Five future Hall of Famers. One title-winning coach. No appearance in this year’s play-in, let alone play-off. That’s how disastrous the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA season has been.
The most iconic basketball franchise’s campaign is over and it’s only the beginning of April.
The Lakers lost 121-110 at the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night to extinguish their faint hopes of squeezing into the play-in as the 10th seed in the 15-team Western Conference.
Anthony Davis cuts a dejected figure as the LA Lakers crashed out of the NBA play-in race
They were eliminated from contention after losing 121-110 at the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday
Lakers talisman LeBron James (right) was a helpless onlooker vs the Suns due to an ankle injury
Without their talisman LeBron James, due to an ankle injury, the Lakers hobbled out meekly as they recorded a seventh-straight defeat to encapsulate a woeful term.
This is not how the Purple and Gold envisaged their 2021-22 season to go. Having won the joint-most championships in NBA history (17 alongside bitter rivals the Boston Celtics) they were not shy in declaring their intention at adding another come this summer.
After being bounced out in the first round of the NBA play-offs last term by the Suns, the Lakers regrouped and retooled in the off-season with the acquisition of point guard Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is a nine-time NBA All-star, who is triple-double machine, and his arrival was meant to usher in the latest Lakers ‘Big Three’ of he, James and Anthony Davis.
On paper, they would be one of the best starting fives in the league supplemented by a bench that includes fellow Future Hall of Famers in veterans Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony.
In reality though, that piece of paper was screwed up and thrown into the bin – that’s how rubbish the Lakers have been.
To emphasise the point further, head coach Frank Vogel’s side were the bookmakers’ second favourites ahead of the season.
And to again highlight how disappointing they’ve been; since pre-season title favourites were first announced before the 1984-85 season, the top two teams have never failed to make the play-offs. Up step the Lakers, then.
Many had high hopes of the Lakers’ ‘Big Three’ of Davis, James and Russell Westbrook this year
Complimenting the trio, the Lakers signed Carmelo Anthony (left) and Dwight Howard too
The majority of the NBA community will be pleased at the Lakers’ downfall. No matter what they do, the media will invariably focus on them – overlooking the brilliance of what the other 29 franchises achieve.
Even before the season had begun, the Lakers were taking up the column inches. Many believed they had it all to win the title, but there were those who doubted their credentials.
The ‘Big Three’ of James, Davis and Westbrook had its detractors over their lack of a three-point scoring, James and Westbrook’s ball-dominance and the fragility of Davis’ fitness.
In August 2021, James had enough of the naysayers and snapped, tweeting: ‘Keep talking about my squad, our personnel ages, the way he plays, he stays injured… Do me one favor PLEASE. Keep the same narrative ENERGY when it begins.’
Eight months on James is having to eat his own words.
James has been fiercely defensive about his team’s chances this season, despite detractors
Health was a constant issue this season for the Lakers, who rarely had Westbrook, Davis and James on the floor at the same time. Davis has only been available for about half the season, missing time with knee and foot ailments.
Westbrook and James have had to stagger their minutes as neither space the floor well, stifling their fluidity of their attack.
And then we come to Westbrook. The decline in his ability to shoot the basketball has been for all there to see for seasons, but under the microscopic lights at the Crypto.com Arena the glare has been alarming.
The 33-year-old has regularly been jeered by his own supporters and repeatedly mocked on social media as ‘Westbrick’ – a cruel nickname highlighting his inability to shoot.
Westbrook has become increasingly prickly in the media too as his slumps have been pointed out. This season he is shooting 29.8 per cent from three and 66.7 per cent from the free-throw line for one of his worst statistical seasons in his 14-year career to date.
Davis has missed huge chunks of the season once again, plagued by foot and knee ailments
A return to his hometown of Los Angeles hasn’t worked out for Westbrook but ‘Big Three’ could make another run together next season, though it’s unclear if they’ll want to give it another shot. Davis and James are under contract while Westbrook seems likely to exercise his £35.9million ($47m) player option.
‘That is the plan, but nothing is promised,’ said Westbrook. ‘You’ve kind of got to take one day at a time and you’ve got to pay the cards you are dealt.’
Critics of the Lakers will point to James as a main factor for those cards. It’s long been understood that it was he who vetoed the trade for Westbrook from the Washington Wizards.
James chose his friend over the talents of Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. Hield, now at the Indiana Pacers but then at the Sacramento Kings, would have given the Lakers the floor spacing and shooting that they desperately lack now. The 29-year-old is a career 39.8 per cent three-point shooter and 86.4 from the free-throw line.
Oh, and the Lakers’ refusal to trade for DeRozan is very much to the Chicago Bulls’ gain. DeRozan is a man reborn in the windy city and is enjoying a career-year that has seen him among the conversation to win Most Valuable Player throughout the season.
Westbrook’s trade hasn’t gone as planned with his shooting slump a sticking point for LA
DeRozan is averaging 28.2 points-per-match and 5.3 assists with the Bulls sitting in sixth in the Eastern Conference. Plenty are shaking their heads across the west coast.
While James the ‘General Manager’ hasn’t worked, James ‘the basketball superstar’ hasn’t been short of extraordinary standards.
The 37-year-old has looked 10 years younger at times with his scoring production, averaging 30.3 points for his highest average since 2008.
However, No 6 has been let down by his team-mates’ inability to support him and has often been a one-man band. With three matches left of the 82-game season, the Lakers have lost 48 times so far this season. This is the most by a James-team ever and it’s damning considering he’s played with less star-studded teams – especially during his first spell at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Questions will invariably now turn to Vogel’s position as head coach and where the team – which has nine NBA championships between them – can go from here.
James has defied his age once again though, averaging 30.3 points despite his team’s issues
The Lakers do not have a pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, as they gave it up in the deal that brought Davis to Los Angeles from New Orleans Pelicans in 2019, meaning they don’t even have that bargaining chip to reshape their roster.
Many expect Vogel to get axed, a remarkable turnaround considering he led them to the NBA title two seasons ago.
Speaking after their fate was sealed in Phoenix on Tuesday night, the 48-year-old said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ that his team won’t play in the post-season.
‘We fell short. We were eliminated tonight,’ he said.
‘I can say it has not been due to lack of effort. We have all put in the work. Our guys stayed fighting right until the end. We brought integrity to the process. We just fell short though a disjointed season.’
Head coach Frank Vogel is set to be sacked by the Purple and Gold after a disappointing term
If Vogel is to go, that may still not be enough for the Lakers to ensure James’ remaining powers aren’t wasted.
His four seasons in LA read missed play-offs (2019), NBA champions (2020), first-round exit (2021) and missed play-offs (2022) – something nobody would have imagined when he joined.
Many are calling this Lakers side the most disappointing team in the NBA’s 75-year history and you’re hard-pressed to argue that.
With Hollywood nearby, this has been a horror show from the Lake Show. Nobody involved with the franchise will want a sequel to this disastrous season with a heavy reboot needed.