Plaschke: LeBron James' new deal confirms the Lakers' offseason is a bust

The Lakers give an aging star a generous contract extension that ensures he will retire in their uniform.

The Lakers know this contract will restrict their ability to win a championship, but they give it to him anyway.

Sure enough, from the moment this contract is signed, the team endures six consecutive losing seasons, including one containing the fewest wins in Laker history.

This was the final impact of the Kobe Bryant era.

And this will be the final impact of the LeBron James era?

It sure seems like it. It sure feels like it. It appears that the Lakers have been here before, and it’s not a good look.

When James agreed to a two-year, $104-million max contract Wednesday morning, it set the Lakers on a path toward several seasons of Kobe-tinged irrelevance.

Granted, James is a much stronger player than Bryant was during his final years. And, yes, this team has Anthony Davis; those teams had Timofey Mozgov.

But the feeling of hopelessness is the same. And the sense that the Lakers’ future has been mortgaged to please one player is real.

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Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s final few seasons were marked by losses.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

You want some scary numbers? Using the Kobe Bryant scenario as a guide, the Lakers won’t be contenders until at least 2028, eight years after their bubble title and 18 years after their last full-season championship.

Sure, it will be cool watching James, who turns 40 in December, finish his career in a Laker uniform.

But if you’ll remember, it was cool watching Bryant end his career in a Laker uniform.

Cool, and yet, oh so destructive.

During those dark days, the Lakers couldn’t convince any top free agents to join a team essentially run by Bryant. The Lakers didn’t have a plan. The Lakers couldn’t sell a culture. The Lakers never had a chance. Seemingly like now.

Remember all the stumbles? They couldn’t talk Carmelo Anthony out of New York. They botched a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge that went so poorly, they had to schedule a second meeting.

Kevin Durant wouldn’t engage them. Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Lowry wouldn’t listen to them.

The season after Bryant retired, they were led by D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young and Julius Randle and Jeanie Buss had finally seen enough.

In February 2017, she fired vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss and longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak and brought in Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson.

A year later, James showed up. Three years later they won a championship.

But four seasons after that, they’re back to square one, which makes one wonder.

How long will Buss wait before making another Laker-shattering move? Faced with an extended period of losing, how long before she shakes things up again? If the Lakers crumble around the final days of James like they crumbled around the final days of Bryant, can Pelinka survive?

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LeBron James, right, talks with D’Angelo Russell (1) while Anthony Davis scowls while looking up the court during a 2024 playoff game.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles)

You’ll recall that Buss was unafraid to fire her own brother. Here’s guessing she won’t be afraid to fire Bryant’s former agent.

Pelinka hasn’t had a good summer. Barely one year after he was a hero for acquiring enough talent to take this team to the Western Conference finals, he is back in the familiar doghouse, and there’s no telling when he will escape again.

Pelinka was rejected by his top coaching candidate Dan Hurley, a guy who wouldn’t even leave Storrs, Conn., for the Lakers because he saw no future here.

Pelinka then settled on a second-choice guy, JJ Redick, who has never coached at any level above youth basketball and whose main qualification seemed to be a friendship with James.

Pelinka won the first round of the draft by catching falling star Dalton Knecht, but then he risked plunging the upcoming season into chaos by succumbing to James’ wishes in drafting his son Bronny.

The kid clearly isn’t NBA ready, and Pelinka surely added more fuel to the fire by giving him a four-year deal worth nearly $2 million a year.

The offseason was then capped by the most damning of sights — a player who was perfect for the Lakers refusing to sign here because they’re no longer the Lakers.

That player was Klay Thompson, and the Lakers offered almost everything he could want — a reported $80 million, a chance to play in games announced by his father Mychal, and an opportunity to spend all year in his Orange County home.

And he still turned them down.

The one thing the Lakers couldn’t offer was a legitimate chance at a championship, something the Dallas Mavericks were three wins from obtaining this past season. Thompson rejected the Lakers — even though their offer was about $30 million above the Mavs’ offer — because of the perception that the Mavs can win and the Lakers can’t.

James even offered to take less money to make this happen, and do you know how rare that is?

Seriously, how far has this 17-championship franchise fallen?

The decision by Thompson said it all. The Lakers are mediocre when playing with James and Anthony Davis because they haven’t added or kept the right kind of players around them. Pelinka tore apart the 2020 championship team to sign James’ buddy Russell Westbrook and they haven’t been the same since.

The 47-35 record and play-in tourney appearance last year? Run it back. The team will essentially be the same.

Their chance of winning a championship while James is still active? Slimmer than slim. They still don’t have enough around him, and would need some sort of miracle in-season trade to become a legitimate threat.

The Lakers will thus enter the 2024-2025 campaign amid charges of nepotism, incompetence and tarnished luster.

They’ve been here before.

This is getting old.

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