The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2021 NBA season with high expectations from many people, including Magic Johnson. Frank Vogel’s squad got bounced by the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs in 2020. Now, two years removed from the “Bubble Championship,” LA is in grave danger of missing the postseason entirely.
Where did the Lakers go wrong? Rob Pelinka and the front office brought in a lot of new faces, most notably Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Malik Monk. Unfortunately, the current mix of players hasn’t meshed well together, and it shows in the team’s 31-47 record.
Magic Johnson can’t wrap his head around the Lakers’ performance, and he suggests it’s time to take accountability.
Magic Johnson criticizes the Lakers’ performance during the 2021 season
Depending on who you ask, Magic Johnson makes a legitimate case as the greatest LA Laker of all time. His name holds weight within the organization, and his opinion genuinely matters. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have many great things to say about this year’s team.
LeBron James and company have struggled throughout the 2021 season. Their 31-47 record has them sitting in 11th place in the Western Conference. If the playoffs started today, LA would be out.
Johnson is disappointed in the performance of his beloved franchise. During a recent appearance on ESPN’s First Take, he weighed in on what went wrong for the Lakers.
“Accountability is big here,” said Johnson. “The Lakers have all season not taken accountability. Whether that’s individual play, on the defensive end, whether that’s playing together. My problem is with them making all these excuses. We’re making excuses again. Quit making excuses. This thing did not work out. The parts did not fit.”
Johnson also doesn’t understand how a team with four future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony could lose so many close games.
“I’ve never seen a Lakers team lose all these close games in the fourth quarter. We couldn’t win. You mean to tell me we can’t win close games? That bothers me.”
The Hall of Famer believes the same core will be in LA together next year
LeBron James played a major role in the Lakers bringing Russell Westbrook to LA. The front office acquired Russell Westbrook and two draft picks from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and a 2021 first-rounder.
The Lakers gave up a lot to land Westbrook. However, he’s struggled to find his way and hasn’t looked like an All-Star, let alone an MVP.
With many people speculating LA will move on from Westbrook in the offseason, Magic Johnson says not so fast.
“Stephen A., they’re coming back with the same team,” Johnson said. “Not the same nine role players, but the core three [James, Davis, Westbrook] is probably going to have to come back. Because you can’t attach a first-round pick trying to trade Westbrook. You just can’t do that because now, we don’t have any more first picks.”
The 12-time All-Star believes the Big 3 must find a way to make it work, at least through the 2022 season. That starts with finishing this campaign strong and hopefully sneaking into the Play-In Tournament.
What changes are most likely to come in the offseason?
Given LA’s consistent struggles throughout the 2021 season, it’s safe to assume that Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss will be looking to make significant changes for next season.
Magic Johnson doesn’t think the Lakers can afford to part ways with Russell Westbrook after this season, but it’s undoubtedly possible. The former MVP has played better basketball over the recent stretch of games, but he’s underwhelmed most of the way. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.1 assists, but his shooting numbers have been erratic.
Suppose the Lakers opt to keep Westbrook on board. In that case, the front office must decide which role players to keep and which to swap out for better fits. Outside of Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Austin Reaves, and Talen Horton-Tucker, it’s difficult to make a case for some of the other names to stay outside of financial reasons.
Personnel aside, Frank Vogel appears to be on the way out as head coach, regardless of how the season ends.
“It’s not all on Frank Vogel,” said Johnson. “But we know he’s going to get fired. Somebody’s gotta take the blame for this mess. It’s a mess. So you know Vogel’s going to take some of this blame. They’re going to point the finger at him.”
Vogel doesn’t appear to be the right coach for the job. However, as Magic Johnson suggested, the players must take accountability for their play as it’s their legacy on the line.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference