If there was ever a team hoping that the old adage “there must be setbacks before progress” held true, it is the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers, who are just one game over .500 13 games into the season despite playing only three road games and an overall easy schedule.
Friday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves cemented the Lakers as a team of turmoil as they were outscored 40-12 in the third quarter after leading at the intermission, putting a sour tone on Russell Westbrook’s birthday celebration.
What is Going Wrong
The biggest problem for LA is their defensive inconsistency, which has resulted in them allowing the fourth-most points per game.
In the interest of full disclosure, LA should get better when players like Trevor Ariza, Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, and, of course, LeBron James, get past their injuries and work themselves into the rotation.
Until then, though, the Lakers’ older age and lack of want on the defensive end are slowing them down.
Another problem that the Lakers are facing is mismanagement from the top level, meaning the head coach, Frank Vogel.
The 2020 champion finally realized that he could not start DeAndre Jordan if he wanted to maximize his starting five’s output, though he is still trying to force a lineup featuring Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, and Carmelo Anthony, three very uninterested defenders, to work.
His commitment to starting Kent Bazemore is also highly questionable, given the “three and D specialist” ranks 145th of 212 qualified players in defensive rating, and is only making 30.8% of his triples.
Finally, one of the most egregious faults of this team is their carelessness with the ball, led by the league’s turnover leader in Westbrook.
With the second-most turnovers per game, trailing only the youthful Houston Rockets, LA is shooting itself in the foot by refusing to play defense and giving their opponents extra possessions.
How Can the Lakers Fix Themselves
Although the assimilation of Russell Westbrook has not been seamless, there have been signs that it could work out; rather than criticize the front office for pivoting to pick up the former MVP instead of trading for Buddy Hield, it is better to look around the league and see what the Lakers can do to continue to build their roster during the season.
An obvious candidate to either sign or trade for would be Kevin Love, who already won a championship with LeBron in 2016.
Love offers enough interior presence to secure at least eight rebounds per game, if not more, can shoot the three to create space for Davis inside, and is a willing defender.
As far as the current roster, the Lakers desperately need LeBron James to return from his abdominal injury, even though he is in his 19th season and should not have to be burdened to this degree.
With the “King” back in the lineup, the turnovers will come down, the pace will be more under control, and the team will have its closer back.
Above all, however, the Lakers need to play with intensity and desire— they showed what they can do earlier in the week by beating the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat in consecutive overtime contests, only to get embarrassed by the T-Wolves on Friday.
There are lots of new parts still trying to fit together, but there is no substitute for effort, and right now, that is what the purple and gold need more than anything.