It’s clear what the Lakers are missing most

Last spring, things were looking up for the Los Angeles Lakers. After making a couple of midseason moves to give themselves a coherent roster, they ended the regular season with a surge and went to the Western Conference Finals.

Although they got swept there by the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets, there was a quiet optimism coming into this season that they could compete for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

But now, they’re staring at an 0-3 series deficit versus the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, and that optimism has been replaced with frustration and bewilderment.

Despite a very good roster and a 28-14 stretch to end the regular season, the Lakers have had numerous deficiencies. Among them have been defensive rebounding, turnovers and inconsistent effort against inferior teams.

But now that they’re on the verge of getting swept out of the playoffs, their biggest deficiency has become clear, and it may at least partly explain their other deficiencies.

It’s leadership.

The Lakers took a double-digit lead in each of the three games played in this series, only to lose them. Whenever the Nuggets started coming at them and started to erase their lead, they had no recourse.

When the Nuggets made defensive adjustments, such as putting Aaron Gordon on Anthony Davis to stymie their pick-and-roll attack, they had no recourse.

When they got outscored 34-22 in the third quarter of Game 3 on Thursday and fell behind by as many as 12 points in the period, they had no recourse.

When they lost their lead in Game 2 but still had a great chance to win in crunch time, they didn’t know how to take control and close the job.

Every time Denver has mounted any type of challenge or put any pressure on the Lakers going back to last May, the Lakers have self-destructed before our own eyes.

Some will likely blame LeBron James, and while he may deserve some blame for this, the man who deserves the most blame here is head coach Darvin Ham.

When L.A. hired him nearly two years ago, he was lauded for his leadership skills and strong voice. But that voice has lost its potency, and his players don’t seem to have the utmost trust or respect in him, according to at least one report this season.

Where was he with strategic adjustments or with the right type of emotional leadership when his team needed those things in this series?

The Nuggets are the world champions and will likely repeat as world champions because they’re well-coached and united. Championships aren’t won so much with superior talent as they’re won with brilliant leadership, togetherness and a belief in each other.

To overcome challenges, leadership, astute planning and proper execution are needed. The Nuggets have all that, but the Lakers lack those qualities.

The Lakers used to have all that back in the 1980s and 2000s when Pat Riley and Phil Jackson, respectively, coached them to many rings. They still had a bit of that in 2020 under head coach Frank Vogel when they won their most recent championship.

It’s looking like if they want to recapture their old glory, they will have to bite the bullet and make some significant changes this offseason. Those changes will have to start with a head coaching change.

But it remains to be seen if owner Jeanie Buss will go there. She is reportedly a “fan” of Ham, and she would have to continue to pay him if he’s fired while also paying the salary of his successor.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire