Looking back on the Russell Westbrook deal, it’s clear what they were attempting to accomplish. Injury has cut the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2020-21 season short at the kneecaps. It was the second time in three seasons that this had happened. They needed a third star so that if either LeBron James or Anthony Davis went down with an injury, they wouldn’t fall behind in the standings and be eliminated from the playoffs.
The Lakers were correct in predicting that injuries would be a problem again this season when they moved for Westbrook in the offseason. Davis is now recovering from an MCL sprain, while James missed time early due to an abdominal issue. The Lakers, on the other hand, are hovering around.500 at the midway point of the season, and Westbrook is having perhaps his worst season.
It’s come to the point where Lakers coach Frank Vogel had to sit Westbrook in the final minutes of a 111-104 loss to the mediocre Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night. Not only was Westbrook taken out of the game, but ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported a few hours later that the Lakers’ executive staff agreed with the decision. «The organization would support [Vogel] in taking a strong stance while mentoring the star,» McMenamin stated.
It’s one thing to put a star on the bench while trying to avoid the play-in round. It’s a different story when a game concludes about 10 p.m. and a word comes out shortly after 1 a.m. that the front office has given the coach authorization to instruct that player. Is it really 2019 all over again, or hasn’t anything really changed?
Following Magic Johnson’s surprise retirement and ripping of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka on First Take, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes authored a report about the chaos in the Lakers front office, and ESPN’s Baxter Holmes ripped Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka on First Take.
The only difference between then and now, according to Davis, is that he truly wanted to play for the Lakers, so all they had to do to get him was trade the Santa Monica Freeway to the New Orleans Pelicans, and neither he nor James was hurt during the 2019-20 Bubble season.
When Davis went down with his calf injury in February of last season, the Lakers were the No. 2 seed in the West. The Lakers kept fighting even without their second-leading scorer and greatest defender, and on March 20, they were still in the running for the No. 2 spot. Then calamity occurred during the Lakers’ game against the Atlanta Hawks the following day. Solomon Hill collided with James, causing a high ankle sprain for the Lakers’ point and assist leader.
The Lakers lost ground in the standings and were forced to compete in a play-in round. Davis and James returned late in the regular season, and the Lakers were still considered a genuine contender for the NBA title as they moved to the first round to face the Phoenix Suns, who finished the regular season as the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed. With the Lakers ahead 2-1 in Game 4, Davis was injured again, James was never entirely fit following his comeback, and the series was lost.
Russell Westbrook is now on the scene. He had started slowly in his previous two seasons, one with the Houston Rockets and the other with the Washington Wizards, but he helped both teams tremendously late in the season. He averaged under 20 points per game and shot 42.4 percent from the floor in the first three months of last season with the Wizards.
He averaged a 23.7 point, 13.1 assist, 12.6 rebound triple-double in the final three months of that season while shooting 44.9 percent from the floor. During that span, he didn’t miss a single game and helped the Wizards embark on a run that saw them reach the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
The Lakers are in win-now mode with James, so they dealt three rotation players and a first-round selection for Westbrook and the $90-plus million remaining on his contract’s last two years, decimating their depth. This once-promising defensive unit, coached by Vogel, is currently ranked 18th in defensive rating, which is one of the reasons Westbrook was benched on Wednesday.
The breaking point, according to McMenamin’s account, was Westbrook’s layup to Caris LeVert. The scouting report stated that Westbrook should play LeVert one way, which he did not, resulting in the bucket. This comes on top of his recent shooting slump, during which he has only shot higher than 40% from the field once in the last seven games.
Pulling the trigger on Westbrook didn’t appear to be a bad idea at the time, but the Lakers put all their chips on the table and handed over the keys to the automobile. The Wizards now have a better record than the Lakers.
Vogel’s employment was «seriously jeopardized,» according to Bill Oram and Sam Amick of The Athletic on Tuesday. Kurt Rambis, a familiar character from the Holmes investigation from 2019, appeared in the report.
According to the narrative, despite the injuries, owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka are unhappy with the team’s path this season. The lack of success is more a reflection of the roster they agreed to, but they are undoubtedly dissatisfied. Rambis, on the other hand, delivered the message to the staff. The Lakers dealt with their December COVID epidemic immediately after he informed his staff that their careers were on the line unless the team improved.
Rambis has the official position of director of basketball relations with the Lakers, and his wife, Linda, is one of Buss’ closest friends and advisors. According to Holmes’ claim, Linda is referred to as the Lakers’ «shadow owner,» and one source even alleged that she manipulates Buss. Linda is also a close friend and ally of Pelinka, according to him, for reasons that perplexed many in the organization.
Kurt Rambis coached the Lakers for the majority of the 1998-99 season, during which they went 24-13 and 31-19 overall due to the lockout. They were swept by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs, and the next season, Phil Jackson was their coach. Rambis led the Minnesota Timberwolves to a.195 winning % in two seasons from 2009-11, and the New York Knicks to a.321 winning percentage in 28 games in 2015-16.
Rambis has a lot of clout in the Lakers organization these days. When the Lakers interviewed Tyronn Lue for the head coach position in 2019, Rambis and Pelinka wanted him to put Jason Kidd on his staff, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, McMenamin, and NBA Insider Marc Stein. Lue joined the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers and is currently the head coach.
While there are various reports on how much Rambis and Pelinka’s desire for Kidd on the staff contributed to Lue’s decision not to take the Lakers’ position, Kidd had been on Vogel’s staff for two seasons when he was hired.
The Los Angeles Times’ Dan Woike and Broderick Turner reported on Tuesday, after The Athletic piece was published, that there were no «present intentions» to replace Vogel, but Rambis is a frequent figure around the coaching staff. He attends their meetings on a regular basis and gives numerous suggestions.
So now that management has given the green light to do what needs to be done with the botched Westbrook transaction, it looks that the Lakers’ issues haven’t changed since the media frenzy surrounding the team during the 2019 NBA Playoffs, in which they were not a participant. The Lakers’ greatest players are suffering from health issues, and it’s unclear who in the front office is making the decisions.
The one certainty about the Lakers is that the Westbrook trade has been a disaster for the first half of the season. They’re on their way to a significantly worse record than last season, when they finished 12 games over.500, and after Davis returns to the lineup, they’ll have a weaker overall club around their stars.
Changes are required, but where should they begin? They have the option to fire Vogel if they believe his position is no longer «currently safe,» and Westbrook’s contract will expire next season, sparking interest in him when this one is finished.
All of this is understandable, but if the Lakers are serious about winning in the last years of James’ career, the cronyism must end. Either they hire some individuals to make basketball judgments and not to hang out with a happy hour, or they’ll turn into the Dallas Cowboys, with all the glitz but none of the gold.