Despite having championship expectations entering the year, LA is now officially out of the running for the NBA Play-In Tournament and will see its season end much earlier than expected.
But who is at fault for this disaster the Lakers have been calling a season? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is blaming everyone – including LeBron James.
Stephen A. Smith blasted LeBron James and the entire Lakers organization
Everyone had been waiting on the Lakers to figure things out this year, but they never quite did.
After the front office tore down its championship-winning roster and added a bunch of old pieces that don’t fit together, the Lakers started struggling from the get-go. Injuries haven’t helped, either, as Anthony Davis has missed almost half of the season.
So, not having various guys at certain times combined with the disappointing play of Russell Westbrook and other veterans have led to the Lakers currently sitting at 31-48 and in 11th place in the Western Conference. Their loss on April 5 – and the San Antonio Spurs’ win – clinched their spot outside of the NBA Play-In Tournament.
They will miss the playoffs.
So, how did we get here? How did the NBA’s most proud franchise, led by one of the greatest players ever in LeBron James, fall flat on its face and miss the play-in tourney, let alone the postseason?
Stephen A. Smith is blaming everyone from the top down.
“The Lakers are a national basketball atrocity; let’s just call it what it is. They’re an atrocity,” Smith said on the April 5 episode of NBA Countdown. “And it starts from the top down. It starts [with] Jeanie Buss allowing Linda Rambis to have power. It goes from there and disintegrates down to Rob Pelinka, who feels that as long as you’re wearing the Purple and Gold and you’re a Laker, you’ll be just fine. It sifts further down to Frank Vogel, who lost the team … And in the middle of all it is the culpability on the shoulders of LeBron James.”
Wait, really? LeBron? He’s the only player actually performing well this year, averaging a whopping 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists at 37 years old.
Smith made it clear that he isn’t talking about James, the player, but rather James, the general manager.
“Everywhere you turn shows ineptitude, shows inefficiency, shows an embarrassment of arrogance that is undeniable; they are a basketball atrocity,” Smith said.
He continued later on in the segment: “LeBron let his emotions get in the way, and he got sold on embracing Russell Westbrook, when he should have known better since he’s a basketball savant.”
How can the Lakers fix this for next year?
First of all, Stephen A. Smith is correct. Everyone is at fault for the Lakers’ disappointing season. Russell Westbrook and head coach Frank Vogel have been the scapegoats, but LeBron James and general manager Rob Pelinka had a lot of say in putting this atrocious roster together.
Why couldn’t they make it work with players who already won titles in LA? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso fit this team much better than the veterans currently on the roster.
But what can LA do to fix its mistakes?
Westbrook will likely opt into his $47 million player option, and the injury-prone Anthony Davis is under contract through 2024-25. So, those two, along with James, will likely be back next season.
That means the Lakers probably won’t make any big moves, at least until next year’s trade deadline when Westbrook’s contract starts expiring.
They could, however, find a new coach. It appears they are going to part ways with Vogel, but it’s hard to think of anyone who would want to coach this roster. Perhaps some fresh eyes can figure things out and somehow make Westbrook, James, and Davis work.
All in all, the Lakers have been the most disappointing team in years. And if they don’t want LeBron James to leave the team a mess when he becomes a free agent in 2023, they will have to work some magic and make this team better next year than it was this season.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference