Eventually, the Lakers made them disastrous

On Tuesday, LeBron James could only watch how the Lakers’ hopes for Tuesday’s game were justified.

Once again the Los Angeles Lakers fought without one of their key players. Once again, the Lakers tried their best to make the most of their circumstances.

However, this time the Lakers could not just promise to win the next game. Also, the Lakers could not hope that someday they will finally have a completely healthy list.

On Tuesday, the Lakers lost the Phoenix Suns 116-97, marking the end of a disappointing 2021-22 season with three games left. The Lakers (31-48) are guaranteed to miss the playoffs, losing their seventh game in a row, and the San Antonio Spurs (34-45) took a place in the playoffs after beating the Denver Nuggets. These events coincided in time with the fact that the star of the “Lakers” LeBron James was eliminated in the second game in a row (and the fourth of the last five) due to dislocation of the left ankle.

Not surprisingly, James ’recent absence coincided with the Lakers missing the NBA playoffs after winning the NBA title just 17 months ago and, incidentally, 10 months after losing to the Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Or that Lakers forward Anthony Davis competed in a sprain on his right leg, which he described as “a little more painful than usual.”

Game summary: Suns 121, Lakers 110

During the 2021-22 season, the Lakers never resembled a contender for the title, and James (24 games), Davis (39) and many players spent considerable time aside.

“Our goal was to win the championship,” Davis said. “I thought we had pieces, but injuries prevented that.”

The Lakers have often argued that the outcome would have been much different if their players had not missed 230 games together due to injuries and illness, as well as another 39 related to COVID-19. If only they hadn’t put up 39 different starting lineups to take into account all these overlaps. If only James, Davis and Russell Westbrook had played together more than 21 games. Had only Kendrick Nann, a key off-season signing free agent, had missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a bruise in his right knee. Then perhaps the Lakers could play the game in June instead of making holiday plans in April.

We had the tools. Some things got out of our control. There were things we could control and some couldn’t. … You can’t excuse yourself about that. We just didn’t succeed. “

– Lakers forward Carmela Anthony

Not surprisingly, the Lakers repeated that chorus shortly after the Suns ended their season early again. The Lakers are less than two calendar years away from winning the NBA title, when neither James nor Davis had significant illnesses.

“I would say that if LeBron and E.D. “We played 15 games together that year,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We would have a year like what we’re doing now.”

However, do not buy this argument. The Lakers did not miss the playoffs for the first time in four years due to injuries. The Lakers have barely hung above or below 0.500 all season, largely because of their flawed list.

The mistakes began when the Lakers decided which third star to pair with James and Davis. Contrary to what Magic Johnson claimed on ESPN First Take this week, it seems incredible that the Lakers could have acquired Demar DeRozan at the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers would have to execute a sign and trade with San Antonio, a move that the Lakers would not be able to carry out because they would be exposed to a rigid cap. The Lakers were close to acquiring then-Kings guard Buddy Hilda until they decided otherwise with the Westbrook landing.

But even if James and Anthony have acknowledged their role in Westbrook’s arrival, the Lakers stars don’t deserve as much blame as the front office. First, James and Davis appreciated Hild or Westbrook’s potential move. Second, the front office is always responsible for determining which trades work best for the organization.

In this case, the Lakers made a mistake by acquiring Westbrook from the Washington Wizards in exchange for a promising young player (Kyle Kuzma), a decent pick-and-roll player (Montreal Harel) and a reliable defender (Centaves Caldwell-Poe). Although none of these players proved reliable enough to help the Lakers overcome the injuries of James and Davis last season, they at least gave Los Angeles the necessary depth.

The Lakers rationalized the move in part amid optimism that Westbrook could somehow coexist with James and Davis. They believed that Westbrook could complement James and Davis with additional games at a faster pace. They predicted that Westbrook could mitigate the expected absences related to injuries, for their 37-year-old star (James) and his colleagues (Davis), who often struggle with injuries.

The season, full of great expectations, is coming to a disappointing end in Lakerland.

Despite Westbrook’s resilience, none of these scenarios occurred consistently. The Lakers battled James, Davis and Westbrook, who played together (11-10). They looked just as ineffective among duets with James and Westbrook (25-30) as well as Davis and Westbrook (17-22). The Lakers looked their worst when Westbrook became No. 1, as they had for most of their 14-year career in the NBA (0-5). The Lakers went 5-5 even in the Westbrook games published a triple-double.

