfully tough to find a trade partner that will give the organization the roster upgrades it needs.
With that, it seems that Ham is preparing for the possibility that the Lakers’ roster will remain what it is for the entirety of this season. The Lakers will have around $30 million in cap space to use next summer as things trend towards them getting below the luxury tax to avoid being a repeat tax offender if they don’t bring in any long-term salary mid-season.
That is more of an issue for Jeanie and the Buss family to address, and perhaps Ham was trying to shed light on that as well as his first-year team continues to struggle.
Even though the team’s stars are taking up a majority of the Lakers’ salary cap though, Ham doesn’t believe the poor play falls squarely on their shoulders:
“I think, again, Bron is managing his foot, managing just coming off a viral infection. AD has been managing his back and he’s been available and playing well, putting up good numbers as with LeBron. Russ has embraced his role off the bench and so yeah, I feel comfortable. I can give more, we all can give more, but I’m comfortable with what they’re doing right now.”
The Lakers made their bed the last couple of years with Buss and Rob Pelinka making poor roster decisions both short and long-term. And now they have to lie in it, which is unfortunate considering this was supposed to be the window for James and Davis to competing for championships in the purple and gold.
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