The Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. 16 titles, 3125 wins, 59 playoff appearances, countless hall-of-famers, a wall of retired numbers. The Lakers are the gold standard in basketball.
But boy have they had some spectacular failures. Success like the Lakers have acquired doesn’t come without lots of trial and error. It’s the error we’ll be focusing on for this list.
10. Vladimir Radmanovic’s 5-year, $31 million contract
When Vlad entered free agency following the 2006 season, he was a mediocre scorer — 10 points a game and a 38% 3-point shooter — who was expected to resign with the Clippers on a bad contract. For the Clippers, that’s a run of the mill thing. But for some reason, the Lakers loved him. They sent Kobe and Phil to persuade him to come play for the Lakers, using the opportunities he’d get in the triangle offense as their biggest bargaining chip.
The result? 7.5 points a game on 38% 3-point shooting in his first two seasons in LA. That doesn’t include his snowboarding accident that kept him out of the last third of the 2007 season. Halfway through his third season in LA, he was dealt for Adam Morrison and “throw-in” Shannon Brown.
If you were traded for Adam Morrison at any point in your career, you failed.
9. Game 4, 2008 NBA Finals
It’s not something that Lakers fans like to recollect on, myself included. In reality, this was the turning point in the series. I nearly put the Game 6 embarrassment on the list, but as I just said, it was more embarrassment than failure. This epic collapse was pure failure.
The Lakers jumped out to a 35-14 lead in the first quarter and maintain this lead into the 3rd quarter. Then, behind a 21-3 run, the Celtics got back into the game. As a fan, I’ll never forgive Sasha Vujacic for his pathetic, putrid, horrific defense on Ray Allen late in the game to late him ice it with a reverse lay-up.
8. Shaq for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, and Brian Grant
I have mixed feelings about including this on this list. On one hand, this trade did net us Lamar Odom (key in the Lakers title runs) and Caron Butler (who, through a line of trades, eventually brought us Pau Gasol). But, as a whole, this was a bad trade. Brian Grant had a huge contract and only played one season of wildly underwhelming basketball with the Lakers. They only got one draft pick in return and in the end were the big losers in this trade.
7. Ron Artest’s 5-year, $33 million contract
First, let me state that I’m one of Ron Artest’s biggest fans and biggest supporters. But this selection is bad on two fronts. First, you gave a 30-year old a five year deal when he wasn’t a solid offensive threat as is.
But what really makes this bad is that they refused to give Trevor Ariza THE SAME CONTRACT! The debate will forever go on, but you decided to not give the 23-year old who was integral in your playoff run a big contract, but instead gave it to a 30-year old on the backside of his prime.
6. Dennis Rodman
Some younger Lakers fans may not even remember Rodman on the Lakers. In the 1998-99 season, the Lakers thought it’d be a solid idea to give Rodman a try. The 37-year old was a bust with the Lakers.
Despite going 16-7 in games he played in, Rodman reportedly refused to show up to practice on time and wasn’t doing enough on the court to warrant putting up with his shenanigans. After 23 games, the Lakers cut their losses and released Rodman.
5. 2005-06 Los Angeles Lakers’s playoff collapse
It’s hard to include this team on the list mainly because it could be argued that they over-achieved. Behind the “Big 3″ of Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, and Smush Parker, the Lakers captured the 7-seed and were matched up against the Phoenix Suns, who were running and gunning all over their opponents.
After a Game 1 loss, most assumed the series would be over quickly. The Lakers answered with three straight victories, the last being the iconic, ending on Bryant’s famous buzzer-beater. At the time, teams holding a 3-1 lead were 153-7 all-time.
Welp, the Lakers proceeded to be blown out in Game 5, then let Tim Thomas happen in Game 6. Game 7 was just a formality as the Suns lead by as many as 33 in the game and won by 31 points.
Damn you Tim Thomas.
4. Luke Walton’s 6-year, $30 million contract
I will never be able to figure this one out. Normally, you can see what Kupchak’s reasoning behind certain things is. Sure, Luke Walton had a career year in 2006-07. But his career year consisted of just 11.3 points a game with 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Apparently, that’ll get you a $30 million contract.
Better yet, Kupchak couldn’t at least spread the contract out evenly over the six years. Nope, he backloaded that bad boy so that $5.2, $5.6, and $6.0 million dollars his last three seasons. And for some reason, the Cavs took his contract the final season and a half.
3. 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
Where you put this Lakers team on a list of failures mainly depends on what you deem a failure. In reality, they won 56 games, were the 2nd seed in the conference, and reached the NBA Finals.
But considering they were deemed a super team, it was championship or bust the whole season, fair or not.
Karl Malone played just 42 games that season, battling various injuries.
Gary Payton hated the triangle offense.
Shaq and Kobe hated each other.
Slava Medvedenko played in 68 games.
The result was the Lakers imploding in the Finals where they met a Pistons team that thrived on chemistry. It took Kobe and Shaq scoring 62 of the teams 99 points in Game 2, plus a miracle Kobe 3-pointer at the end of the 4th, for the Lakers to even win a game. Malone and Payton combined for 9.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 6.9 assists a game for the Finals.
2. Caron Butler for Kwame Brown
If you thought the Luke Walton contract was perplexing, try to wrap your head around this one.
Following the Lakers first season without Shaq, Caron Butler was the Lakers’ second leading scorer at 15.5 points a game and just 24 years old. Kobe, Lamar, and Caron looked like a foundation the Lakers could build on.
NOPE. Kupchak sent Butler and Chucky Atkins to the Wizards for Kwame Brown. And wouldn’t you know it, Kwame was garbage. Kobe was quoted recently in saying that Kwame told him not to pass the ball to him late in the game.
I can’t think of one Kwame highlight over his time period with the Lakers. Obviously, the best thing he did was bring us Pau Gasol, but that doesn’t change the fact that Caron averaged 17, 19, 20, and 20 points a game over the next four seasons. Sure, if we don’t get Kwame, we don’t get Pau, but you can’t approach the argument like that. Hindsight is 20/20, but nothing makes this trade look good.
1. 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers
Unfortunately, we all just witnessed the greatest failure in Lakers history. It’s been broken down, diagnosed, diagrammed, analyzed, written down, and talked about to death.
The Lakers brought in the best center in basketball, traded for one of the best distributors of the ball, paired them with Kobe and Pau, and everyone assumed title.
Well, after 1-4, the Lakers panicked and fired Mike Brown. First wrong move. They talked to Phil Jackson, who seemed intrigued by the idea. But they changed their mind before Phil could make up his and went with Mike D’Antoni. Second wrong move.
D’Antoni decided to push his system onto the players, whether his personnel fit or not. Third wrong move. Sitting at 15-21, the Lakers thought things couldn’t get any worse. Despite finishing the season 30-16, the Lakers saw injuries to Steve Blake, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, and Antawn Jamison along the way. Mercifully, the Spurs put the Lakers out of their own misery, sweeping them out of the first round.
At the end of the day, there isn’t one man to blame for the season. Sure, D’Antoni had faults. But no one could plan for their top 8 players to miss significant playing time at some point during the season. Regardless, the Lakers failed miserably. And that’s why they top this list.