The 2021-2022 Los Angeles Lakers approached this season with probably the most expectations they’ve had since the 2012-2013 season. That was ending their season competing for a championship.
The expectations during that 2012-2013 year were at an all time high as they had Laker great Kobe Bryant still one of the top players in the league, and big man Pau Gasol who helped Bryant and Los Angeles win two championships. They acquired two-time former MVP Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns then a month later were able to trade for big man Dwight Howard from Orlando whom the Lakers defeated in the Finals back in 2009.
So many analysts and experts as well as Lakers fans, had those Lakers picked to win a championship.
This year’s 2021-2022 team was no different.
They came into this season with a lot of buzz surrounding the purple & gold, and for legitimate reasons. After a couple of disappointing seasons for the Lakers since winning the championship back in 2020 in the bubble due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they haven’t been able to get anywhere close to another championship. So owner Jeanie Buss and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka decided to try to revamp the roster heading into this season.
They then went out and added a former MVP Russell Westbrook on July 29th with a trade with the Washington Wizards. Giving up a first-round pick as well as several key rotation pieces from last year.
Four players on this Lakers roster coming into the season were part of the All NBA 75th anniversary team: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis. Some made the argument that Dwight Howard, who signed with the Lakers for a second time during the off-season should have also been part of that 75th team. They also were able to bring back two-time champion Rajon Rondo, who was one of the key pieces that helped the Lakers capture that championship back in 2020. With all these additions and key pieces, the Lakers were “favorites” by many to represent the Western Conference in June for a chance at an NBA title.
With James still playing at a high level despite coming into the season at age 36, and hopefully a healthy Anthony Davis who was coming off a groin injury late last season that he suffered against Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs and all these additions would be exciting for any team. Especially for a team in a city that’s all about “flash” and “stars” which they had when they began the season.
As a fan of the Lakers all my life, their season (In my opinion) was over before the season ever really got started.
It began in the preseason.
No I’m not referring to the 0-6 record that didn’t count for anything, I was not a fan of the bad habits I believe this team displayed from the beginning. I know there was only one game out of the six that Westbrook, James, and Davis played together but for me, it was deeper than that.
The two things that stood out the most for me were the lack of movement without the ball on offense, and the offense being so stagnant. The other was defensively, and collectively as a unit. The Lakers did not have the personnel on defensive to even be decent. Most Lakers fans would consistently say “it’s just the preseason, and it doesn’t count.” Which is very true, but you should be able to leave the preseason as a team being able to point at a positive to take into the regular season, and the Lakers weren’t able to do so. This without a doubt carried on into the regular season. They stay outside the top 20 in offensive (22nd) and defensive rating (21st).
Offensively they weren’t a good three-point shooting team (34.7%) and they stood around on offense waiting for LeBron and/or Westbrook to make a play, and Davis to a lesser degree when he actually played. So it was easy for teams to lock in on those three players defensively when the ball was not moving.
They had the 4th most turnovers (avg. 13.9/gm), can’t all all be on one person and they were second to last in FT% 73.2.
On the defensive end the Lakers went from the second rated defensive team the previous year, to one of the worst. The last few years they were able to hang their hats on the defensive end, this year teams got any shot they wanted, anywhere they wanted, against anyone they wanted on the floor for the Lakers at the time. The players from those previous years who gave multiple efforts on defense, and played with consistent energy and effort, and did things for this team that didn’t always show up in the stat sheet, were no longer there.
It’s hard to beat any team at this level with all the flaws the Lakers had.
A lot of blame and finger pointing was at newly acquired Russell Westbrook throughout this season and a lot of it may be warranted as he had a up & down season this year for his hometown Lakers. He struggled to fit in early with this Lakers team and he never really grasped his role.
His numbers were down from a year ago where he finished averaging a triple-double for Washington. He finished with Los Angeles averaging 18.5 ppg, 7.4 reb, & 7.1 ast.
Then he began getting backlash from Lakers fans as more and more losses started to accumulate. During a 122-115 overtime win against the storied franchise Knicks, fans were heard yelling at Westbrook not to shoot the ball. He finished the season shooting just 29.8% from 3-pt line.
