The 2021-22 season is nearing its end, and it is a bittersweet time for the Los Angeles Lakers, who will be on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.
Injuries are a convenient excuse for why they are not in the postseason, but the truth of the matter is the Lakers did not play up to their potential and are now paying the price for it. It is an embarrassing outcome for a team that some predicted would make a deep playoff run, but now must go into the summer with several tough decisions to make.
While it would be easy to call this season an absolute failure, there were bright spots Los Angeles managed to find over the course of the year. The Lakers, amidst a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, had the opportunity to sign Stanley Johnson via the NBA’s Hardship Exception. Johnson had previously spent time with the South Bay Lakers but showed he could contribute at the NBA level with his rugged defense and energy.
After signing several 10-day contracts, Johnson was rightfully awarded a two-year deal with the second year being a team option and expressed how much he would like to return to the Lakers for the 2022-23 season.
“That’s a good question. Maybe you guys know what my contract is like more than me, but I have a team option next year. Me personally, I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve had here, I’ve learned a lot, especially being around all this Hall of Fame talent and a bunch of really good people. I will look forward to being here if they will have me, but for me, I’ve grown a lot even coming from South Bay all the way up,” Johnson said.
“I kind of did the whole Lakers organization thing this year and I found fruit in it, finding my identity as a player, learning how to play in a role and really getting pushed the right way and having teammates that are older statesmen and can guide me in the right directions. I would love to have the opportunity to take a whole summer and get ingrained in what we do as an organization all over the place and be around. But there’s a business of basketball and hopefully I’ve played well enough that they will take me back. But if not, we move on. That’s how the league goes, you just got to roll with the punches. This year I was in Chicago and got cut and I was at home and in the G League, got COVID and signed here. So you kind of got to be ready for everything but I’ll be playing and working out this summer so I think I’ll be fine.”
It has to be disappointing for Johnson to see his first season with the Purple and Gold coming to an end, but he said that he and the rest of the team will use this year as motivation to improve themselves.
“It’s definitely unfulfilling. Never in a million years did I imagine, especially when I got signed or just as a fan of the team, that we’d be in this situation. Obviously you make a plan but God laughs at you sometimes, so I think in summertime we should all remember this and if we don’t like it, to do something about it.
“This summer we have an opportunity to get better at basketball as individuals and lock in as a team. If we don’t like it next year then we have an opportunity to do something about it. I think a lot of us are pretty mad about it. We don’t deserve anything, we got what we deserved, but it hurts for it to be our last game. It’s not good.”
There should be no shortage of material for the Lakers to look at as everyone has already begun to dissect why their season went awry. There is usually no better motivator than failure, so L.A. will hopefully use their extended offseason to put in the necessary work to get back on top.
For Johnson specifically though, the front office needs to keep him for next season as they will be strapped on options to bring in impact players. The SoCal native showed what he can do when given a shot and he has more than earned his keep on the roster.
Lakers sign Wenyen Gabriel to standard NBA contract
Like Johnson, Wenyen Gabriel also earned a standard two-year deal right before season’s end.
Gabriel has been another intriguing young player who plays hard on both ends and looks to affect the game with his effort. The forward deserves a longer look, and hopefully he is able to stick around for the long haul.
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