No matter your preferred era, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a constant near the top of the NBA standings. The franchise has claimed championships during the 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Some of the greatest players in basketball history have donned the Purple (technically forum blue) and Gold.
This season, though, things have been a bit different.
With each passing night, Los Angeles falls further and further down the standings. As of March 2, the franchise seems destined for the play-in game as a best-case scenario. And while it’s tough to pin the entire campaign on a single misstep, some comments from the brass seem to suggest the Lakers are paying the price for living in the year 2012.
The Lakers simply can’t seem to turn their season around
For most of the 2021-22 campaign, Lakers fans have been trapped in a waking nightmare. Since coming out of the All-Star break, though, things have gotten even worse.
While results weren’t great before the intermission — LA hadn’t won multiple contests in a row since a four-game span that ended in early January — there was hope that the time off could be a turning point. In theory, a team full of veterans could refocus, buckle down, and go on a bit of a run. Instead, the opposite has happened.
In their first three games back, the Lakers have gone 0-3, with close losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets sandwiching a blowout against the New Orleans Pelicans. The mood has also turned inside of Crypto.com Arena, with fans audibly expressing their displeasure.
While LeBron James is keeping things positive in the media, things are pretty ugly if you look at the standings. The Lakers are currently sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference, putting them in the play-in game.
Even that isn’t a foregone conclusion, though. Los Angeles holds a two-game advantage in the loss column over the 10th- and 11th-place teams (New Orleans and the Portland Trail Blazers) but has also played two extra games. If you combine that reality with their strength of schedule — Tankathon says LeBron and company have the second-hardest slate of games remaining — it’s not impossible to imagine them slipping below water once and for all.
Frank Vogel and Rob Pelinka’s comments suggest the Lakers are living in the past
Although there is an element of misfortune when it comes to Anthony Davis’ injury, it would be naive to blame the Lakers’ struggles on bad luck. Instead, the culprits seem to be those within the organization who built a roster for the 2011-12 season rather than the 2021-22 one.
Take, for example, Frank Vogel’s comments after his club fell to the Dallas Mavericks on March 1. When asked about the source of his confidence in the club, the head coach said that he had “three guys in the top 75 of all time” at his disposal, with the hopes of getting a fourth one back into the lineup.
He, of course, is referring to James, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, and Davis.
While Vogel isn’t factually wrong, he’s vastly overstating the impact of that foursome. LeBron James is still posting incredible stat lines, but Westbook has crumbled in Hollywood. Carmelo is playing a shade under 27 minutes per night; if you’re expecting him to carry the club to victory, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Davis is more than capable of making an impact but has trouble staying on the court. At this point, he’s expected to miss at least four more weeks of action.
If you’re feeling charitable, you might contend that Vogel knows his squad is struggling and simply has to put on a happy face for the media. While that could be true, a clip of general manager Rob Pelinka seems to suggest there is (or at least was) legitimate organizational belief in the roster.
As seen in a clip from Inside the Lakers preserved on Instagram, Pelinka is seen telling the team that “you could say this room has the greatest basketball talent assembled on a team in recent history” as part of his discussion about having the right mindset. Again, there’s probably some element of PR — the general manager isn’t going to walk into the locker room and say how he’s really disappointed in the squad he’s assembled — but it seems unlikely that he’d completely lie through his teeth.
Those comments, combined with the roster construction, suggest that the Lakers are living in the past.
While you can’t deny that a roster featuring LeBron, Carmelo, Westbrook, and Davis possesses plenty of talent, it shouldn’t take a high level of basketball expertise to realize there’s a fatal flaw. Combining four stars, all of whom want the ball in their hands, is already risky. And that’s before you get to the age-related concerns and potentially overlapping on-court roles.
Without being in the room where it happened, it’s admittedly tough to know exactly who was pulling the strings and how far the Lakers brass genuinely believed this team could go. Going by what we can see on the floor, though, we can tell this squad was assembled about 10 years too late.