The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2021-2022 season expected to compete for a championship. After bowing out in the first round of the playoffs last season with superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis battling injuries, the Lakers made a bold move by trading for Russell Westbrook over the offseason. LA was far from a perfect team, but the path to the NBA Finals looked wide open in the Western Conference with Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray both likely sidelined for the year with injuries. Anything less than another deep playoff run was always going to be a disappointment.
The Lakers certainly have not looked like a championship contender so far. Through the first two months of the season, there hasn’t been a more frustrating team in the NBA.
The Lakers have had plenty of problems during their 16-15 start. Their offense currently ranks No. 25 in the league and has been dragged down by turnovers and an inability to get up enough three-pointers. The lack of wing depth has been a major issue after trading Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Westbrook. Westbrook himself got off to a slow start before coming on a bit lately. James has already missed 10+ games with an abdomen strain, and Davis is now on the shelf himself for at least the next month with a knee strain.
On top of all that, the Lakers are currently dealing with a Covid outbreak that left them without six rotation players for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are, of course, dealing with their own Covid outbreak that had 10 players in protocol last week.
The Bulls won, 115-110, behind another incredible fourth quarter performance from DeMar DeRozan — a player who wanted to be in LA before the Lakers chose Westbrook. While it’s unfair to get too upset at the Lakers for losing a game without AD and so many other players during an outbreak, it’s the way the Lakers lost that felt so frustrating.
Take this play for example: did anyone feel like boxing out Bulls guard Alex Caruso? Apparently not.
Westbrook and DeAndre Jordan should have been able to control that rebound without a problem. Instead, both just stood around and watched Caruso get the Bulls another possession. This has been a problem for the Lakers all year: right now, they No. 24 in the league in defensive rebounding. It’s even harder to compete on the glass without AD and Dwight Howard (who is in protocol), but this is an example of just being lazy.
Caruso was of course a member of the Lakers’ 2020 championship team in the bubble. The Lakers could have re-signed him this offseason, but they didn’t want to pay a big luxury tax bill.
Maybe the Lakers will eventually figure it out. If James and Davis are fully healthy, they still may be the best 1-2 punch in the league. Westbrook has looked better in Dec. The bigger problem might be the emergence of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns as powerhouse teams in the Western Conference.
If the Lakers don’t fix their issues, plays like this one will be how fans remember the 2021-2022 Lakers. That should be motivation enough to get it together.