The Los Angeles Lakers are noted along with the Celtics as the most winning franchise in the history of basketball, and perhaps the most attractive destination for any athlete in any sport. Countless times players reaching their primes have ditched their city and bolted out to La la land to wear purple and gold. But aside from free agent attractiveness, everyone knows that it takes two to tango: players and management. Indeed, the Lakers have made some brilliant moves in the past, many of which have earned them part of their championship legacy. With so many legends like Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant who have brought legacy to the team, it's no wonder players flock there to try and get a piece of that winning culture.
But alas, to counteract each of those brilliant moves is a bone-headed move that breaks the hearts of every fan that knows better. Especially when it comes to some of the more recent Laker decisions, it is clear that the Laker brass leaves much to be desired. Be it through drafts, trades or free agent signings, there is no shortage of times management was caught with their hands off the wheel. Get ready for some eagle-eye hindsight: 8 Players the Lakers Should Have Never Let Go, and 7 They Kept Way Too Long!
15 Never Let Go: Kent Bazemore
A journeyman early on, Kent Bazemore made a real case for earning a contract in only 23 appearances for the Lakers back in 2014. But when they passed on him, he swore off the Lake Show for good. Now a viable wing with the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks, Bazemore would’ve meshed perfectly with the youth movement the Lakers have going right now, and would’ve at the least helped establish a defensive culture that is currently severely lacking. At just 28 years of age, Bazemore could’ve been an affordable glue guy to provide depth off the bench. Too bad, as the Lakers rebuild appears to be a continuing work in progress since Kobe left.
14 Held Too Long: Dwight Howard
One dreadful season with the made-for-TV drama that was Dwight Howard was more than enough for most. Many forget, but Dwight was a key element of one of the most contrived and ill-fated Laker super teams of all time, featuring a nearly 40 year old Steve Nash and a far past his prime Metta World Peace. Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds. The soap opera that was Dwight’s exit from Orlando should’ve been signal enough to Lakers’ brass that Howard’s tenure would be bumpy, short and littered with embarrassing losses... and it truly was. Regardless, D-12 was young enough at the time to be prime trade bait, and if the Lakers wanted another chance at a ring with Pau and Kobe, they could’ve easily salvaged a deal at the trade deadline.
13 Never Let Go: Kristaps Porzingis
Anyone who has been watching NBA this season so far should have heard of the ridiculous play of Kristaps Porzingis, the Latvian third year power forward playing for the Knicks. When the Lakers passed on him in favour of D’Angelo Russell in 2015, it was one of the most ill-fated moves they have made in the current era. Granted, not everyone knew that the Unicorn would turn out to be such a stud, after all, even Knick fans booed when he was selected. But once again, if you look carefully at the evidence, there were enough holes in Russell’s scouting reports to see through his game, and the Lakers simply dropped the ball on this one.
12 Held Too Long: D'Angelo Russell
D'Angelo Russell was a strange obsession for the Lakers before the 2015 draft, especially considered he was not the most athletic, and boasted a scouted potential of “a version of Rajon Rondo”, which as we all now know, he doesn’t nearly possess the passing ability of. So when the Lakers took him and committed for two seasons, not only did they pass on other more viable picks that came out of the 2015 draft class, but they hurt the development of budding combo guard Jordan Clarkson, who has officially been relegated to the bench as of today. Short sighted, perhaps, but the key to moving forward is knowing when to cut your losses and move on. As the Lakers kept Russell for two seasons, his value steadily declined until they finally accepted a sad package from Brooklyn centred around the poor fit centre Brook Lopez. Pretty beat deal.
