Despite an offseason that saw numerous former All-Star talents and league veterans link up with LeBron James and Anthony Davies in LA, the Lakers 2021/22 season was an unmitigated disaster with the 17 time NBA World Champions ultimately missing out on a playoff berth despite the initial promise that was met by fans and analysts alike.
Despite winning the championship during the 2020 NBA bubble, the Lakers front office made the bold decision to move on from several noticeable role players that played a key role in their prior success.
After an injury riddled 2020/21 season that saw the Lakers crash out in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Western Conference champions Phoenix Suns, the Lakers chose to remain highly active in the summer offseason which included a monumental trade that has greatly affected the franchise’s future and longevity.
Former league MVP and multiple time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook joined the Lakers to formulate a ‘big-three’ of LeBron, AD and Russ which had initially kept the historic franchise as monumental favorites to reclaim their grip over the West.
Other former All-Stars and future Hall of Fame candidates including Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo were added to the fold as the Lakers moved from key pieces from their 2020 championship winning team in the form of defensive ace Alex Caruso in free agency as well as offensively polished role players such as Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who were sent to the Wizards as part of the Westbrook trade.
Despite the initial hype, the 2021/22 season was nothing short of a disaster as Davis struggled mightily with injuries and Westbrook proved to be a poor fit alongside LeBron with the 2017 MVP also taking up a huge sum of the team’s salary.
While LeBron James played exceptional throughout this season, including earning a few MVP votes, the Lakers missed the playoffs without even earning a berth for a Play-in tournament appearance.
Heading into the 2022/23 season, the Lakers have already made some noise during the offseason, but how can they truly bounce back and return to winning ways?
Westbrook needs to play to his strengths:
The latest NBA lines have the Lakers as +1800 outright odds to win the Championship this season, proving that there still remains a great amount of talent in this team to make a championship push.
Fans are already aware of LeBron and AD’s sublime partnership when both are healthy and playing together, but the third cog of Russell Westbrook has been highlighted as the team’s main Achilles heel that is affecting their performances.
Westbrook has received major criticism from Lakers fans due to his continuous shooting issues and poor defensive displays as well as his constant turnovers that mark him as an easy target for opposing teams to exploit.
Russ has earned a future first ballot spot in the Hall of Fame thanks to his legendary triple double stat lines and tenure with the OKC Thunder, but his flaws have still remained obvious during his prime years and are now very much apparent on the Lakers.
In order for this combination to succeed, Westbrook needs to showcase his true skills and leadership qualities that he displayed during his earlier years as well as improving his game both on and off the ball.
Westbrook is an excellent rebounder for his position and is a ferocious force when attacking the rim rather than taking spot-up jump shots which are simply not a great quality of his.
If Westbrook can focus more on these qualities and only take jump shots on an absolutely essential basis, then he can still be a great factor to have on offence and a key part to the Lakers rotation.
Remaining healthy and utilizing shooters:
The Lakers so-called ‘Big three’ features three superstar caliber names that are simply not known or especially identified for their shooting game, which may have left many to question on why the Lakers moved for Westbrook when other stars were readily available on the market.
Given that the Lakers will now have the services of Kendrick Nunn and Lonnie Walker IV as well as their developing youngster Austin Reaves who can help space the floor and provide a greater threat from deep, this is a luxury that the team has to utilize on a wider basis if they want to succeed.
It is also vital that Anthony Davis remains readily available throughout the course of the lengthy 82 game NBA regular season as the Lakers have dearly missed his overall quality on both ends of the floor.
AD is a tremendous offensive threat for a big and is a lethal rim protector as well as being a remarkable asset to have alongside LeBron James’ immense basketball IQ.
If AD can remain healthy then the Lakers can still mount a great push for the playoffs and could retain their championship status given how well LeBron and AD have operated since they were paired together back in their title winning season only two years ago.