LOS ANGELES — The season’s first punch connected with Chris Paul’s face. The last one was a shot to the gut of the Lakers’ organization.The bookends of the 2018-19 Lakers campaign produced chaos of different kinds, but chaos nonetheless. The Oct. 20 brawl in the home opener at Staples Center, which marred the long-anticipated debut of LeBron James with suspensions, feels like a lifetime ago given all that’s transpired since. The surprise resignation of Magic Johnson is a still-raw wound that has left the Lakers looking for direction.What happened in between produced a 37-45 season in the year the Lakers, armed with a superstar, were supposed to be back in the postseason – perhaps even pushing some of the top Western Conference teams for a better seed. But unrest and anxiety were present throughout the season, and while injuries were a component of the Lakers’ failure to at least make the playoffs, there were moments throughout that signaled that trouble was ahead.Here are some of the key moments from a Lakers’ season that fell short of ambitions and has rocked the leadership of the franchise: Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersWALTON AND JOHNSON CLASHIn preseason press exchanges, Johnson called the upcoming season “a bridge,” and he said he expected the Lakers to blend together gradually “with so many moving parts.” But at the same time, he wanted to see something big. “We expect to have a special season.”Apparently just seven games in, Johnson wasn’t seeing what was going to be so special about it, dressing down Walton in a closed-door meeting that soon leaked out into the public view.He was upset about a 2-5 start, including a deflating 0-2 road trip that had seen Walton tinkering with lineups and rotations. Then again, the suspensions to Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram hadn’t created a stable start for the roster. It seemed telling that following the meeting, the Lakers ended up making a move for Tyson Chandler, bringing in a veteran center who helped give a shot in the arm to the team’s defense and served as a veteran voice.The meeting brought tension to light between Walton and the front office which never resolved itself. While Magic later assured that he would let Walton coach for the rest of the season “unless something drastic happens,” the unclear definition of “drastic” was a looming cloud over Walton and his staff, and a general feeling of restlessness took hold. To a lesser extent, that also was messaging to players around James, who realized that the season’s demands were going to be higher – even this early on, there was an understanding among the young core that they could be traded as the Lakers eyed competing on a shorter timeline.To the end, Johnson felt no fault in the encounter, telling reporters on Tuesday that he and Walton had a “tough meeting,” and he didn’t appreciate being made the “bad guy” of the interaction, for asking more than the Lakers were delivering. “Am I tough? Hell yeah I am,” he said. “You work for me, I’m demanding. But at the same time, I’m fair.”It’s worth noting the Lakers went 15-5 after this meeting, buoyed by a hot streak from James, the acquisition of Chandler and a seemingly stronger commitment to defense. But for the rest of the season, Walton and his coaches were walking a tightrope that they never really got off.CHRISTMAS POISON PILLLeading up to a marquee match-up at Golden State, James and the Lakers did their best to temper expectations. But the world was ready to watch, and the Christmas Day game drew an estimated 6.4 million viewers.The world saw something rarely seen before: James pulling up injured in the middle of the game. Lip-readers across the internet saw him tell a trainer: “I felt a pop.” He limped off the court, and the Lakers nor James could know at the time that he wouldn’t be back on the court for more than a month with a small tear in his left groin.The Lakers won that night, 127-101, but it would end up relatively hollow given what it would cost the team. Another hero of that particular game, Rajon Rondo, wouldn’t realize until the next day that he would require surgery on an injured right hand that set him back a second time in the season.During the stretch without James, the Lakers went 6-11, and the struggles would call into question multiple elements of the team without James: the composure of his younger teammates, and their ability to compete without him; the veterans who were underperforming; and the coaching of Walton without James to lean on.James himself struggled, too, acknowledging that he couldn’t be as engaged when he was injured as when he was healthy in what was the longest and most serious injury of his career. Eyebrows raised at the Lakers’ first home game with James sidelined on Dec. 28, when he showed up to Staples Center with a glass of wine in hand.“I know what I can do for the franchise, I know what I can do for the team,” he said in an interview on Spectrum SportsNet toward the end of the season (he has not spoken to the media at large since the season ended). “So I’m basically trying to speed up my body to get back on the floor, but also my mind is kind of shot because I just want to be out there for my guys.”James and other Lakers went on to view Christmas as a marker: At 20-14 and tied for fourth in the West, it was the last time they truly resembled the contender they thought they could be.INDIANA UGLINESSTension had been building for a long time leading up to the Lakers’ worst game of the regular season, and one of the most lopsided games in franchise history.The struggles without James, which were exacerbated when Lonzo Ball went out on Jan. 19 with an ankle sprain, had ratcheted up tension. The Lakers had no clear control over James’ recovery timeline, which was continually pushed back after the team initially called the groin tear a strain. Even during his comeback, James was upgraded from “out” the day before the Clippers game to “available” the night of the matchup. The next game against Golden State, James was a surprise absence, which seemed to catch Walton at least a little off-guard.Then there was the looming notion of a trade for Anthony Davis, which had heightened insecurity in the locker room. James had contributed to the speculation early on in the season by saying playing with Davis would be “amazing” and “incredible.” That possibility seemed to be close at hand in January, when Davis publicly asked for a trade through his and James’ agent, Rich Paul. Negotiations between the Lakers and the Pelicans over the next two weeks became public, with new rumors about new offers sprouting up every day and dominating NBA headlines. The prominent players mentioned included the young core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, once thought near-untouchable in trade talks.The locker room was unsettled further in a confrontation following a loss at Golden State, when Walton called out veterans for their selfish play, and met resistance. Michael Beasley, one of the players with whom Walton clashed, would be traded less than a week later.Everything came to a head in Indianapolis, where the Lakers were utterly without fight against a Pacers squad that had recently lost All-Star Victor Oladipo to a season-ending injury. James had never lost a game by 42 points before in his career. The locker room tried to ward off trade rumors as an excuse, but in retrospect, players were willing to admit that it hurt the team and sowed distrust.