11 Never Let Go: Robert Horry
Big Shot Bob was one of the most magical players the Lakers have ever rostered. Always an effective wing on both sides of the floor, his mid-sized role in the Lakers’ first three-peat with Kobe and Shaq is no doubt amplified by his knack for knocking down insanely fortuitous big-spot shots, including a hail mary that earned the Lakers a trip to the Finals in ’02. So when the Lakers let him go, one would’ve thought it was because he had little left to offer. But in reality, Horry had a lot more to offer. In fact, the Horry story includes two more glorious Finals wins with the San Antonio Spurs. Once again, the Lakers had Kobe all throughout this time, and to let a guy like Horry walk while still in contention is a bum move on the Lakers part.
10 Held Too Long: Timofey Mozgov
This was one of the most boneheaded contracts in recent memory. Giving Timofey Mozgov a jumbo sized 4 year, $64 million contract despite barely proving his worth next to LeBron in a losing NBA Finals effort. Truth be told, LeBron could make an average Joe off the street look like a bonafide star. But what LA did two summers ago was a downright crime. Perhaps it was a desperate attempt to experiment on a player with experience, but he played with LeBron James and couldn't win the big one. In the end, they were lucky to be able to trade him to Brooklyn, but his performance for the Lakers was, you guessed it: overwhelmingly mediocre.
9 Never Let Go: Pau Gasol
When the Lakers got Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzles, despite his tantalizing upside, nobody thought a Euro big man could be viable enough to play second fiddle to a roster that three-peated NBA Finals victories. Not only did he do it, but he showed that he is one of the greatest Euro bigs outside of Dirk Nowitzki the league had ever seen. So when the Lakers let him go to Chicago after only one failed post-three-peat season, it was one of the most short sighted moves in recent times. True, bouts of vertigo keeping Pau off the floor certainly seemed like tell-tale signs of a decline, but when a guy helps you hang three banners, there should be more faith and loyalty than the typical NBA player gets. In the end, Pau still started at centre for the NBA all star game the very next season, and made Laker fans everywhere wish he was never traded.
8 Held Too Long: Nick Young
Fact: Swaggy P is a fun player to roster, both for the culture of the team and for basketball reasons. Another fact: Swaggy P is a dangerous player to roster. Yes, Nick Young loves the bright lights of Hollywood, and knows just how to mingle with the high rollers. Only problem with that is the same excitement Young can bring to a team is the same amount of problems he can bring. Whether it be drama with playing time, frustration with losing, or drama with D’Angelo Russell and his high-profile Snapchat feud, Young never was a smart move for the Lakers. Four years in a Laker uniform was more than enough, and his new role as a reserve for the Warriors is much more appropriate for him.
7 Never Let Go: Lou Williams
Last season, Lou Williams actually had a fantastic bounce back season, proving he could live up to the instant scoring hype he received in Philadelphia when drafted. But still, the Lakers sent him out to Houston at the trade deadline last season ostensibly to create room for their younger guards to grow, as they received a meaningless package for his contract. But the sad part is that Williams proved in both Houston last year and now for the Clippers that he can produce in any situation as a true seasoned pro. Granted, the current Lakers are on a different timeline in terms of age, but the bottom line is that to receive nothing back for Lou Williams was an insult to him and damaging to the confused Laker culture. The game plan may have shifted under Magic Johnson to a clear youth movement, but trades for nothing in return when you have a contributor and a mentor in Williams is a big no-no.
6 Held Too Long: Carlos Boozer
The end of Boozer’s career was a curious one to say the least, and while Los Angeles is where some players go to win rings in their prime, for others it is a graveyard of has-beens, like a sad, knock off version of the San Antonio Spurs organization. Yes, Carlos Boozer enjoyed much success in the NBA, but in the end his thirteenth season was his first in LA and last in the league. The strange fall off in his last year in Chicago had people wondering what the Lakers were trying to accomplish by bringing him on board. In this case, even one season was too long to hold on to Boozer. He should have never even worn the purple and gold.
