To date, this has been the most disappointing season for the Los Angeles Lakers. You had LeBron James and Anthony Davis coming off of a season where they were both injured at an unfortunate time. They get ousted in the first round by the Phoenix Suns after Davis sustained a groin injury. This all gets compounded by a trade for enigmatic point guard Russell Westbrook in the off-season. What then occurred was a season full of missed expectations, injuries, front office incompetence, and poor play. The only good news is it’s over. The Lakers won’t be making the playoffs. How does this get corrected though? We have three steps to get the Lakers back to being a championship contender. Here they are.
1. Trade Russell Westbrook
This is easier said than done. It’s going to be difficult to move Russ for anything significant. He has a 47 million dollar player option which he will absolutely opt in to. While this season wasn’t entirely his fault it’s clear that the fit with LeBron and AD was not up to par. With the issue of not being able to space the floor and needing the ball to be successful it’s untenable to keep him as a starter. Unless he’s willing to come off the bench and be a capable 6th man, the move needs to happen.
The Lakers could stretch and waive Russ, but nothing about that seems like a good idea either. You also don’t want to trade the two future first rounders the Lakers have in a Russ deal. Solution? Find a team who wouldn’t mind taking an expiring deal and will presumably buy out Russ. Potential candidates are Charlotte, Indiana, OKC, and Houston.
2. Fire Frank Vogel…but don’t hire Doc Rivers.
So the word on the street is that head coach Frank Vogel is going to be on the chopping block. It’s not his fault completely. He’s an elite defensive coach and the roster was stripped from what his calling card is. All of the athleticism and wing depth were removed from the Lakers for Russell Westbrook, leaving veterans and players without defensive chops. Strong D is what made the last two Laker teams a champion and competitive.
That’s the context, but here’s the factual. In sports they’re not going to blame the players and the front office is going to run away from accountability. That leaves the coach. When Vogel gets let go, the Lakers are going to need a new voice. There have been plenty of rumors and talk about hiring Doc Rivers. Firstly, Rivers coaches the Sixers. However, if the Sixers don’t make a significant run in the playoffs, don’t be surprised if Sixers president Daryl Morey looks elsewhere. If that happens, the Lakers shouldn’t hire Doc. While Doc is known as a players’ coach and does have quite the resume, it’s not what this Lakers team needs. Quin Snyder, the current Utah Jazz coach could be available if the Jazz falter early this postseason. That feels like a better fit from a schematic standpoint.
3. Front office Competence
Sure, the Lakers could do the “win now” thing and trade their 2027 and 2029 first round picks. The easiest thing to do when you’re in a hole is to try go for the quick fix. That isn’t going to work here. There has to be a realization that the western conference might not be winnable next season. As currently constituted, the Lakers will have a 37-going-on-38-year old LeBron James and an Anthony Davis who’s oft injury prone. If you’re not going to trade AD or LeBron then realistically you may have to eat whatever comes next season. That doesn’t sound sexy but it’s reality.
This is the price for the moves they made to get AD in the first place. They won a championship in 2020 and you never have to apologize for winning one. When it’s all said and done, the retooling begins now. This is where your front office has to be able to correct some mistakes. Ownership has to make better decisions, especially who advises on moves for the basketball team. Looking at you Jeanie Buss and am telling you to cease and desist with any Kurt or Linda Rambis meddling.
More importantly, it’s time to prepare for what’s next beyond LeBron James. It’s hard to put into perspective his sustained level of greatness. It is easy to put into perspective the reality of his championship window and what that’ll mean as far as extending his contract. Some hard decisions are on the way. If the Lakers play their cards right, they could come out alright on the other side. They just have to show a damn good poker face.