The Los Angeles Lakers have looked nothing like a championship-contending team. They have stumbled through the first 51 games, narrowly staying in the back end of the playoff picture. Russell Westbrook’s inability to fit into the mix has brought forth growing concerns about roster construction.
All of that points to general manager Rob Pelinka’s decision-making, which led to the Lakers falling into this nightmarish dilemma.
Lakers are struggling to live up to championship expectations
After the Lakers fell to a first-round playoff exit, they went barreling into a summer headlined by significant roster change.
Pelinka made it priority No.1 to reconstruct the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to lift them into NBA title contention. However, the 2021-22 campaign has been anything but encouraging as the Lakers are almost out of the playoff picture.
The Lakers’ battle with injuries has resulted in their Big Three playing together for 17 of the first 51 games. Los Angeles has been marred by inconsistent play featuring defensive issues and lackluster performances.
All those shortcomings point to a clear root of the problem.
Rob Pelinka forced the Lakers into a nightmare situation of his own doing
The Lakers find themselves amid an undesirable situation, especially for a team led by LeBron James less than two years removed from winning an NBA title.
Los Angeles’ immediate future is murky, a term rarely associated with the four-time league MVP. It’s reached a point where the franchise’s playoff aspirations are not guaranteed. As much as the players and head coach Frank Vogel want to avoid the conversation, it all comes back to the roster construction.
Last offseason, Rob Pelinka set the tone for the team’s formation around James and Anthony Davis by acquiring Westbrook. Los Angeles eyed adding a dynamic point guard to ease the workload of its two stars, but Westbrook’s fit has been questionable at best.
Beyond adjusting to a role he hasn’t played before, the 33-year-old hasn’t provided the team the missing element to contend for a championship. Injuries to James and Davis have certainly impacted Westbrook’s performance and role on the floor, but his lack of outside shooting consistency and questionable decision-making have become constant issues.
Moreover, Westbrook’s $44.2 million salary has caused the biggest problem, essentially forcing the Lakers to construct a roster with players under veteran’s minimum contracts. They’ve had to add older talent rather than having the financial space to bring aboard players who would fit better.
Carmelo Anthony and Malik Monk have certainly proven worth well beyond their salaries. Still, the roster has become heavily reliant on James in his 19th campaign to remain competitive. Meanwhile, many of their players beyond Westbrook, such as Talen Horton-Tucker, DeAndre Jordan, and Kent Bazemore, have become largely unappealing in the trade market.
It’s hard to see anything other than the Lakers being in a tough bind, and it’s all of their own doing under Pelinka’s supervision.
Los Angeles has no choice but to move forward with its current roster
As much as the Lakers want to be active participants ahead of the Feb. 10 trade deadline, the franchise must face reality.
Los Angeles doesn’t possess the desired talent and contracts other teams would be willing to absorb. It has no choice but to make the most of its roster and reconstruct it again next summer. Westbrook has 30 regular-season games to prove he can help push the Lakers into championship contention.
Meanwhile, their Big Three must find the cohesion it has lacked all season long. The window of time is much shorter, but Pelinka and the front office’s decision-making put them in this tough spot. It’s up to the players and coaching staff to find a way to make it work. There is simply no way around it.