Russell Westbrook Is the Tip of the Iceberg for the LA Lakers
A future Hall of Fame inductee arrives at the 2020 NBA champions and fails to fire. Questions will be asked, especially when the roster is stacked with world-class players including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Anthony Davis.
There's little doubt that Russell Westbrook has underperformed since turning up in the city of Angels with the pressure of expectation on his shoulders. However, as is usually the case, everything isn't as it seems with the Lakers, and blaming Westbrook isn't the answer.
Square Holes, Round Pegs
Ever been camping and tried to fit the wrong-shaped pegs into the holes? That's what watching the LA Lakers is like currently because the squad is devoid of chemistry. It's not hard to see why - the franchise has too many of the same style of players on the court. Westbrook, for example, loves to dominate the ball and attack defenders by making it to the line or the basket.
Unfortunately for LA, so do James and Davis. Maybe the management assumed James' greatness would enable him to find a position for all three men on the court, but if he has found a solution, he hasn't told the rest of his teammates. This means there isn't enough space or time for the big stars to manipulate the defense, which is why the team is has a losing record after 53 matches.
The side's percentage of .481 isn't helped by its willingness to give up easy points. Still, most pundits and fans would have put their mortgages on James and the rest of the squad scoring LA's way out of trouble. So far, it's not happening.
LA's problems trace back to the end of the city's NBA Championship-winning campaign. Riding on the crest of a wave doesn't last if you don't cement your status as the top dog. The Lakers traded poorly, and now the franchise is suffering as a result. For instance, the side is missing a solid defender that can shoot three-pointers, a baller who can fit around James and Davis.
Before the 2021 season, Kyle Lowry was in the management's sights until they refused to trade Talen Horton-Tucker. The deal tanked and Westbrook arrived in LA instead. Internally, Alex Caruso should have been awarded a hefty contract after helping his team to immortality in 2020. They low-balled him, the Chicago Bulls picked up the pieces, and the Lakers' defense is as leaky as a sieve. Lastly, the rotation players that keep the energy levels high during games were unsuitable, with Nunn and Ariza hardly featuring, and Rajon Rondo already traded.
Compared to the Golden State Warriors, a franchise that added Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala, the Lakers traded poorly and are way down the NBA picks list where the Championship is concerned with odds of +1900. GSW's odds are +500, making them the second favorite for the title. The bookmakers' projections go to show the effect of focusing on the entire roster, and not just superstars that will appease the supporters.
An Aging Squad & Constant Injuries
No one likes to point to the average age of the roster because it's amazing to watch world-class athletes competing at the top level well into their 30s. However, the ballers mentioned already, the ones expected to take the Lakers to a second Championship in as many years, are from spring chickens. Building the team around a 36-year-old James is just the beginning.
Russell Westbrook is 33, as is DeAndre Jordan, Carmelo Anthony is 37, and Trevor Ariza is 36 years old. Even if they are at the same level as the rest of the league, they are either on the edges of their primes or well past them. Not being able to turn on the afterburners consistently means the Lakers lack the speed and athleticism required to make it to the playoffs.
Then there are the inevitable injuries that occur with age. LeBron James is a gaping hole, and he isn't the only one as Ariza and Kendrick Nunn have barely played this season. Although Westbrook's stats have improved without James on the court, he can't accommodate for the lack of harmony that happens when the team fields 15 different starting lineups halfway through the season.
Westbrook can do more, considering he's one of the best point guards to play the position in decades, but it's wrong to lay the blame at his door. The LA Lakers have a lot of rebuilding to do overall if they are going to get themselves out of this mess.