The Los Angeles Lakers are fresh off a season of total embarrassment. It’s not a stretch to say this as they entered the season with championship aspirations after a major roster overhaul during the summer and having a big three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. Now, however, they won’t even be taking part in the play-in tournament. This also comes off the heels of a historic James season. At an astonishing 37-years-old, James averages about 30 points, eight rebounds, and six assists per game. There are no excuses and it’s clear this roster does not work. The Lakers need to improve next season while they still have James.
Los Angeles Lakers: Three Steps to Improvement
1. A New Head Coach
Yes, Frank Vogel won the 2020 NBA championship with the Lakers. Sure, many can debate the merits of that title during the bubble, but that’s a conversation for another time.
This season made it clear that Vogel couldn’t navigate around the many problems the Lakers have. The problems are plentiful, but a coach should still get a roster like this into the play-in tournament at worst. Vogel couldn’t get the job done.
Perhaps it may be too early to think of candidates for this job, but there are very good coaches who seem to be on the hot seat depending on their teams’ playoff performances.
The first is Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz. His Jazz teams have always been very good, but also lacking the final touch to truly be a championship contender. Snyder can bring in his years of consistency and high-level play and pair it with James’ championship attitude. Another playoff failure for Utah, such as a first-round exit, may see Snyder fired.
Another option is Doc Rivers of the Philadelphia 76ers. If the James Harden experiment fails these playoffs, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the 76ers move for someone like Mike D’Antoni due to his experience with Harden. Rivers’ resume speaks for itself and he’d be an ideal fit with the Lakers.
2. End the Russell Westbrook Experiment
It’s easier said than done. Assuming Westbrook opts into his option, the Lakers will have a very hard time trading his $44 million contract. Westbrook is showing a clear decline and teams may not want to take part in that. The Lakers’ best bet is to find a rebuilding team willing to take on assets, such as future first-round picks, to bring in Westbrook. A potential reunion (and possible retirement) with the Oklahoma City Thunder is an idea.
Parting with first-round picks isn’t ideal, but it’s likely the only way to trade Westbrook. Yes, it will hurt the future, but the Lakers have a limited championship window. James is still elite. Davis, although proving to be injury-prone, should still be one of the league’s premier big men. This season was embarrassing, but the franchise still has the allure to bring in other top players. Dealing Westbrook opens cap space and gives minutes to players more deserving.
3. The Los Angeles Lakers Must Fill the Roster With Solid Role Players
The Lakers thought they did this step this past offseason, but they could not have been more wrong. Their approach was obvious – sign former big-name players to veteran minimum deals to create a team with both talent and experience. Some of these players included Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Avery Bradley, and Carmelo Anthony. A number of these players proved to be way past their prime and living on their former name. Anthony, however, can be excused as he filled his role quite nicely.
Role players such as Austin Reaves and Malik Monk earned their minutes. They’ve been bright spots for the Lakers and deserve to stay. Talen Horton-Tucker remains a good young player but is overpaid to an extent for his production.
Instead of targeting former big names, the Lakers need to surround their stars with role players who are good now. Wenyen Gabriel looks solid in spurts. Other free agents who can come in, among many others, are JaVale McGee, Bryn Forbes, Hassan Whiteside, Joe Ingles, Gary Harris, Otto Porter Jr, Isaiah Roby, and Danuel House. The theme here is apparent – size and shooting. These are players who the Lakers could afford, especially if Westbrook’s salary is shed.
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