Plaschke: Lakers stuck in mediocre hell with no hope in sight after season-ending loss

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) checks the scoreboard in the first half of Game 5.

Sigh, scream, here we go again, same Lakers ending, same Lakers failure, same two tiresome words.

What now?

For the 13th time in 14 seasons, the Lakers have fallen far short in their bid to pile on another NBA championship, and, man, is this getting old.

The latest quest ended Monday night with a 108-106 loss to the Denver Nuggets that cemented a four-games-to-one, first-round series defeat while resurrecting another version of the same old query.

What next?

What can the Lakers do to change this sorry narrative?

The answer, frustratingly, is the same as it has been for the five years that the team has been run by the giant talents — and contracts — of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The answer is nothing.

Read more: Lakers eliminated by Nuggets in Game 5 on Jamal Murray's final shot

Sure, they could let James walk when he opts out of his contract, and trade Davis for a superstar and multiple draft picks, essentially burning the place to the ground and starting from scratch.

But when have you known the Lakers to settle for a massive rebuild?

And how do you think Lakers fans and sponsors would react to that?

It says here that a remodel would be lots of fun, and the Lakers should try it, but they never will, so let’s focus on the weary reality.

For at least the next two years, the Lakers are stuck with an aging star, a fragile star, and whatever role players Rob Pelinka can summon to surround them.

For better or worse — OK, for worse — the Lakers will continue plodding along behind James and Davis while finding themselves stuck in the absolute worst spot for an NBA franchise.


That’s the name of their game, get used to it, even as they claim to make efforts to alter it.

They apparently want to start by changing the coach, firing Darvin Ham only two seasons into his tenure.

Unless they acquire the one perfect replacement, this is a mistake. Unless they are confident they can steal Tyronn Lue from the Clippers, they should let Ham continue.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, left, argues for a call with referee Kevin Scott during the first half of Game 5.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham, left, argues for a call with referee Kevin Scott during the first half of Game 5 on Monday night. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

There have been major questions surrounding Ham’s rotations and adjustments, but last year he inspired his team to the Western Conference finals, and this season he has dealt with player injuries and underachievement, and to whack him now with no solid replacement in place just doesn’t seem smart.

In the 12 years since Phil Jackson last worked here, the Lakers have gone through seven coaches. At some point, they need to give their leader room to lead. At some point, they have to have a consistent boss creating a consistent culture.

At some point, they have to stop letting James run things, OK?

If Lue can be hired away from the Clippers with one year left on his contract, do it. He’s arguably the best coach in the NBA. Have you been watching him win playoff games without Kawhi Leonard?

Read more: Plaschke: Darvin Ham is on the hot seat as Lakers' struggles continue

But if Steve Ballmer wises up and hands Lue a rich extension, the Lakers should stick with Ham. Answer his critics by hiring an NBA veteran coach to sit next to him and help school him in crunch time while he matures into the job.

Just a year ago, Ham took a team torn apart by Russell Westbrook to within four games of the NBA Finals. That should be good enough, no?

After the decision on the coach, the Lakers need to make tough decisions on the role players who have been such key figures in both their success and failure.

The same supporting cast that inspired them last spring struggled this season, and was honestly the main reason the team fell into the seventh seed and an opening series against the defending NBA champions.

They need new “others,” and here’s hoping Pelinka will have the stomach to make the necessary changes.

D’Angelo Russell? See ya. Explosive player but not worth the burn marks.

Read more: Plaschke: Lakers just aren’t good enough to beat the Denver Nuggets

Rui Hachimura? See ya. When he’s good, he’s great, but when he’s bad, he disappears.

Austin Reaves? See ya. Great story, limited defense.

Even if Pelinka wants to make those changes, there seems to be no available game changer the Lakers can add who can make a valuable difference. That equation could change in the offseason as some stars will inevitably express unhappiness with their current situation, but until then?

This will be a middling team doing a poor job of representing a championship franchise.

Scream. Sigh. Get used to it.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter on all things Lakers.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.