One of the Biggest Failures in NBA History: The 2021-22 Lakers

Russell Westbrook has received much of the blame for the Lakers disastrous 2021-22 season. But the criticism is misplaced, says the Beacons Elliott Bove.

Erik Drost

Russell Westbrook has received much of the blame for the Lakers’ disastrous 2021-22 season. But the criticism is misplaced, says the Beacon’s Elliott Bove.

The Los Angeles Lakers are renowned as one of the most successful and dominant franchises in sports history, but every team has had their flaws at some point in time, and the Lakers are no exception. Going into the season, the team had championship aspirations and expectations due to some of the roster moves they made, adding star power at the expense of their depth, making many believe this team would be among the best. 

One of these moves was trading for former MVP and nine-time all star Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has the most triple doubles in NBA history, which is a stat line consisting of double digits in three different categories. This sounds great, until you hear the extended facts: he was going into his 14th season and is 33 years of age, which is old by NBA standards, so he wouldn’t be a long-term option. Furthermore, he has shown that he is on the decline as far as production goes, especially for a guard like him who isn’t a consistent shot-maker from range. Also, he is a ball-dominant player who needs to have the ball in his hands to have an impact on the game. Pairing him with another ball-dominant player in LeBron James was a questionable decision to say the least. And the list of negatives continue, as they had to give up Kyle Kuzma, a young guy with a lot of potential, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a key starter, former sixth man of the year Montrezl Harrell, and a first-round pick. And, finally, Westbrook’s contract is the fourth largest in the league, making it hard to move off of if things were to go wrong.

The Lakers also added Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, and Kendrick Nunn in free agency. After all these moves, the team would have a combined 64 all-star appearances between the players on the roster, which sounds like the base to a team that would eventually win a championship. If all these players were in their prime, that might be true, but the reality is that most of these players were either past their prime or unable to produce at a star level. Despite this, the team was deemed a championship contender because they still had two superstars in Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and another perceived star-level player in Russell Westbrook. Analysts assumed the other additions would just be pieces assisting them, which makes for a good team on paper.

Then, after all of this roster construction, the start of the season finally came around. Their first game was against the Golden State Warriors, a tough foe with their own championship expectations. In this game the Lakers held their own, as it was close throughout. James and Davis played like the superstars they are, which was great to see as Davis was coming off an injury from the previous season. The issue with this game was they were truly the only two with a high-producing stat line. Everyone else, including Westbrook, played mediocre at best. 

As the season progressed, this trend remained. No one else took the next step. Guys like Malik Monk would play better throughout the season, but not enough to turn the tide and the course of the season. This would be a huge contributor to the overall failure of the team, as their stars were very injury-prone. Davis has shown recently that he is unable to play a large number of games in a season. TNT analyst and former NBA star Charles Barkley gave him a fitting nickname, “Street Clothes,” as more times than not he shows up to games in normal attire, unable to play. Furthermore, James is now 37 years old, so injuries and halts to his play are inevitable.

This put a heavy load on Westbrook, which at this point in his career he can’t take, and you shouldn’t expect him to like fans and management of the team did. The truth is, he played pretty well during the second half of the season; his jump shot was still bad, but it has never really been something he’s done consistently well. The ignorant fans fail to acknowledge such facts and direct the majority of the blame on him. This criticism got to a point where he was receiving death threats from fans… death threats for not being able to carry an awfully constructed team without the two best players. Deplorable, to say the least.

During the last few weeks of the season, the team was aiming to make the play-in, a tournament of four teams fighting for two playoff spots. The tournament consists of the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth seeds within each conference. Each game is a one-and-done game similar to a college tournament. At this point, the team’s ceiling was a pathetic tenth seed, a goal they would not reach in the end. They ended as the eleventh seed in the Western Conference, eight games below being .500, after being considered one of the best teams in the entire league. 

You would think it ends here, but the team decided to make matters even worse despite the conclusion of the season. They fired their coach Frank Vogel, who in his first season with the team led them to a championship; in his second, he led them to the playoffs despite multiple injuries throughout the season and lost to the team that would eventually go to the finals. In his only season where things don’t go right, he, like Westbrook, received most of the blame and was punished for it. I’m not sure if the greatest coach in NBA history would’ve led this team to much more, which shows how bad of a move this was by the front office. 

This team was given high expectations and couldn’t produce, and everyone associated with the team dodged the facts and let the consequences fall on the wrong people. The team’s future is a disaster, they have no young core to develop, and have no cap space or draft capital to make the needed changes. That’s exactly why this is one of the biggest failures in NBA history.