Road to Revival: Lakers more fit for reality television than NBA season
The Los Angeles Lakers went down in flames to end the 2021-22 season, waving the white flag en route to an uninspiring 33-49 record. After a drama-filled season that rivaled “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” fans of the Purple and Gold hoped — and deserved — to see some semblance of a winning product with training camp around the corner.
However, an offseason ripe with head-scratching moves from the front office made it abundantly clear that the team was more committed to being a reality show than raising banners in Crypto.com Arena.
So, ladies and gentlemen, grab your popcorn, because season two of ‘Keeping Up with the Lakers’ is just weeks away.
At the focal point is everyone’s favorite star, Russell Westbrook — the Kim Kardashian of the show, if you will. All signs pointed to a nasty yet very necessary breakup between the two parties at the season’s end, sealed and stamped by his standoffish exit interview.
When asked about whether LeBron James and Anthony Davis let him be himself on the floor, Westbrook scoffed, claiming, “That wasn’t true. Let’s be honest … I was never given a fair chance just to be who I needed to be to help this team.”
With an inevitable breakup on the horizon, general manager Rob Pelinka shopped Westbrook and his 47 million dollar expiring contract through the offseason. A week could barely go by without a new trade rumor popping up. Gordon Hayward? Kyrie Irving? Buddy Hield? Myles Turner? Bojan Bogdanovic? Westbrook probably had his bags packed, heavily anticipating his new destination.
Every general manager was fully aware of the tire fire that had taken place within the Lakers organization during the season. With apparent knowledge that the Lakers had backed themselves into a corner, the leverage play was to juice the organization of all their assets, namely their 2027 and 2029 first-round draft picks.
With offers on the table and the chance to take accountability for perhaps the worst trade in Lakers history, the front office opted to deflect blame to LeBron’s sports agency and stand pat. While choosing to run it back with a formula already proven to fail, Pelinka prioritized two future first-round picks, who are probably in their early teenage years right now, over a generational talent in LeBron James going into his 20th season.
Currently a few days into training camp, it is clear that Westbrook will be a Laker this season. So how can the organization maximize the 33-year-old’s skill set while ensuring the former All-Star isn’t a detriment to their success?
For starters, it’s important to create an environment where Westbrook is comfortable, surrounded by teammates he is willing to fight for. So Pelinka scoured the market, trading 21-year-old Talen Horton-Tucker, who LeBron previously called “HIM,” for … Patrick Beverly? *checks notes* That can’t be right!
Beverly and Westbrook have notoriously had beef since the 2013 season, when Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury at the hands of Beverly in the first round of the playoffs.
Since the play, which Westbrook deemed “dirty,” the pair has repeatedly bickered during their on-court matchups over the past nine years while taking shots at each other during press conferences. This grudge eventually birthed one of the most iconic quotes and memes of all time. After a regular season matchup between the two, Westbrook told the media, “Pat Bev trick y’all, man, like he playing defense. He don’t guard nobody, man. He just running around, doing nothing.”
Westbrook better hope Beverly isn’t tricking anybody, as the two will don the Purple and Gold and most likely see minutes on the floor together. Whether or not this pairing translates to wins, one thing is certain: This makes for some fantastic theater.
But Beverly is just one player on a roster of 15 guys. In a wing-driven league, surrounding Westbrook with lengthy wings that can play defense and shoot the long ball could be a recipe for success. So, Pelinka combed through the free agent market and picked up … two non-shooting wings?
Troy Brown Jr. and Juan Toscano-Anderson, albeit lengthy, 6-foot-6 forwards, are neither proven shooters nor primary defenders. The Lakers front office also opted to bring back Dennis Schroder after he failed to produce in the first round of the 2021 playoffs during his first go-round with the Lakers, his fit with Westbrook being clunky at best.
With Westbrook, Beverly, Schroder, the returning Austin Reaves, newly signed Lonnie Walker IV and a finally healthy Kendrick Nunn, this crowded backcourt is just one of the many ingredients that may lead the Lakers down a stairway to turmoil.
Almost like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, the Lakers will run back the Westbrook experiment once again. But, in the wise words of Kris Jenner, “When you feel like something is really wrong, it’s usually wrong.”
Sahil Karup is a junior writing about the Los Angeles Lakers and the endless drama that follows them. His column “Road to Revival” runs every other Friday.