Then he told the media after a 21-pt loss to the Los Angeles Clippers that he “had no expectations,” and that definitely didn’t sit well with Lakers fans.
He along with everyone else playing for the Lakers were booed at home in the Crypto.com arena during a 123-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. When asked if he takes this treatment by fans home: “Nah,” he said. “Take it home? For what? S***. Take it home? I got three beautiful kids at my house. Why would I take it home? If they boo, they can take their a** home. I ain’t worried about that. It doesn’t bother me none.”
He definitely was not the sole reason the Lakers failed to make the “play-in” tournament giving themselves a shot at making the playoffs.
The Lakers started 41 different starting lineups.
No team can build anything positive with that much lack of cohesion. A lot of that had to do with injuries to James and Davis. James missed 26 games and Davis missed 42. Westbrook did play in a majority of the teams games, missing just four all year. The three stars for LA played in a combined 21 games this year. Yes, it’s hard to win without your best players at this level, but the Lakers even when healthy gave no indication they were going to contend with the best teams.
This team shuffled in 24 different players that ultimately ended up suiting up for LA (16 diff starters). This team was only three games over the 500. mark one time this year (16-13) and managed to only have one 4-game win streak this year (all four games at home) against subpar teams: Blazers, Hawks, Wolves, and Kings. That streak came early 2022, and the Lakers never won consecutive games again until the final two games of the season.
That can’t be on one player or coach.
Yes, James, Davis, and Westbrook didn’t play a lot together, but that’s an excuse.
I watched the top overall seed Phoenix Suns (64-18) lose their leader and second best player in Chris Paul to a right thumb avulsion fracture and miss 15 games and his team go 11-4 in that stretch. Then the Memphis Grizzlies best player and young superstar JA Morant who was in and out of the lineup with a knee injury watched his team go 20-4 in his absence and beat good teams along the way. Even the Los Angeles Clippers whom not many people in LA root for, found a way to compete “every night” without their best player who has not suited up all year in Kawhi Leonard, and without their second best player Paul George for 51 games but managed to stay competitive “every night” because their head coach Tyronn Lue wouldn’t have it any other way.
So the other team in LA found themselves with a chance at a playoff spot come Tuesday against Minnesota.
LeBron James did all he could for his team in the games he played averaging 30.3 ppg the most he’s averaged in a single season since 2005-2006 with the Cleveland Cavaliers at age 37. But he couldn’t put his team on his back for the entire season and carry them where they wanted to go by himself. He had a 43-point game New Year’s eve against Portland and two 50-pt performances within a week of each other in the month of March, that both resulted in wins and it took all of those performances for his team to come out on top.
This is the second time James has failed to get his team the playoffs in a Lakers uniform.
The highlight for James after a disappointing season might have been the 38-pt performance that helped him become second on the leagues all-time scoring list surpassing Karl Malone and putting him in reach of the all-time leader in Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
“I will not allow myself to think about it,” James said of potentially passing Kareem. “I’ve always just played the game the way I’ve been playing it over the years, and these things have just happened organically by just going out and just playing the game the right way. Trying to win every game, playing the right way, playing for your teammates and things of that nature.”
Those numbers by James were not enough to prevent his team from going 6-18 after the All-Star break. Only three teams had a worse record than LA in that span (Pacers, Rockets, & TrailBlazers) and losing eight straight at the most critical time with his team still having a fighting chance at the Play-In tournament was the dagger.
Now Anthony Davis, whom Hall of Famer Charles Barkey calls “Street clothes” on NBA on TNT has now missed 108 total games for the Lakers in three seasons, began getting asked about his future with LA. not because of his game on the court, but because he hasn’t been able to stay on the court enough because of injuries. After the loss to the Phoenix Suns and officially being eliminated from the Play-In: He said “That’s an upstairs thing. A Klutch, Rich Paul thing, my agency. I mean my job is to go out and play basketball. Obviously I love it in LA. If that’s something that they’re considering, then we’ll have a conversation about it. I don’t know what they’re talking about, or what’s the plan.”
