Mismanagement in L.A.: What we can learn from the Lakers!
Following a 6-year playoff drought, and after landing LeBron James in the off-season, 2019 was supposed to be a breakout season for the L.A. Lakers. Yet, it ended in disaster. No playoffs, a dysfunctional locker room, and an organization in chaos! We’ll leave the basketball pundits to attribute what they will to the Lakers demise, but I want to focus for a minute on the managerial mishaps leading this this debacle.
#1) Coaching matters. (so does management) The moment LeBron signed with L.A., “everyone” knew Luke Walton was a goner. (Every aside from Luke) “He’s not LeBron’s guy”, “He’s not Magic’s guy” etc. And yet, the Lakers decided to retain his services. It would have been perfectly acceptable to say, “Listen Luke, we didn’t sign you, Lebron doesn’t want you, best we part ways.” Instead they pretended to let him coach the team, while LeBron and Magic schemed around him about which players to sign, which players to develop, and which players to trade, (everyone) leaving him a lame duck coach.
Part of managing means making difficult decisions. Magic was so enamored with himself that he signed LeBron, he forgot to make the difficult decision to fire Walton. Instead, Magic let him stay on under the pretense of “giving him a chance”. Why waste a season with a coach whose dismissal is a foregone conclusion? Often managers KNOW they have changes they need to make but fail to act. The moment he signed LeBron he knew Walton’s days were numbered unless he pulled a Pat Riley, which he did not! When LeBron was in Miami, he also had issues with Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra. In that case Pat Riley said to him something along the lines of, “Shut up and dribble, and leave coaching decisions to me.” Management also means setting clear expectations and guidelines with employees!
#2) Support your team! The entire world knew that the Lakers were gunning for Anthony Davis. The entire Lakers roster (LeBron aside) knew they were all on the trading block. It’s difficult to function as an employee when you are constantly looking over your shoulder. Yes, professional athletes can always be traded but it’s unnerving when the entire country is discussing your future and you are being treated like fish bait. Magic totally underestimated the psychological impact on the fragile minds of young players who probably had heart palpitations every time their phone rang.
In this case, Magic thought he was being tough, but he was really being silly. “They know it’s a business” was the rallying cry. Well if the burden of responsibility was resting solely on the players, perhaps the execution left something to be desired?
Sometimes managers like to act tough and place the onus on their teams. THEY should be more… (choose your own word) It’s times like this when the best managers look inwards to see how they themselves can handle the situation with a little more class, dignity, humility, grace, and empathy.
#3) Put your team in a position to succeed. I said, I’d leave the basketball assessment to the pundits but this one is blatantly obvious. Everyone knows LeBron needs to be surrounded by shooters to win. Yet, hardly a sole on the Lakers roster could hit the broad side of a barn. How it is possibly such a crucial element to success went unchecked!
Probably because nobody would have said, “Magic, you’re a genius, for signing some shooters to play with LeBron!”, but it would have certainly helped them win some more games. At times, managers overlook the obvious. They like flashy decisions or trendy decisions, but not always the self-evident ones. We can become so enamored in making a “sexy” decision we totally ignore the simple ones. If you have an obvious decision to make, make it! Part of management is doing simple, yet effective behaviors which generate results, even if they don't generate praise about your "genius".
So, the Lakers imploded in 2019 based on three management oversights. Irreconcilable conflict with their coach, poor personnel management in the locker room, and poor personnel decision making. But like a lot of times in the office, management will retain their positions, while the workers get sent packing!