You could build an All-Star Team around the players the Lakers have leaked their interest in over the past few months. In August, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers would give up two first-round picks for Kyrie Irving. Donovan Mitchell’s name made the rounds in September. On Thursday, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes threw Bradley Beal onto the pile. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough intrigue for you, Howard Beck was told that the Lakers are “waiting for a specific player.” 

Who is that player? Kevin Durant? Michael Jordan? The Teen Wolf? All I can tell you is that he’s probably famous. That’s how the Lakers do business. Eight former All-Stars suited up for them during last season’s debacle. The most famous of them is just as guilty as the front office.

As the Lakers licked their wounds following a disappointing first-round exit from the 2021 playoffs, LeBron James used his Brentwood home as a setting for what amounted to the NBA‘s version of The Bachelor. DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard and likely others we haven’t heard about rolled through the James residence to discuss possible partnerships with the king and his sidekick, Anthony Davis. In the end, the team’s brain trust, at James’ behest to some degree, landed on Russell Westbrook

The poor fit was obvious from the moment the trade was made. The best James teammates shoot and defend. Westbrook does neither. It didn’t matter. He was famous. The Lakers like famous players. They assume that enough of them stacked on top of each other can cover all holes. Last year’s 33-win apocalypse devoted 10 of its 15 roster spots to minimum-salaried players. This year’s roster is largely the same—nine minimum salaries who have gobbled up nearly 40 percent of the team’s available minutes thus far this season. It’s an experience the Lakers appear eager to replicate in the coming years. Beal, five months removed from signing a five-year, $251 million contract, won’t come cheap. If they can get him at all.

Their own history suggests they’d be better off missing out. After all, missing on Kawhi Leonard is what made the 2020 championship team possible. As Leonard’s Clippers flamed out in the bubble, the Lakers won the title behind James, Davis and the role players they were forced to sign as a fallback plan. Those role players shot and defended. It’s a lesson that should have been seared into James’ brain by now. 

Go as far back as the 2010-11 Heat and you’ll see what happens when James is surrounded by poor role players. With little beyond aging, minimum-salary veterans supporting him, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami lost in the Finals. Udonis Haslem got healthy in the offseason, the Heat signed Shane Battier, and a year later, they won the first of their two consecutive championships. It doesn’t take much when James is involved. Hit the bare minimum in the 3-and-D department and his team is probably going to be pretty good.

The lengths the Lakers have gone to not reach that bare minimum have been startling. Ignoring the startling degree of cheapness involved in a franchise worth an estimated $5.9 billion refusing to pay to keep elite defensive guard Alex Caruso, the team could have done so at minimal relative cost by simply using the money spent on Talen Horton-Tucker or signing Kendrick Nunn to keep their fan-favorite stopper. They chose two redundant ball handlers on a team that already employed James and Westbrook over a single proven defender. This offseason, they somehow managed to build an entire roster without a single 38-percent career 3-point shooter. Even after the stars are accounted for, the Lakers seek out the flashiest attributes. They want athletes and scorers, not shooters and defenders. How’s that working out for them?

At 2-9, not so well. Every problem we’ve addressed thus far has manifested in the worst start in franchise history. The Lakers are the only team in the NBA shooting below 30 percent from 3-point range. Their defense started strong but has allowed 118.3 points per 100 possessions over the past five games. No defense in NBA history has matched that figure over a full season. The third star the Lakers spent last offseason seeking out fit so poorly with the first two that he’s now coming off the bench. Things have grown so desperate that James is playing Twitter footsie with an All-Star currently suspended for publicizing an antisemitic film.

Irving wouldn’t make a difference even if he were acquired tomorrow. Neither would Beal. They’re quick fixes, fantasies an inept front office can cling to simply because it’s easier to acquire three famous players than it is to thoughtfully construct a roster of 15 flawed ones. There’s risk associated with trading for non-stars like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield. How do their strengths complement the players we already have? How can we scheme around their weaknesses? What follow-up moves could maximize such an investment? These aren’t easy questions to answer. The Lakers don’t seem interested in trying. They never have.

It’s what makes their fall from grace so laughable. The Lakers built an accidental champion around role players. They immediately broke that team apart to seek out the three-star model. Each successive season has been exponentially worse than the last, yet they just… keep… doubling down. What’s next? Are they going to bring Shaq out of retirement at the trade deadline? At this rate, that might be more plausible than the current brain trust managing to salvage this season. If it’s any consolation, next summer’s rumor mill will probably be a doozy.

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