The Lakers never resorted to removing Westbrook from the bench. However, Westbrook has never proved reliable in both significant and reduced roles, including in difficult times.

“So many different things have happened, but I personally don’t like pointing fingers or blaming anyone,” Westbrook said. “I can only control myself and what I can do with my actions.”

Westbrook should have taken more responsibility for its shortcomings. However, it did not help that the Lakers lacked both a defensive identity and the depth of the list to hide its shortcomings.

The Lakers exacerbated their mistakes when they filled most of their roster with veterans to meet their needs both in attack (Carmela Anthony, Wayne Ellington) and in defense (Trevor Orissa, Dwight Howard, Deandre Jordan, Avery Bradley Kent Basmore). These players struggled either with health (Ariza), with consistency (Bradley, Howard), or with general utility (Ellington, Basemore). The Lakers then declined to play actor Alex Caruso amid growing concerns about their luxury taxes. They did so by abandoning how Caruso would maximize his titled riches amid his consistent chemistry with James, his presence in defense and his general hustle and bustle.

The Lakers continued to nurture some young talent in Austin Reeves, Malik Mank and Talen Horton-Tucker. But none of these players could camouflage a faulty Lakers list. On paper, the Lakers represented four players on the NBA’s anniversary team (James, Davis, Westbrook and Anthony). In fact, the Lakers have exposed a completely different identity.

In James one of the best players is still playing in his heyday, despite the fact that this is his 19th season. They also had a star colleague in Davis who was struggling to stay healthy. Their third star, Westbrook, showed both reluctance and an inability to adjust their game. Anthony, one of the NBA’s top scorers ever, was a bench-top scorer who offered almost nothing in defense.

What will happen to the Lakers coach Frank Vogel after the team dropped out of the competition?

To the Lakers ’credit, they mostly competed to the very end. With the exception of a dispute on the bench, which was led by Davis and Howard during the second game of the season, the Lakers had no known problems with the locker room. Unlike their other teams, which fought for the championship, which did not succeed, the “Lakers” were not destroyed due to personal clashes. The Lakers remained mediocre because they had a flawed list.

«We just didn’t succeed, ”Anthony said. “We had the tools. Some things got out of our control. There were things we could control and some couldn’t. It was nothing more than we did. You can’t excuse yourself about that. We just didn’t succeed. “

Undoubtedly, the overlapping injuries affected the level of comfort of the players in their roles and the acquaintance on the field with teammates. This variable also challenged Vogel with an estimate of its rotation. But because the Lakers ’friend office overloaded the team with too many veteran players, it seemed inevitable that they would oversee the overcrowded coaching.

“The world would like to see – and we would like to see – what this team could be like if we were healthy for 82 years,” Davis said, “if it happens again next year or if we have the same team.” Who knows. We need to sum up this season about what worked and what didn’t, and go from there. But I really think we could have done something special if LeBron and I, mostly me, had been healthy all season. ”

So where do the Lakers go from here?

Are the Lakers allowing Vogel to finish the last year of his contract? Are the Lakers considering their expected free agents, including Mank, Anthony, Howard, Bradley, Ellington and Basemore? Are the Lakers trying to rehearse Westbrook for another year (provided he uses his $ 47 million player option next season) in hopes of playing James and Davis again?

“Such a plan, but nothing is promised,” Westbrook said. “You need to take one day every day. As I said throughout the season, you need to be able to play the cards that are dealt to you. Yes, you want to see what it looks like and what it entails over a season of 82 games. But we’re also not sure if that’s guaranteed. I just hope we have a chance to do something in the future. “

Despite the Lakers ’rhetoric about their injuries, it seems unthinkable that they will keep most of the list that didn’t make it to the tournament. For better or worse, the Lakers’ successes and failures over the past three years have revolved around how healthy and effective James and Davis can be. But here’s a reasonable assumption that the Lakers will remain loyal to James and Davis out of respect for their stellar presence, their resumes and work habits.

After failing to do so last summer, the Lakers must prove they can find the right third option to complement James and Davis, and find the right mix of role-playing players. Of course, it will also help if the Lakers have fewer injuries. However, the Lakers ’injuries were only symptoms of a failed season. The root cause of the franchise’s shortcomings goes back to the team’s personnel decisions.

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Mark Medina is a senior writer and analyst at NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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