Lakers News: Does Los Angeles Needs to Shake Things Up?
Russell Westbrook, Lakers
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the 2021-22 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were heavy favorites to win the NBA Championship. The team had added Russell Westbrook, a nine-time NBA All-Star, NBA Most Valuable Player for the 2016–17 season, and a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team, to create the NBA’s latest Big-Three playing alongside Anthony Davis and close friend LeBron James.

Just 7-months later, the Lakers’ season was over. The Lakers finished in 11th place with a 33-49 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in two seasons.

Los Angeles now finds itself in a hole. Current NBA Betting Odds have the Lakers a longshot at +2200 to win the NBA Championship after the team failed to make any significant off-season moves, which leads us to ask, what should the team do to improve those odds?

Move on From Russell Westbrook

The bottom line is that Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Lakers have not worked out close to plan.

After facing heavy criticism at the hands of basketball fans when the Lakers missed out on last season’s playoffs, the relationship between Westbrook and the Lakers has soured. While some of the point guard’s statistics were respectable—an average of 18.5 points, 7.1 assists, and 7.4 rebounds per game across the season—the reality is the 33-year-old has been an ill-fit.

However, wanting to move on from an older, max-contract player like Westbrook and being able to move on are not mutually exclusive. When Westbrook opted into the final year of his contract, the Lakers were at an almost insurmountable disadvantage. With the pre-season in full swing and the team’s refusing to include a first-round draft choice with any trade, Westbrook will be with the team at the start of the 2022-23 season.

Recreate the Supporting Cast From 2020

Fans only need to reflect on the 2019-2020 season to be reminded of what works. Back then, the team successfully built depth around mega-stars Anthony Davis and LeBron James, which led to a championship season.

What complicates things now is the salary cap and the lack of tradeable assets. The team is short on picks, short on young players, and up against the salary cap.

Russell Westbrook’s player option is worth approximately $47.1 million against the cap. LeBron James is guaranteed $44.5 million, and Anthony Davis will take home $37.9 million. That is around $129.5 million in committed salary, putting the Lakers comfortably above the cap.

The Lakers can exceed the cap to re-sign their own free agents with Bird Rights and add with veteran’s minimum contracts, but that’s about it.

Better Roster Management

It’s no secret that the Lakers’ struggles last season were directly connected to their inability to keep star players fit and healthy.

Due to pandemic-altered schedules, there is no need for teams to put their players under the kind of pressure that has become the norm over the last two years. Los Angeles needs to play smarter with injury-prone players like Anthony Davis and older stars like LeBron James.

Even if it means taking a few losses, now that schedules have resumed to their pre-pandemic normality, the Lakers will have to play the long game with their roster. Keeping key players available late in the season is critical if the Lakers are going to win the 2023 NBA Championship.

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