A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The Lakers must think like a small market team with big market advantages

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The Lakers catastrophic season can be blamed on many things. Foregoing the strategy that’s always worked for Lebron of surrounding him with shooters to instead have ball handling non shooters was disastrous. They didn’t see the disconnect between Lebron and young players coming when they signed many chemistry squeaky wheels like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

However where it started going wrong was Paul George signing in Oklahoma City. The Lakers risked one of their top prospects in D’Angelo Russell to get cap space for a second player only to end up spending it on pointless one year deals while Russell made the all-star team. That George to LA wasn’t in the bag clearly stunned the team and they struggled to have a Plan B to contend in Lebron’s first year with the team. Their backup plan ended up being to double down on their original plan by signing one year deals and waiting for that star free agent in 2020. This also led to the loss of Julius Randle who they didn’t want to give a 2nd year player option to.

In other words they put all their chips into the free agent strategy. This is before considering that Magic Johnson’s strengths are connecting with players rather than being ahead of the game analytically, and they have paid dearly for Magic’s weaknesses to get to those strengths. There’s nothing wrong with the Lakers leaning into their strengths as a franchise which is legendary history, star recruiters like Magic and Kobe and being the city many players go to in the offseason. The problem is that advantage goes away if they sacrifice prospects like Russell, Randle or Ivica Zubac or fall behind in the analytics department to get there. It’s giving an advantage to the small market teams right back.

What would make the Lakers unstoppable is if they took all the strengths of a small market team like Milwaukee and added it to their natural location advantage. This is how their cross sport twin the Yankees adjusted. Instead of floundering with overpaid contracts while analytics driven small market teams ran circles around them, they decided to build up one of the best prospect pools in the league themselves and use their money to buy international prospects. Now that the Yankees have both great homegrown prospects and a money advantage it will be difficult for the smaller market teams to keep up with them or the Red Sox who have succeeded for the same reasons. Likewise if the Lakers got smart and cared as deeply about analytics, long term controlled prospects and finding free agent bargains as the teams with less location strengths as them they would have an advantage without giving any edge back. They could have planned to add Lebron without risking players like Russell and Randle to do it, but it’s when they started risking their future on the hubris that multiple all stars would want to come there that it blew up in their face.

Written by jr.

March 28, 2019 at 6:31 pm

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