How the Lakers crumbled this season

Published April 12, 2022, 10:00 AMMiguel Flores

There were lofty expectations for the Lakers heading into the 2021-22 season. But due to several factors, they failed to live up to them.

We should all recognize red flags when we see them. The Los Angeles Lakers should recognize red flags when they see them. Like when they traded for Russell Westbrook.

The former MVP was coming off a season with the Washington Wizards where he shot 43.9 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from deep on 4.1 attempts per game. In the past, players with those kinds of stats didn’t thrive alongside LeBron James. Usually, you'd want a player who can shoot and defend and doesn’t need the ball in their hands. All three of those things are not Russell Westbrook.

Going 0-6 in the preseason was another early red flag for the Lakers. The last time the Lakers went winless in preseason was 2013 – the year Steve Nash’s back fell apart and Dwight Howard skipped town, even after Lakers fans put up billboards all over Los Angeles for him.

Maybe the Lakers shouldn’t have traded or not re-signed all their relatively young rotation players and, in turn, replaced them with dudes closer in age to 40 than 30. Maybe if they were a touch younger – employing veterans, not geriatrics – they wouldn’t have suffered a ton of injuries.

The Lakers just made one too many bad decisions stacked on even worse decisions this offseason. While it’s unfair to judge past actions with today’s knowledge, Los Angeles shouldn’t be too surprised that they reaped bad crops from the lame seeds they sowed.

It was a risky bet relying on LeBron James’ 38-year-old body holding up for the season or Anthony Davis not getting hurt. When they did inevitably miss time, the Lakers were left relying on Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, and Avery Bradley. They were all good, even great at one point in their careers, just not anymore.

The progress of some of the Lakers’ young players should not go unmentioned. Malik Monk carved out a rotation spot. Stanley Johnson proved he should be on an NBA team after a roller-coaster journey as a former lottery pick. Austin Reaves solidified the Lakers scouting departments’ excellence at finding rotation guys late in drafts.

Monk, Johnson, and Reaves would have been solid pieces to a team contending for a title, had they been relegated to roles more befitting of their talent. They were asked to patch up massive holes in the Lakers’ rotation that they aren’t yet ready to fill.

This was a season where LeBron James’ historic performances were the balm to the excruciatingly miserable on-court product around him. If you missed it, LeBron James passed Karl Malone for second on the all-time scoring list, passed Magic Johnson on the all-time assist list, and became the first player to record 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 10,000 assists in a career, among many other milestones. Most of those milestones he achieved in losses. 

LeBron, in all fairness, isn’t blameless in this. The truth about this Lakers season will come out in a documentary maybe 10 years from now when everyone’s retired and bored enough to start talking. But the rumors now don’t exactly exclude LeBron from all the decisions the Lakers made throughout the season. It's a fact that LeBron and his management group Klutch like to influence front offices.

LeBron could have also been a bit more subtle about his future plans of playing with his son and ending his career elsewhere. But he’s just human. Like any other human, he tried to tweet through his feelings and subtweet his haters. The sad thing is he only ended up proving the haters correct.

Now, we’re left with a massive mess. Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report through sources that the Lakers intend to fire Frank Vogel. The head coach, like all of us, found out through Woj and wasn’t exactly happy that his employment status was made public before he was told.

That’s the business Frank Vogel is in. It was just 18 months ago that he coached the Lakers to a title. Now, he’s the first scapegoat offered to the altar. Vogel, for his part, was a solid coach. Before this season, the Lakers were always one of the top defenses in the league because of his schemes and matchup creativity. He just didn't have the same tools this season to execute his system.

Vogel is just the first casualty. If you expect Westbrook to be back next season, you probably still believe Daenerys Targaryen was a good person at heart. Strap in, Lakers fans. This offseason is about to get bumpy.