Lakers Opinion: 2018-2022 and the Russell Westbrook Problem
Russell Westbrook, Lakers
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off another poor season in the 2017-18 season, the Los Angeles Lakers made their most significant move since trading for Pau Gasol a decade earlier in 2008. They signed free-agent LeBron James to a max deal on the first day of free agency in 2018.

They would go on to add Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Beasley, and JaVale McGee. However, despite a good 20-14 start and many NBA betting oddsmakers predicting a championship run, the 2018-19 team was beset by injuries and fell flat. The Lakers ended the season with a record of 37-45, their 6th consecutive losing season, and another missed playoff birth.

Taking the Next Step

After a very disappointing 2018-19 season and with LeBron James still performing at an MVP caliber level, Lakers management decided to go all-in during the 2019 off-season.

The trade for Anthony Davis took place on July 6, 2019. The deal broke down as follows. The Lakers sent Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, three first-round picks, and a pick swap to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis. Additionally, the Lakers sent Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, Mo Wagner, and a second-round pick to the Washington Wizards to help clear cap space.

The Lakers were the most adaptive team to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis as they picked up their pace quickly enough for the Playoffs. Led by LeBron James, they managed to get a 4-1 win over the Trail Blazers in the opening round before coming up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets.

Nonetheless, Lebron James and Anthony Davis were merciless in Bay Lake, Florida, to reach their first Conference Finals since winning the Championship in 2010. They managed to cruise past the Denver Nuggets, led by the rising stars, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

The Lakers eventually came up against the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals. The more experience and the greater depth in the squad helped them overcome the last challenge of the season in six games, thus winning their 17th NBA title in their history.

Inevitable Changes

In this ever-changing world of basketball, such an organization needs to be able to adapt to the current circumstances. The Lakers tried to do so by acquiring several experienced players including Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroeder, and Marc Gasol. At the same time, they parted ways with Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, and Rajon Rondo.

However, such regular changes require even more work to be done during the Regular Season. Unfortunately for the most successful franchise in NBA history, they weren’t able to adapt their playing styles to one another, which ended up being crucial at the end of the campaign. The Lakers finished off the season in 7th place, and they clinched a playoff spot by barely defeating a weak Golden State Warriors team.

They made several trades throughout the year in an attempt to strengthen their squad. However, Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore weren’t of great help in the First Round against the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers were eventually eliminated in six games, which raised several concerns for the management.

A Desperate Move

In the 2021 NBA off-season, the LA Lakers took once again matters into their own hands once again. They weren’t delighted with the early exit from the Playoffs as the team made a risky move by acquiring Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. At the same time, they parted ways with several younger talents who would need to seek happiness elsewhere.

Adding Westbrook to the roster has certainly been seen as a two-edged sword by many NBA experts. His on-court attitude and influence on the whole team have helped him become one of the main prospects in the League. However, these same aspects of his game stopped him from developing his career in Houston and Washington.

The point guard has been widely recognized as one of the most athletic players on the court. Throughout the course of his career, he has built himself up as an unpredictable opponent who can easily attack the rim or go for a medium-range shot. Westbrook is certainly among the most versatile and all-around players in the NBA, but this particular quality is what has held him back in recent years.

His explosiveness might be unparalleled, but it eventually led to many turnovers during the games. He is also blamed for being a ball hog, as he was used to performing one-man shows during his triple-double seasons in Oklahoma.

In the end, his critics turned out to be right, as he wasn’t able to live up to the high expectations in California. His on-court performance and impact have been questionable all season long, while his Lakers ended up with 33 wins and 49 losses, marking the worst campaign in LeBron James’ career.

The Russell Westbrook Problem

The Los Angeles Lakers might have slimmed their chances of building a decent team following their recent pursuit for glory. Not focusing on their future might soon take its toll on the squad’s overall performance, morale, and chemistry. Plenty of NBA players are further connected with a move to Arena, but they will eventually be short of funds.

Russell Westbrook will stay for at least one more year in California in an attempt to get his first NBA ring. However, his contract for the 2022/23 NBA season will cost the Lakers $47 million, which makes the whole NBA community question whether the Lakers would have been better off if they traded him.

The point guard’s performance has significantly declined throughout the past couple of seasons. However, he made some changes to his game last year which could help him find the light at the end of the tunnel.

At the age of 33, the 2017 NBA MVP has certainly lost his pace and explosiveness, and if he manages to make use of his experience, this might only benefit the Lakers. However, Westbrook cannot just adjust his entire playing style to the team, which further raises several red flags for the 17-time NBA champions.

Shooting below 40% in six of his last eight Playoff series makes him an even more unattractive signing. His win-loss record speaks for itself, as the 33-year-old point guard is not playing winning basketball.

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