Lakers at a crossroad


All eyes remain on the Lakers, and not simply because they seem to be dragging their heels on a deal involving Russell Westbrook. It’s clear that the latter no longer wants to stay in the fold, not after a disastrous 2021-22 season that saw his numbers decline across the board, and certainly not after he found himself being dangled in just about every potential deal so far in the offseason. Heck, he even fired longtime agent Thad Foucher, and then signed with influential Excel Sports ostensibly to get better leverage on is way out.

If the grapevine is to be believed, the Lakers are balking at the inclusion of their future draft picks. Due to a rule named after former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien, they’re not able to trade consecutive first-round picks; the provision likewise prevents them from dangling their 2026 option until the Pelicans decide on the third of consecutive choices generated by the deal for then-six-time-All-Star Anthony Davis in 2019. This means that acquiescing to demands for them to sweeten any Westbrook trade would be tantamount to giving up any freedom at the draft until 2030.

True, it’s a problem in and of itself. That said, surefire talent in the present is more valuable than the promise of What Ifs. And, needless to say, the Lakers should understand that housing a marquee player who’s pushing 38 effectively places them in Win Now mode; continuing to give the keys to LeBron James — admittedly on the backside of an all-time-great career — necessitates the capacity to go all in. It’s what they did when they acquired Davis, and what they did when they spread the welcome mat for Westbrook.

Recency bias does play a role in the Lakers’ reluctance to open the bank for the possibility of taking in mercurial guard Kyrie Irving from the Nets. No doubt, the latter’s flaky character also gives them pause. What if the solution is worse than the problem? Then again, they have few paths to success, and none as currently constructed. Later this month, James will be eligible for a contract extension, and whether he ensures his status as the principal protagonist in purple and gold may well be predicated on how close he believes he is to a fifth ring.

So, yes, the Lakers are at a crossroads. And, yes, they’re playing high-stakes poker. The question is this: Does the hand they have give them the conviction to bluff? They have a tell, and, right now, conventional wisdom has them folding one way or the other.

Postscript: Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI) and Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines, Inc. (CCFPI) recently held the Coca-Cola Charity Golf Classic 2022 and raised P3.5 million in pledges as a result. The Sta. Elena Golf Club played host to 123 captains of industry, partners, and customers — a significantly higher number than when the event was last held in 2019.

CCBPI CEO and President Gareth McGeown envisions the tournament as “a tradition wherein the Coca-Cola community and our partners in the business gather for a greater goal.” Proceeds from the 2019 endeavor were used by CCFPI for pandemic-related initiatives.

And then there is the golf itself, which proved climactic as the winning team of JP Reyes, Ace Stehmeier, Frank Garcia, and Vic Gregorio turned in a nine-under gross score off birdies in the last three holes to win by a single stroke. It was a fitting result for the charity event, which had been staged regularly since 2003, but which needed to be postponed due to the pandemic.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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