No playoffs but maybe a payoff for Lakers coach Walton?

Lakers coach Luke Walton and star forward LeBron James are missing the playoffs in their first season together.

It wasn’t too long ago that everywhere you went, anywhere in the world, that you would find a kid shooting hoops in a local park wearing his brightly coloured Lakers jersey; they’ve had some of the most famous players ever to grace the NBARewind a decade and you’d see a team riding a wave of success with the only question on everyone’s lips being ‘how does anyone stop the Lakers?’; back in the present and the team from LA are still on everybody’s lips but my goodness how the question has changed.

The current situation isn’t a pretty one as the Lakers sit 11th in the Western Conference following their defeat in the recent ‘must-win’ match against local rivals and fellow play-off hopefuls the LA Clippers. The defeat itself is just another blow to the ever-weakening attempt to stay in the playoff hunt but it’s almost the acceptance of failure that paints a more damming picture.

Legend LeBron James, who is close to eclipsing Michael Jordan’s NBA points total to go fourth in the all-time list, has come under scrutiny despite turning in decent performances. It’s widely perceived that his post-match interview following the Clippers defeat was one that lacked fight; he was honest enough to admit that his team failed to ‘take care of business’ in a match they ‘needed’ but didn’t offer much in way of how they’d still battle until the end, instead putting focus on injuries.

A lot has been made of bad luck where injuries are concerned, and it is a point worth noting given they’ve suffered throughout the season. James himself has missed a bunch of games following a groin strain and any team would miss a player of his quality and influence but they’ve also seen Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball spend significant time on the side lines. Although, it’s worth remembering Ingram has also missed matches through suspension, so it’s not all down to luck.

The business end of the campaign is here, and the Lakers are walking wounded; recent training sessions have been completely depleted with Kyle Kuzma, who suffered a fourth quarter injury in the last game, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson and Ingram all doubtful for the next match. In addition, James, Josh Hart and Rajon Rondo have all sat out but are expected to feature when the Lakers next take to the court.

The injury situation whilst noteworthy is, at the end of the day, something that happens at all elite level sports clubs. It’s the coach’s job to put a team out to win games and Luke Walton, who lifted two Championships with the Lakers, has failed to do that and questions are rightly being asked.

Walton returned to the Lakers in 2016 to take up his first ever head coach job after a successful spell as assistant for the Golden State Warriors but it’s not gone according to plan. The 2016/17 season saw an improvement on the previous year but no playoffs, the following season, again, no playoffs and it looks set to be a third year in a row.

A lot has been made of the recent struggles but, if we’re honest, they’ve not been good enough for a long while now and that’s despite having a good core of players. The Lakers fans want to see their team lifting Championships and, at the moment, they look more like a horse that’s ran its last race. When that happens, something must give, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a new coach arrive at the end of the season – if not before.