What Went Wrong With the Lakers 2021-22 Season?

NBA Ball Image source: Fred Kearney

The Los Angeles Lakers are the most successful franchise in NBA history and have hosted some of the finest names ever to play the game of basketball. As a result, a lot of expectations resting on the shoulders of the purple and gold every season, and this year was no exception.

But that wasn’t the case this season. The Lakers finished the regular season with a 33-49 record and failed to make the play-in tournament, which is simply unacceptable. Jeanie Buss, the controlling owner of the franchise, expressed her disappointment in an interview with the LA Times. And why not? The Lakers currently have the fourth-highest payroll in the NBA, and a roster that boasts arguably four halls of fame-worthy players should at least make a deep run in the playoffs. So, what went wrong this season?

Many things! With bad trade deals, poor coaching, injuries, and subpar on-court performances, it was quite a year for Lakers fans. Let’s start with the front office….The Lakers were a completely different team coming into the regular season. It was no secret that the team needed more enforcement, especially when it came to shooters, which they struggled with last year.

The front office planned to fix this department by trading Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell to the Sacramento Kings for Buddy Hield, according to numerous reports. Instead, the Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook, sending Kuzma, Harrell, KCP, and their first-round pick in the 2021 draft to the Washington Wizards.

With Westbrook teaming up with Lebron James and Anthony Davis, season expectations went through the roof. Most NBA betting experts had the Lakers as early favourites to win the championship. Of course, there were eye raises as to how Westbrook will fit into the team, but we could understand why the team made the move. Relying on an injury-prone Davis and an aging Lebron was a huge risk. However, there were cheaper and more suitable superstar options available. DeMar DeRozan was one such option.

A big ‘what if.’ Had the Lakers traded for ‘Deebo’, they would have kept key players like Alex Caruso and their 2021 draft pick. Instead, DeRozan and Caruso teamed up in Chicago and the former had an all-star season. One thing we know is that the role players the front office surrounded Lebron and AD with was a crucial factor behind the Lakers’ 2020 championship run. These guys had the heart, were tough, and could do all the dirty work. But the Lakers chose to give up their defensive pieces to bring in Westbrook. Trading those pieces away to accommodate a declining Westbrook was a bad move by the front office. The Lakers had the best defense in the 2nd half of the 2020-21 regular season despite Lebron and AD’s injury. On the contrary, the defense was a mess throughout the 2021-22 season.

Russell Westbrook is a superstar, no doubt. But was he the right fit for a team led by Lebron? Absolutely not! Lebron is known for his ball possession, so surrounding him with three-and-defense players would have been the more suitable option. As we all know, the above doesn’t describe Westbrook. Lakers legend, Magic Johnson, believes the trade might go down as the worst deal in the Lakers’ history, and we couldn’t agree more. The Lakers were utterly disgusting to watch for almost the entire season. And while the Westbrook trade was just a fraction of the problem, it proved to be a very costly one.

Most fans love to put all of the blame on Westbrook. However, there are many more factors to point to, Lebron and AD being two. According to trade reports, Rob Pelinka was keen on going for Hield and the deal almost went through, but both players talked him into trading for Westbrook. Sure, we can understand Lebron’s reasons for wanting Westbrook; Russ also loves to handle the ball. And with Lebron being 37 years old, having someone to take some of the weight off his shoulders wasn’t a bad idea. However, there were better fits as stated earlier. Then there’s the biggest ‘what if’ of all; injuries. AD played just 40 games this season while Lebron played 56. Then there was Kendrick Nunn who didn’t feature in any game this season.

Westbrook, James, and Lebron, the supposed big three, played only 21 games together. This for sure affected the team’s rhythm. Also, players like Carmelo Anthony who were brought in to play minimal roles ended up averaging 26 minutes per game in 69 outings. What if the big three had more playing time together?

The final piece of the what-went-wrong pie goes to Head coach Frank Vogel, who received his marching orders at the end of the regular season. It’s hard to blame Vogel because of how the front office constructed the team: It’s well known that Vogel prefers to have defensive players on his roster so losing his defense during the offseason was definitely a blow. But the best coaches know how to switch their style up to accommodate new changes. In addition, one could tell that the players were not putting in their best effort. There was no urgency of play and Vogel gets a chunk of the blame for not instilling this. Will the Lakers be able to fix their issues? We’ll have to wait and see.