The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in an unfamiliar position two-thirds of the way through the NBA season.
The Lake Show currently sits at 26-28 and are in ninth place in the Western Conference. If the playoffs started today, they would face their crosstown rival Clippers in the play-in round. The team, led by Lebron James, is 17.5 games out of first place and is currently 4-6 in their last 10 games.
How do the Lakers go up from here? “It’s all about taking accountability for your own actions every game… If you want change you have to look yourself in the mirror and demand more out of yourself and it’ll trick down to the rest of the ball club.” Interview with LeBron James: pic.twitter.com/LaU2V30TUs
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) February 6, 2022
James spoke on Monday about how this season has been unlike any he has ever played in.
It has been a struggle for the Lakers all season and it looks bleak going forward. Los Angeles is too far back to make a real playoff push, and the roster is suffering from age and bad construction.
The Lakers are currently 23rd in offensive rating and 20th in net rating. Basically, they are a middle of the pack team in need of serious improvement. With the trade deadline approaching on Thursday, James said they will be looking to do anything to improve the team.
The good news is they do have Lebron James and he is still playing at a very high level. However, whether he will have enough around him to go deep in the playoffs is the big question mark.
So how did a roster with so many big names end up in this position? Lets take a look.
The Westbrook Dilemma
When the Los Angeles Lakers acquired point guard Russell Westbrook from the Washington Wizards last July, they sacrificed a lot of their depth to get him. The Lakers moved on from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to acquire the 33-year-old Westbrook.
So far, the trade is looking like a disaster for the Lake Show. Westbrook is averaging just 18.4 points per game, the lowest since his second year, on just 43.7% from the field and 30.0% from three. His 15.29 player efficiency rating (PER) is 105th in the league, sandwiched between Scottie Barnes and Xavier Tillman.
This is Westbrook’s fourth team in four seasons and the highest any of those teams have finished was the Rockets, who were the four seed in the west in 2019-20.
Westbrook’s inefficiency has been a hot topic all season and it hit a boiling point on Saturday. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel opted to bench his starting point guard for overtime against the New York Knicks, a game the Lakers won 122-115.
Largest comeback win of the season.@KingJames: 29 pts, 13 reb, 10 ast@AhmadMonk: 29 pts, 4-8 3PT@AntDavis23: 28 pts, 17 reb, 4 blk pic.twitter.com/dikICECFQH
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 6, 2022
James spoke after Saturday’s game about what his message to Westbrook is.
It may be easy to say the Lakers should just bench Westbrook for good, but this is where the dilemma lies. Westbrook is the only Laker to play in every game this season and the roster has struggled mightily with staying healthy. The Lakers have by far the oldest roster in the league with an average age of 30. The next oldest team in the league is the Nets with an average age of 28.1.
James has played as many games, 37, as his age this season. His superstar counterpart, Anthony Davis, has played just 33. Davis has been in-and-out of the lineup all season with nagging injuries, and his durability remains a concern for the playoffs. Among the five players who have started the most games for the Lakers this season, Davis is the youngest at 28.
While Westbrook’s struggles hurt the team, availability is the best ability at this point. The Lakers could try and move him at the deadline, but how many teams would be willing to take him on? They depleted many of their assets to get him, so acquiring anything of value without moving him will be difficult.
The Lakers have a big decision to make about what to do with Russell Westbrook.
The Good News
If there is any good news for the Los Angeles Lakers it is as simple as this: they have Lebron James.
James is playing at an unprecedented level for a player of his age, averaging 29.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists on 52.3% shooting. His 27.30 PER would be fourth in the NBA behind Giannis Antetokounmpo if he played enough games to qualify.
LEBRON JAMES IS 37 YEARS OLD pic.twitter.com/gyIIoEikM3
— LakeShowYo (@LakeShowYo) February 6, 2022
Nobody wants to go up against a Lebron playing this well in the playoffs, and he alone presents a huge advantage for Los Angeles.
While James has carried teams through the playoffs before, he did it on much younger shoulders. Whether his body can hold up to do it again at 37 is not something the Lakers should bank on.
"I feel pretty good today, looking forward to seeing how I feel tomorrow and we'll go from there." LeBron James on his recovery after logging 40 minutes against the Knicks. pic.twitter.com/14lDuE65dy
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) February 8, 2022
However, if anybody can do it, it has to be Lebron James.
The other good news is Anthony Davis is still there as well. Davis has struggled with injuries throughout his career and this season has been no different. However, he has still been great when he has been on the floor. Davis is averaging 23.7 points and 10.2 rebounds on 52.9% shooting when he has been on the floor this season.
The problem is the Lakers’ stars have barely been on the floor together. The two have played just 17 games together this season and have a 10-7 record in those games. The team is less than two years removed from winning an NBA Championship with those two leading the way. If they are both healthy come playoff time, the Lakers will be a team nobody wants to see.
That remains a huge “if” though. Lebron is 37, Davis is injury prone and the grind will only get harder as the season goes on. Plus, there are plenty of other concerns about the makeup of this roster that pose issues come playoff time. They rank 16th in defensive rating, something that is usually a strength of James-led teams.
Heading into the back-third of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have a lot of questions to answer.