It’s pretty hard to root for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. After 60 games, the Purple and Gold has just managed to win 27 games while losing 33. This record places them 9th in the Western Conference, with the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trailblazers coming nearer to their spot. And while there are tons of factors and decisions that have led the Lakers in this precarious situation, taking a look at LeBron James’ involvement, or the lack thereof, can’t be completely avoided.
We take a look down below at a couple of details that can either exonerate the King or solidify the position that he has a solid hand in the mess in Los Angeles at this point in time.
LeBron James and the Lakers’ offseason
The Lakers’ early exit against the Phoenix Suns in the first round served as the primary motivation for the franchise’s front office to revamp the roster in a major way. Since that series proved that James and Anthony Davis’ supporting cast wasn’t enough to get them over the hump, not to mention the latter’s constant encounters with various injuries, Rob Pelinka and company decided to find more talent during the offseason.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka planned on trading for Buddy Hield, but LeBron and Anthony Davis encouraged him to trade for Russell Westbrook.
(via @TheSteinLine, https://t.co/aVMp4w9WBB) pic.twitter.com/GOTbAD3aF0
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) January 27, 2022
During that time, Buddy Hield was being targeted to provide a credible perimeter threat and improve the team’s spacing. But according to several sources, the pair of James and Davis reportedly wanted Russell Westbrook more than Hield because of the need to have a secondary playmaker in the lineup. This preference prompted Pelinka to go for the former MVP instead of Hield.
In exchange for the Brodie and a couple of picks from the Washington Wizards, the Lakers’ front office sent Kyle Kuzma Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell. And while there were doubts about how Westbrook fits with James and Davis, the consensus then was that his playmaking and talent will be more than enough to overcome any potential issues on the court. It wasn’t until the season progressed when all of these concerns would become more obvious.
The Russell Westbrook experiment
It can’t be denied that age and injuries have slowed the Lakers down all season long. As it stands, the Purple and Gold’s 108.6 offensive rating just places them 25th among 30 teams. Even their defensive rating of 110.5, which places them 14th in the NBA, isn’t enough to get them past powerhouse teams in both conferences. But above those shortcomings is one that’s more glaring than the rest – Westbrook’s fit with James, Davis, and the Lakers.
In a team that has James as the number one option and Davis as the second, it was widely believed that Westbrook would accept being the third. In recent history, the third option in any contending team knew that they were going to encounter less talented defenders, giving them more chances to make buckets. Some examples are Ray Allen and Chris Bosh when they were playing for the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, respectively. The thing is, Westbrook doesn’t play like these guys at all.
Unlike Allen and Bosh, who can punish inattentive defenders with a shot from the mid-range or downtown, Westbrook can’t make a bucket beyond the free throw line. This season alone, the Brodie is just hitting 36% of his shots from 3 to 10 feet away the basket and 40% from that beyond that point to the edge of the arc. These numbers show that he needs the ball in his hands to become effective on offense. Unfortunately, most of the touches go through James and Davis first.
the decline of russell westbrook is one of the fastest in nba history 😔 pic.twitter.com/olOJiJKz5Z
— Lakers Lead (@LakersLead) February 28, 2022
And since Westbrook’s effectiveness on offense diminishes without holding the ball for too long, he becomes more of a liability on offense. It could have been Hield splashing consistent bombs from downtown. Instead, the team has to fit around the former MVP, much to the detriment of their performance on the court. Add Davis’ injury woes this season, which have been significant enough, and the Lakers have a serious situation in their hands already.
LeBron James and the Lakers before and after the All-Star break
Even with the regular season coming to an end, there’s still enough time for the Lakers to get their act together and lock their tickets to the playoffs. Unfortunately, their recent performances aren’t really sparking any hope for the team’s fans.
As the year started, the Lakers found themselves with a 19-19 record after getting a 108-103 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Since then, LA has played 23 games before and after the All-Star break and went on to have a 9-14 record during that stretch. This series of games included losses against powerhouse teams, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat, and other squads fighting for a playoff spot, such as the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers.
And while James averaged an impressive 29.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.4 steals during that 23-game stretch, the overall frustration from his team’s dismal performance has come to a boiling point. In recent games, the King can be seen arguing with fans on the sidelines and losing all motivation to even contest a three-pointer in the corner. Even Jeannie Buss has had enough, as can be seen from her recent walkout during a Lakers game.
Jeanie Buss is tired of Russell Westbrook
— L.A.B (@laughsNball) February 28, 2022
These actions have led a lot to believe that James is gradually giving up on his team, especially after allowing the trade deadline to pass without making any significant changes to the lineup. But in all of these troubles, it’s important to remember that while the All-Star forward is involved in the Lakers’ current predicament, there are bigger factors that can be considered.
For one, Davis has only played in 37 out of 60 games for LA. Westbrook’s unwillingness to fit in, paired with the front office’s lack of moves during the trade deadline, has also doomed the Lakers’ chances this season. And while it’s easy to pin the blame on James, he only plays a part in this situation with other credible reasons making the matters worse for the Purple and Gold.