The Los Angeles Lakers 2021-22 season was, well, disappointing to say the least. Despite adding Russell Westbrook to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers never got off the ground last season, and ultimately ended up missing the playoffs just two seasons after winning a championship back in 2020.
The Lakers were hard at work this offseason improving their team for the upcoming season. They worked on shoring up their rotation through free agency, and tried their best to get rid of Westbrook after a massively disappointing first season with the Lakers, which they were unable to do. As a result, expectations for L.A. are all over the place heading into the season.
The talented duo of James and Davis should keep the Lakers competitive, but the problem is it didn’t last season. Even with all the new faces joining their team this offseason, it doesn’t feel like enough to push the Lakers over the top into the Finals. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three reasons the Lakers won’t end up winning the 2023 NBA Finals.
3. The Lakers free agent signings aren’t massive upgrades
As previously mentioned, the Lakers did a lot of their offseason work in free agency. Their rotation, which consisted primarily of veteran players and unproven youngsters, simply didn’t lead to victories last season. The hope was that by adding more NBA talent, the Lakers would feature a deeper roster that would help them get back to the playoffs.
The problem is that their free agent signings left a lot to be desired. Thomas Bryant was brought in to be their new starting center, but he didn’t look like the same player in his return from a torn ACL last season. Lonnie Walker IV is a solid bench guard, but he barely shot above 40 percent from the field last season. Juan Toscano-Anderson and Troy Brown Jr. didn’t have big roles for the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls, respectively, in the playoffs last season; what makes the Lakers think that will change for them this season?
The Lakers bench looks stronger, yes, but it doesn’t look like it will be the marked improvement that many are expecting it to be this season. There are still lots of holes that can be found here, and chances are it will be an issue for Los Angeles throughout the season.
2. The Lakers starting lineup also has holes that can be exposed
While the rotation was a key area the Lakers sought to improve this offseason, their starting lineup was also in need of some marked improvements. Los Angeles never had a consistent starting five, and while that was partly due to injuries, it also showed how nobody on their team was doing enough to earn a starting role on an everyday basis.
The shoe-ins for starting spots at this point are James and Davis, but after that, there are a lot of question marks. Westbrook was so bad last season that he was getting benched in the fourth quarter of close games. Dennis Schroder and Patrick Beverley are competing for the starting shooting guard spot, and neither guy is an ideal starting candidate. Bryant has the inside track to the starting center role, but is he up for the task?
James and Davis will keep the Lakers competitive, but there are way too many question marks behind them to allow Los Angeles to be a championship contender. Had they pulled off a blockbuster trade for, say, Kyrie Irving, maybe this is a different story. But for now, it’s tough to see this Lakers lineup winning a championship this season.
1. The Lakers are still stuck with Russell Westbrook
Throughout the offseason, the Lakers were not shy about their desire to trade Westbrook after his miserable 2021-22 campaign. Westbrook was a complete offensive liability for Los Angeles, while also watching his defensive skills begin to erode as well. For that reason, nobody was willing to bite on Westbrook without getting the Lakers final two tradeable first-round draft picks in the deal.
Now the Lakers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Westbrook is due over $47 million this offseason, so L.A. can’t really afford to bench him, but he was so bad last season that they really had no choice at times. What makes them believe that won’t be the case again this season?
Unless Westbrook can somehow buck his recent trend of regression, the Lakers aren’t winning anything with him in the starting lineup this season. There’s going to be tension between him and the organization considering he knows they wanted to trade him, and his fit alongside James and Davis never looked natural last season. With Westbrook on board, the Lakers have no shot at winning the 2023 NBA Finals unfortunately.