5 Never Let Go: Trevor Ariza
Ariza has been around the block since being drafted by the Knicks back in 2004, making meaningful appearances for six NBA teams since then. That’s actually a lot of trades for a very viable rotation player. But after helping the Lakers win two championships in ‘07 and ‘08, the Lakers let him walk in fear of overpaying the free agent. Boy, was that a mistake. Ariza hadn’t stopped being a meaningful contributor since then. Although they won the third ring that season by replacing Ariza’s defence with an aging Ron Artest, in the long term they may have lost out on the catalyst that could’ve kept them young enough to compete for a fourth consecutive ring in 2010.
4 Held Too Long: Metta World Peace
In one of the more cringeworthy moments of the 2016-17 season, long time Laker Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) screamed out on the court, “I love basketball!!!”. Yes, the man more than a decade removed from his prime, and nearly twice the age of some of the other players on the court, had corny lines to drop. Not only did the Lakers falsely advertise World Peace as a viable starter when they got Nash and Dwight Howard, they rostered him AGAIN years later, with virtually nothing left in the tank. Holding on for too long is an understatement here— Metta may have overstayed his welcome by a full decade! With only possible antics and poor examples to be set, it is a wonder not only what he was doing on the floor but why he was playing in the NBA at that point. Good riddance!
3 Never Let Go: Jayson Tatum Or D'Aaron Fox Draft
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Laker fans. We can hear you argue this one from around the nation. As much as Lonzo Ball has been hyped, complete with a loud-mouthed father and obscenely priced personal brand of sneakers, the truth is that the boy will be a mediocre player in the league, and is at best a good passer. His jumper is broken and easily defendable by grown-up NBA players, and he is way too scrawny to finish in the lane. So what did the Lakers miss out on by buying into the hype train? Well, it’s obvious. Jayson Tatum clearly is showing he can blend right in with the big boys as he is starting and giving meaningful contributions to a thriving Celtics squad. D’Aaron Fox has overtaken George Hill not four games into the season up in Sacramento. Both are already boasting more polished NBA skill sets than Ball. Lonzo’s upside is deceiving, and the Lakers may be sorry about this one for years to come.
2 Held Too Long: Shaquille O'Neal
Despite the woeful relationship between the dominant Shaquille O’Neill and young budding superstar Kobe Bryant, in retrospect, it is a sad sad truth that the Lakers didn’t find a way to keep Shaq through the end of his prime. He was arguably the most dominant centre of all time outside of Wilt Chamberlain and now knowing how many real quality years both he and Kobe had left, it’s almost a crime they didn’t collect another three rings in LA together. Who knows, if they had found a way to make it work maybe Shaq and Kobe would’ve been in higher regard today than Mike and Scottie, or even crazier, maybe the Lakers would’ve surpassed the legacy of the Celtics... We'll never know.
1 Never Let Go: Kobe Bryant
This one is more of a "never let him go when they did". The saga of the brilliant decline of Kobe Bryant is truly one of the greatest hoax narratives in the NBA world. True: Kobe’s stats were excellent any time he wasn’t injured through the end of his career. No one can argue against that. But, what Laker fans don’t realize is that between his enormous contract, combined with his inability to lead a rebuilding roster to any significant achievements, all mixed up with a dash of success— say just enough to keep the Lakers out of the lottery picks that would land them their next star, ultimately made the Laker organization Kobe’s hostage for nearly four seasons. And the worst part? Most Laker fans had stockholm syndrome: yes, falling in love with the person keeping you from freedom. Look: Kobe is a top 10 all time talent, and for my money the best shooting guard of all time outside of Michael Jordan, but at the end of the day the ugly truth is just this: the Lakers should’ve found a way to move on and spark a true rebuild years before Kobe retired.
There you have it. Proof that even the most tantalizing of destinations could become a dumpster fire. Just like their contemporary New York Knicks, the Lakers are a successful hardwood classic NBA franchise that could’ve done lots more to be even more successful... okay, so maybe the Knicks shouldn’t be spoken in the same sentence as the Lakers, but you get the point. While the Lakers do look promising these days, the biggest wonder for die-hard fans is will they ever string together enough success to surpass the mightiest franchise in NBA history: the Boston Celtics.