But in the meantime, they’ve tried to straddle that line between rebuilding and competitiveness, or at the very least the appearance of competitiveness. That’s how you get Carlos Boozer off amnesty waivers, Ronnie Price over any non-journeyman guard under 31 years old, and big money contract offers last summer to Pau Gasol, going so far as to entice him with a virtually unheard of no-trade clause. All reflect a total misunderstanding of where the roster is, and where it needs to go.
It’s a sack full of half-measures, and as Breaking Bad taught us, half-measures are bad.
Different sports with different roster needs, and different payroll constrictions. The Lakers aren’t allowed to spend their way out of problems, as the Dodgers can, despite efforts to shrink the payroll. Even after a stretch of organizational choices thinning out the farm system, the Dodgers didn’t mortgage their future in a title push the way the Lakers did at the end of the P. Jax era, and then with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
New management at Chavez Ravine, it’s fair to say, didn’t replace the single greatest owner in American sports history. Had a Denny’s placemat followed Frank McCourt, the city still would have celebrated.
So it’s not an apples-to-apples thing, comparing the Dodgers to the Lakers. But it’s not apples to fire engines, either.
Nobody knows how any of this will turn out, but Lakers fans have every reason to look at Dodgers management with envy. What they have is an aggressive, proactive, forward thinking strategy, and the willingness to execute it.
Trading Gordon off his breakout season, with his speed, appealing narrative, and home-grown status wasn’t universally popular, and plenty of fans flipped out over the Kemp deal. They made those swaps anyway. Kasten has said they’ll have stars because the payroll can support them, but the Dodgers aren’t star-focused. The front office at Chavez Ravine isn’t worried about backlash, if it comes in service to the vision they believe in.
The Lakers are more passive. They sit and wait, rather than do the more complicated (and risky) work of laying a stronger foundation. They don’t trust Lakers fans to hear a full version of the truth, specifically that rebuilding the team as fast as possible to legitimate championship contention means real short-term pain, and that smartly managed, more pain means greater opportunity to emerge faster.
So much of what they do looks back to well-earned glory, but without the audaciousness defining it. The process of finding a coach last summer featured the lowest time spent-to-imagination ratio in coaching search history. Had Scott arrived for his press conference packed in cardboard and bubble wrap direct from an Amazon fulfillment center, he couldn’t have been more inside the box.
Lakers fans can tolerate losing if they’re told the truth. It’s vision they want — something the Dodgers have in abundance — and substituting Marc Gasol or Rondo for Anthony and LeBron in this summer’s free agent Power Point presentation (or Durant in 2016 or Westbrook in 2017) isn’t a vision, but a get rich quick scheme.
The lure of flexibility and max level free agents is a recipe for stasis. Every summer brings another crop of guys requiring the balance sheet stay clean. At some point, the business of building has to begin.
The Dodgers are respectful of tradition. The Lakers seem trapped by it. Can they learn to adapt? At least they know where to look.