Swanson: The Lakers’ best next move? Don’t panic

Woke up Tuesday morning to the sounds of sirens blaring, alarms going off all across the city. Panic in the streets.


No, a Lakers first-round playoff exit.

Dang near everyone up in arms after the Denver Nuggets excused the Lakers 4-1 on Monday in about as competitive a gentleman’s sweep as one could imagine. I hear you all arguing about who’s gotta go! The coach! His boss! His staff! The players! Which players? All of ’em but the stars! The stars?! Be serious.

Deep breath, L.A. Exhale. I know the spotlight is surface-of-the-sun hot around here, but that’s why we have air conditioning. Chill, everyone. Look for some shade, park it beneath a tree for a second.

Look, none of the experts in your group chat or on your TV or at your local grocery store expects the Lakers, when they finish this far from the finish line, to run it all back.

But you should hope they don’t overreact.

That they take the live-and-learn lesson offered up by their previous first-round exit – in 2021, after they bowed out against the NBA Finals-bound Phoenix Suns in a series the Lakers were leading 2-1 when Anthony Davis suffered a groin injury – and remember what it taught them: Don’t panic.

You oughta hope they made a note-to-self: Next time, don’t trade Kentavious Caldwell Pope and Kyle Kuzma and let Alex Caruso leave to accommodate the addition of Third Star Russell Westbrook

We don’t all agree on much around here, but on this we can concur: That move resulted in a fate far worse than losing a fight with the defending champs in the first round.

The Lakers should know: Dependable depth > Donovan Mitchell.

They should take a beat and contemplate: Treat the whole patient, or go top heavy with Trae Young?

Tinker or torch? Move over the baserunner (e.g., procure a role player to rebound or, if Jarred Vanderbilt was going to be out, one to defend on the wing, as they should have at the trade deadline)? Or go down swinging forever for the proverbial fences, no joy in Mudville?

Lakers Lost Game 5 on the Glass.

2 Crucial Missed Rebounds turned directly into Nuggets 3pters late. pic.twitter.com/FBQtCxfUVo

— Lakers Legacy (@LakersLegacyPod) April 30, 2024

You should hope your Lakers take a long look at the NBA’s current landscape – more wide open than it’s been in a long while – and see that what’s trending isn’t Super Teams, but super teams. That the most successful squads have stars and players who are stars in their roles, puzzle pieces that fit, lineups that click.

Players who, ideally, know one another, who trust and like one another enough to work through adversity and grow from it. And grow, and keep growing.

Like the Nuggets have. Like the Minnesota Timberwolves – an eighth seed a year ago, they ignored suggestions that their seven-foot tandem couldn’t work and now look like a bonafide title contender, a team (around Anthony Edwards) with real teeth.

And so do the young, top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, a squad that’s growing up together. Or, of course, the Boston Celtics, who have invested handsomely – a requirement, crucially – in keeping their core together.

The Clippers – tied 2-2 with the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round series – aren’t out of this thing yet because they had so much depth they could relinquish a bunch of it in a trade for James Harden and still hold onto Terance Mann and Norman Powell. That’s what allows them to feel like they can make a go of it now, even without an injured Kawhi Leonard.

Know who’s out of it? The Suns. The team that cleaned its cupboard bare in order to add a shiny third option in $43 million-man Bradley Beal, and which broke down with barely a whimper in the first round, getting swept unceremoniously by Edwards and those Timberwolves.

You should hope the Lakers don’t do what head coach Darvin Ham did when he freaked out about Austin Reaves’ early struggles and sent him to the bench, sitting him down beside D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura for too much of the season. Abandoning Plan A because the pressure to perform in this town is so acute. What did he tell ESPN? “If you’re coaching a team and one of your starters is like 10 games in a row, just (crapping) the bed, what are you going to do?”

But Ham eventually did come back around the Lakers’ optimal lineup, and together the fivesome of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Reaves, Russell and Hachimura, once he finally was reinserted as a starter, went 19-6.

And if this wasn’t L.A., if this was many other NBA locales where the microscope isn’t so sharply tuned and the expectations not so exorbitant, if this bus wasn’t being driven by a 39-year-old superstar with kingly demands and understandably less patience as he ages, you might actually be able to chalk up this season’s Ws and Ls as wisdom and lessons.

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There’s a world – the real world, in fact – where this season serves as valuable experience for a second-year head coach who has already been at the helm for a Western Conference playoff run and a compelling first-round series. The man in charge of a staff that was wise enough to shift Hachimura off Nikola Jokic and dedicate Davis to covering the reigning MVP, and to allow James to roam the paint instead of chasing Michael Porter Jr. around the perimeter.

But this is La La Land. Around here, people are ambitious and impatient and all-too-savvy: You don’t need multiple insider reports breaking down the eye-rolling on the bench you saw with your own eyes, or anyone to confirm what you heard when Davis dropped his “we don’t know what we’re doing” grenade after the Lakers’ Game 2 collapse.

The Lakers are going to do what they’re going to do, but if you’re a fan of theirs, you better just hope they don’t do too much.

This playoff round has been a lot closer than the 4-1 result. The @lakers played their hearts out and gave themselves a chance in every game. Proud of our team. #GoLakers

— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) April 30, 2024

Proud of the @Lakers . Great season. You win some and lose some. Come back stronger and better players.

Great job coaches.

What an honor to have played for the Lakers and get opportunities to watch the game.

I love my journey in the @NBA

— Metta World Peace (@MettaWorld37) April 30, 2024

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