The Los Angeles Lakers lost their allure to free agents, but changes in front office and an improved on-court product will see it return.
The Los Angeles Lakers have an unrivaled combination of history and allure in the NBA. Once upon a time that meant something to prospective free agents, but more recently it hasn’t been enough to see top players put a pen to purple-and-gold paper.
The history lesson that used to entice players no longer works as the main selling point to gaining a signature. It no longer puts them miles ahead of the field.
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As the Lakers swung and missed on notable free agents in recent years, rival teams, analysts and fans laughed at their old-school approach and refusal to adjust to changing times.
The Lakers relied heavily on an old Kobe Bryant to sway the unsigned. They fired one of the game’s most progressive coaches in Mike D’Antoni only to replace him with Byron Scott, a coach who grossly undervalues analytics and the three-point shot.
Using his time on the screen to promote his case to become the head of basketball operations for the Lakers, he was eventually able to “advise” Jeanie that it was best she fire her own brother, Jim Buss, and 27-year front office mainstay, general manager Mitch Kupchak.
The decision was announced the morning on of Feb. 21, triggering celebration from the casual Laker fan at the hiring of a guy whose name they recognized.
Meanwhile, the more plugged in Lakers’ observer grew nervous, recalling Magic’s Twitter timeline, his time as coach and the fact yet another familiar face was a part of the decision-making process.
By the afternoon, confidence was growing.
Prolific NBA agent Rob Pelinka was hired as general manager and with that comes negotiation experience, knowledge of the CBA, contacts around the league that will rival any GM’s despite his inexperience in the position, and most importantly, the thought he wouldn’t be Magic’s puppet.
Pelinka is a regular around Staples Center, but at the same time, he’s a fresh face. With him will come a new approach, fresh ideas and the mystique that once drew players to the Lakers in droves.
As social media grows and effectively makes the world smaller, a guy in Oklahoma City can gain worldwide recognition for averaging a triple-double, while the Lakers currently struggle to justify anyone on their roster as a current star player.
You can dominate and win anywhere in the country and be noticed. Endorsement deals are no longer reserved for those players in the big markets if your team is towards the top of the standings.
But therein lies the problem–and the solution–for the Lakers. Players didn’t shy away from the big city lights of Los Angeles, rather they ran from a bad team and the nationally televised embarrassments that would have been the result.
The shrinking of the world not only unmasks the great talents in the smaller markets such as Oklahoma City and Milwaukee, but it over-exposes the bad examples in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.
Once being able to rely on the history, location, climate, opportunities and fame Los Angeles brings to all of those who become part of the franchise, it didn’t counterbalance with good players who had winning at the forefront of their priorities.
Players can now win games anywhere and the off-court opportunities will follow.
Erstwhile GM Kupchak acknowledged in his 2014-15 exit interview that the off-court edge the Lakers once had over the competition means nothing if the production on the court is decidedly ordinary.
“They want to know about the team you’re building, the opportunity and what they’ll be looking at going forward.”
The Lakers need to improve their play, first and foremost. Pelinka’s hiring and an introduction to a new way of thinking coupled with the upward trending development curve of the young players will see the allure of the LA lights make a comeback.
The aura of the organization is going to be a factor again and the lure of Los Angeles is returning to the negotiation table.
Put the current roster in a vacuum after another season of experience. You’ve got a bunch of under-25s ready to make a splash, but not without an experienced veteran or two entering their prime.
Do they join that young core in Milwaukee with its cold and snowy winters or do they choose the sun and famously popular offseason training destination of LA, where it rarely drops below 68 degrees all year?
Do they go to a franchise in Minnesota where aside from a conference finals loss in 2003-04 they’ve been in matrimony with mediocrity throughout their entire history?
Or do they go to a place where despite their recent struggles, banners are hanging to remind them the franchise has seen success?
An antiquated front office once thought those things were all they needed, but quickly found out that in this day and age, the on-court product is key.
As the players and team improve, the allure comes back into play. The Lakers will again have the off-court extras to point to–the history lesson will mean something,
Previously, players unimpressed with meetings–some players didn’t take meetings at all–were blinded by the substandard on-court product before even considering the Hollywood lights.
The enticement of Los Angeles creeps back into the frame with every win this young group puts together. The further up the standings the Lakers get in 2017-18, the more likely it is free agents consider a move to La La Land.