Between six straight playoff-less seasons and the soap opera that has consumed the franchise over the last year, the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen in the NBA's pecking order.
At least for now.
"They still have a great brand, an ability -- because of that brand -- to stumble into a decent summer," NBC Sports NBA lead writer Kurt Helin said on "Reiter Than You" on Tuesday night. "They're not going to land Kevin Durant. They're not going to get Kawhi Leonard. Kyrie Irving is a long shot but could happen. Jimmy Butler, maybe. And then they put some decent shooters around LeBron this time and whoever they get, and suddenly it's not completely crazy -- in a flattened-out West where Kevin Durant has left and gone somewhere else -- they're top four. It's not inconceivable they stumble into this, although it's just less likely. Everything has got to go right for them."
But make no mistake: The Lakers are in trouble. They haven't had one or two down seasons; they've been bad for one reason or another for quite some time, and have won just two playoff series since 2010 -- after reaching the NBA Finals seven times in 11 seasons from 1999 to 2010.
"Long-term, if they continue to run this way, they're going to get left in the dust in a Knicks-like way," Helin said. "They're just never going to quite get over the hump because of how they manage things."
An ESPN report on Tuesday exposed just how dysfunctional the organization has become, and according to Helin, Magic Johnson deserves some of the blame.
"I was hearing last summer and before about his seagull management style," Helin said. "You fly in, you do what seagulls do all over everybody and then you leave. He wasn't around that much, and when he was, he was just hard on people. People around there just generally didn't like dealing with him."