“It affected us a lot,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said in exit interviews. “The locker room once the trade talk was there, the locker room changed. Everybody was pretty much worried about that – especially guys that haven’t been through it. They were worried where they were going to end up.”The only one who seemingly wasn’t touched by trade talks was James, who said he thought his previous teams had been able to get over it. The subtext was clear: Why weren’t the Lakers?FAILED PHILADELPHIA SUMMITOn the heels of the Indiana disappointment, something encouraging happened: The Lakers won a tightly contested game in Boston with a buzzer-beater from Rondo. It was a needed dose of good feelings, as the Lakers were able to celebrate a win together in a tough environment. There was initially a ray of hope that the Lakers, if they played together in that way, could pull themselves out of the slump.The momentum picked up a bit of a drag as the Lakers attempted to insert trade acquisitions Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala into the group in a Saturday practice, with Bullock plunging immediately into the starting lineup in hopes of bolstering the team’s 3-point shooting. It threw more moving parts into rotations that had never been quite fully set, and Walton continued to tinker with different groups in search of one that might gel. In the end, Bullock shot just 34.3 percent from deep for the Lakers, and Muscala hardly played in meaningful games.There was an expectation that the Lakers would try to repair damaged relationships with players, and indeed, Johnson flew out to Philadelphia after attending a Michigan State event earlier in the weekend (Pelinka stayed in Los Angeles for his daughter’s birthday). He met with the team on Sunday before their game against the 76ers, one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams that many observers thought had made out well at the deadline – indeed, Johnson complimented the “great moves” of the Sixers.But if the Lakers were expecting comfort, that’s not what they got: Johnson had a message for them to toughen up, because the NBA is a business. He chastised reporters for treating players “like babies.”“I’m not the guy, ‘Oh, I’m going to go up and hug guys,’ ” Johnson said at the time. “I’m not that dude.”Even though some players would come to agree with Johnson’s point – Kuzma in exit interviews said Johnson was “accurate in the grand scheme of things” – there was a coldness to the organization’s approach to talent that didn’t jibe with the leadership’s representation of the franchise (particularly Jeanie Buss’ favored analogy) as a “family.” During his resignation, Johnson defended his approach, noting that Brandon Ingram, in particular, had gone on to have an impressive post-All-Star run despite the adverse circumstances.That didn’t translate to winning, however. The Lakers lost their final two games before the All-Star Break and snuffed any sense of momentum they had. As they left the visiting locker room in Atlanta and fell below .500, they spoke of needing a break from one another.A BITTER FINISH ON THE ROADBack from the All-Star break, James spoke of being “a little different” and playing with more urgency. With a win out of the gates against the Houston Rockets, that initially seemed to be a deliverable promise. But Walton questioned the significance of one victory and what it deemed for their playoff ambitions.“If we go on this road trip and drop two straight, then what does this game really mean?” he asked. “It all depends on how we respond from this.”His words were uncomfortably prophetic, as the Lakers went on to drop a relatively non-competitive game in New Orleans, on a night when James played and Davis, whose minutes were being restricted by the Pelicans after his trade request, was not. Afterward, James seemed to question whether basketball was the most important thing in his teammates’ lives – which didn’t sit well in the locker room, especially coming from James who has a sprawling media empire. ESPN reported that the team met at the next stop in Memphis, confronting James about his poor body language and defense, criticisms that James reportedly took to heart, but again, it didn’t translate to victory, as the Lakers dropped their second game in Memphis.The loss to the Grizzlies felt less dire than the one to the Pelicans, and the Lakers were able to clean up their performance in a return home against New Orleans again to win a needed game. But after a loss to the first-place Milwaukee Bucks, the Lakers had to play the second game of a back-to-back in Phoenix, the last-place team in the West. And that’s where they stumbled downhill and never recovered.The surprisingly resilient Suns played a tough game and led for most of the night by double digits. A late comeback attempt in the fourth quarter fell miserably short, and the lasting image of the game was when James threw a careless inbounds pass that bounced off the backboard and resulted in a turnover. A subsequent loss to the Clippers at home truly doused their playoff hopes, but after Phoenix, the odds were never again in their favor.That sequence led to everything tumbling down for the Lakers after they had rallied their ambitions in July. James’ run of 14 straight playoff appearances was over. Johnson, who promised to bring the Lakers back to contention, quit midstream in his supposed three-year plan and retreated to his former life. The team let go of Walton, who subsequently found work quickly up North in Sacramento.Taken one at a time, the Lakers might have recovered, even with the injuries they suffered. But taken all together, it was too much to overcome.“Yeah we could’ve played better here, played better there,” James said after the Suns game. “That’s been throughout the whole season.”As far as a season-long epitaph, that one would work for the Lakers.