As bad as the Lakers were defensively on the perimeter, Davis was able to do multiple things on the floor on that end that helped when his teammates couldn’t keep the ball in front of them or teams tried to attack them consistently in pick & roll. Without him on the floor, they got even more exposed.
This team outside of the three stars (James, Davis, and Westbrook) were players on minimal deals whom it seemed no other team had used for. They were dependant on players from off the street (DJ Augustin, Wenyen Gabriel, Stanley Johnson, etc.) and older veterans like Carmelo Anthony who shot the ball well especially at home, but can’t be on the floor defensively because he is a liability and teams that weren’t any good pointed it out (https://twitter.com/BigSargeSportz/status/1501806124789600263?s=20&t=jY-yMdee46svaSLvq8qTOw) and Dwight Howard whose numbers have decreased each year since being arguably the top big man when he was on that run with the Orlando Magic.
It’s hard for any coach/leader to put a quality team on the floor with that much inconsistency on his roster from start to finish. But of course someone had to take the fall, and unfortunately it was head coach Frank Vogel who was fired after the teams final game against the Denver Nuggets in a 146-141 overtime win on Sunday night. It was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski less than 15 minutes after the teams final game.
He was fired just less than two years removed from bringing championship No. 17 back to Los Angeles.
“Frank is a great coach and a good man,” (Rob) Pelinka said in a statement. “We will forever be grateful to him for his work in guiding us to the 2019-20 NBA championship. This is an incredibly difficult decision to make, but one we feel is necessary at this point.”
James spoke to the media Monday morning before Vogel’s fate was revealed by the Lakers’ front office, who also has defended his former head coach in the past: “I respect Frank as a coach, as a man,” James said. “Our partnership that we’ve had over the few years here has been nothing but candid, and great conversations. This is a guy that gives everything to the game and prepared us every single night. … I don’t know what’s going to happen with Frank being here, but I’ve got nothing but respect for him.”
Like former Laker point guard and five-time Champion Derek Fisher said during the post-game on the Lakers channel after being eliminated just a week or so before by Phoenix; “ How is he (Vogel) supposed to do better than what he did, if the three guys that are supposed to do the most, are together the least?”
I couldn’t agree more.
The Lakers did have a bright spot in my opinion in an undrafted rookie Austin Reaves out of the University of Oklahoma who showed a lot of positives in his rookie season. He had 19 starts for LA and was on the floor late in games that helped his team to a few wins. Most notably the game winning 3-pt in OT against the Dallas Mavericks back in Mid-December. He also finished the regular season with a triple-double of 31 pts (14-14 FT), 15 reb, and 10 ast against a Nuggets team playing backups, but still only the fourth ever rookie to finish with that stat line behind Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Blake Griffin is impressive, regardless of competition.
He did things positive for LA that won’t always show up in the box scores. He will be a key rotation piece for this team next season if he continues to work on his game this off-season.
As well as 4th-year guard Malik Monk who finished out his season scoring a career-high 41 points.
With Bron, AD, and likely Westbrook (picking up his 47M option next year) on the roster next year it has to start and begin with those three. When Westbrook was asked about the possibility of not being on this roster next season and not getting a lot of time to play with James and Davis, “That’s the plan, but nothing is promised.”
Westbrook was asked in Monday’s exit interview about James and Davis telling people around this Lakers team to “let Russ be Russ” and he responded: “But that wasn’t true.” He was also asked if he ever felt like himself at all this season on the court, ” Very Rarely.”
Watching this Lakers team all year, there is not just one issue that prevented this team from reaching its goal or even being competitive. There were too many issues to just focus on one heading into this off-season. So if they want to be taken seriously by the other 29 teams around the league every person from Jeanie, down to the training staff needs to look in the mirror and remember that the Laker great Kobe Bryant wasn’t looking for excuses win or lose.
“I have nothing in common with lazy people who BLAME others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”-Kobe
If you suit up and play for the purple & gold, this is the mentality the greats before them are looking for.
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