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The Los Angeles Lakers tied an ignominious franchise record with a 48-point loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday.
In the 68-year history of the franchise, the Lakers had lost by as large a margin only once before, a 142–98 drubbing at the hands of the Clippers in 2014. And the fact that L.A.’s two worst losses ever have come in the last two years doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. As our Ben Golliver notes, from 1979–2013, the Lakers lost by 40 points only twice. Since 2014, L.A. has lost by 40 three times.
The dividing line in 2013? The passing of longtime owner Jerry Buss, who is often credited with guiding the franchise with a deft touch across his decades in charge. His son Jimmy, now in control, has been less successful, much to the detriment of Kobe Bryant, who experienced his worst loss as a Laker on Monday, having not played in the Clippers game two years ago. (Bryant was also a minus-44, another career worst.)
Kobe’s retirement tour has been in full swing this season—it continued in Utah, where the Jazz showered him with gifts like skis and park passes—and it’s perfumed the stench of the Lakers, who’ve used Bryant’s farewell to turn a blind eye to the disarray of the franchise.
A list of problems, in no particular order:
• Byron Scott, coaching the team as if the three-point line signaled a pit of hot lava
• Repeated failures in luring or keeping star players, starting with Dwight Howard
• A first-round draft pick that goes to Philadelphia this summer if it’s outside the top three
• Questionable young talent outside of D’Angelo Russell, who is lucky to have not been fully broken by Scott’s philosophical musings
It’s possible Los Angeles bounces back this off-season, when it could have over $60 million in cap space and Bryant’s shadow won’t scare away potential stars. But the fact that it’s gotten this bad for the Lakers, one of America’s marquee franchises, is a testament to the mismanagement of the team since Jim Buss took over.
In L.A.’s defense, it is a franchise that always swings big, and when you miss—as the Lakers have for a couple years in a row—you have to be prepared to look the fool.
Can things get much worse for the Lakers? It’s possible. If Los Angeles can’t put together an exciting team in the wake of Bryant’s departure, the Lakers will be something most of us have never known them to be: irrelevant.