Coming into the season the Lakers had championship aspirations. Winning a title just two seasons ago led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis showed that this team can be title contenders. After a disappointing 2021 season derailed by injury, the Lakers decided to go all-in on another superstar. They traded Kyle Kuzma, KCP, Montrezz Harrell, and the 22nd pick in this past year’s draft to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Russell Westbrook and some future second picks.
At the time the trade was questionable. Many including myself found themselves asking how exactly would Russ fit next to LeBron. Now as of Friday night, the Lakers sit at 23-23, good for 7th in the Western Conference. There have been many fans and critics putting a lot of blame on Russell Westbrook and Frank Vogel. These claims are unfair, so I’ve decided to put together a “blame pie” for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Front Office/LeBron aka “LeGM”: 75%
The Lakers went into the off-season knowing they couldn’t run in back with that same 2021 roster. They needed more size on defense and to get better shooting. For context, they finished 28th in free throw shooting and 21st in three-point shooting. They also committed the third-most turnovers in the league, so they needed to get more efficient on the offensive end.
So what do the Lakers go out and do? Trade for Russell Westbrook, aka one of the most inefficient players in the NBA. To be fair, they did search other avenues for a trade, but those never came to fruition. Before acquiring Russ, LA looked at Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Buddy Hield. Obviously, those deals never happened. Instead, the Lakers traded the little depth they had left for a superstar that was no longer special with a terrible contract.
Russell Westbrook is set to make $44M in 2022 and another $47M in 2023 (player option). So going into this season, the Lakers are paying their big three a combined $117.6M and jumps to almost $130M in 2023. So how exactly were the Lakers planning on building this roster going forward? The only players they have under contract for 2023 outside of the big three are Kendrick Nunn (player option), Talen Horton-Tucker, and Austin Reaves (club option). That’s just on the financial side of things and how bad it is.
The overall fit of the Lakers roster is suspect. How exactly did they improve their roster defensively? Russ hasn’t played a lick of defense in a few years. He often ball-watches and instead of fighting through the screen to stay on his man, he’ll switch causing a mismatch. He shoots 30.5% from the three-point line for his career while shooting under that number in four out of the last five seasons. After being good at free throw shooting for the first nine years of his career (82.3%), that number has dropped to 70% since 2017-18. So how exactly did this improve their team?
They did not have good bigs in 2021. With them not having any good bigs, that forced Frank Vogel to play Anthony Davis at the center position. How did that go? He missed half of the games and is hurt yet again this year. So how exactly does the acquisition for a 6’3″, below-average shooting, turnover machine, inefficient point guard help out this Laker roster? If the Lakers were going to get a guy like Buddy Hield, all they would’ve had to give up was Kuzma and Harrell to match his salary. He makes $22.4M this season while dropping in price by almost $2M a season until 2024. He provides both shooting and cap space, something the Lakers drastically need.
But now their roster is the oldest in the NBA with guys like Deandre Jordan, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, etc. Guys who are on veteran’s minimum contracts that they now want to get rid of but don’t want to play or give up draft picks to move. But sure let’s blame Russ and Vogel for putting this sh*t show of a team together. They rank 19th in defensive rating, 27th in points allowed, 26th in points given up in the paint, and 21st in opponent second-chance points.
Now they are apparently looking to move off Westbrook? What exactly are you going to get for an athletic point guard that doesn’t fit what you’re trying to do. He’s also been traded three times since 2019, with one of the biggest salaries in basketball, combined with a decline from his former MVP days. What are they trying to accomplish? Are they panicking to try and fix a mistake, or are they genuinely trying to get better as a team?
Russell Westbrook: 25%
Russell Westbrook needs to play better. He’s averaging career-worst across the board while his usage rating is also down. So with the ball in his hands less, he’s still not playing well. What’s more concerning is the fact that he still leads the NBA in turnovers. If he had a usage rate as he did in 2017 or even 2021 it would make sense. But he has the 22nd highest usage in the league. The worst part is his player efficiency is only 0.1 points off his career-worst of 15.2, which happened in his rookie season. Bad shooting, inefficiency, careless mistakes, etc.
I’ve already broken down my issues with Russ in my post “Russell Westbrook, why triple-doubles don’t matter“. Also here’s a quote from my winners and losers trade breakdown that has been correct up till this point:
The depth of the Lakers was already terrible last year, and trading away three good depth pieces plus their FRP just killed their depth. the rest of their roster will consist of MLE players and veteran minimums, as they do not have a lot of cap space to create a quality, well-rounded team. Come playoff time, this will be a huge, huge problem. With AD’s well-documented injury history, LeBron being 37 by the time next year starts, and Westbrook’s lack of a quality shot, the Lakers could be early favorites, but be potential disappointments.
The reason I cannot blame Westbrook more is the Lakers should have known this. They allowed LeBron James to pick his friends to play with instead of allowing the front office to do their due diligence and build a championship-quality team.
Frank Vogel: 0%
Is Vogel a top-tier coach? No, but he does not deserve blame for this piss poor roster. He has shown the ability to get to the playoffs and do good when given a good team. Outside of 2015 when Paul George missed all but 6 games with that freak leg injury, he’s gotten his teams to the playoffs. He’s reached the conference finals three times and been an NBA champion in 2020. Sure, he possibly needs to do better with some of his rotations in-game, but, with the roster they put together, there’s only so much he can do. The roster only has three players from last year (LeBron, AD, THT), and a bunch of aging veterans with limited skillsets.
No other primary ball handlers, no players that can hold it down defensively, just a bunch of has-been all-stars and has-been role players. How can you ask a head coach to lead a team to championship contention with this bad of a roster? Once again, he is not within the upper echelon of coaches, but this is nowhere near his fault.