It’s hard to believe that a team can go from winning a championship to being non-contenders with the same superstar duo on the roster over the course of only two years.
The Lakers built a great team and went all the way in 2020. However, rather than building on that talented squad, the Lakers have changed the team significantly every year since and have yet to see the results they were hoping for.
Lakers 2021 Squad changes
To be fair to Rob Pelinka, some of the changes the Lakers made seemed to actually improve the team. They had a tough season with injuries, and couldn’t get the full potential out of that roster. However, there were definitely some questionable changes to the championship roster, more so who the Lakers let go.
One of the standout aspects of the championship-winning team was their great rim protection. This largely was due to Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. The Lakers led the league in blocks thanks to this duo alongside Anthony Davis. It was a questionable decision to let both Howard and McGee go.
Howard played a big part in the Nuggets series, and whilst McGee was not used as much in the postseason however, he was a great backup in that position.
Nevertheless, the Lakers brought in Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol to replace them. Harrell added a lot to their bench, however, you’ve essentially taken away great parts of your defense for a defensive liability.
Some argue it was bad management from Frank Vogel to not get the most out of him in the postseason. However, it wasn’t a great matchup for Harrell to thrive in.
Harrell did have a great regular season for the Lakers, but was it the best move from Pelinka after seeing how he faired in the postseason with the Clippers?
Gasol was a great addition, he made the Lakers’ offense significantly better. He was not the great defender he once was but he still added so much value to the team. He guarded opposing centers well enough and elevated the offense with his shooting and great passing.
The only problem with Gasol was defending pick and rolls, but he brought so much to the team that it can be overlooked. The Lakers should have at least kept one of their centers from the previous season – it was a weird decision.
The Lakers also cut:
The first three names on the list were all key members of the roster. Yes, Danny Green frustrated Lakers nation with his inconsistency. However, can you argue that he was not a key member of the team? No, he was important in the great defense they played that year.
He wasn’t the great defender he was once was but he still contributed to the defense more than some players are now.
He went from shooting 45.5% from beyond the arc with the Toronto Raptors on 5.4 attempts, to shooting 36.7% on 4.8 attempts for the Lakers.
However, could he have improved his percentage the next year? When you look at his numbers at the Philadelphia 76ers, he shot 40.5% on 6.3 attempts.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing if Green would have made these improvements as a Lakers player.
Avery Bradley didn’t play in the bubble, but he was another key player in the Lakers’ defense, that they let go of.
Then lastly, Rajon Rondo. One of the most important players in the Lakers winning a championship. He did not have the greatest regular season, but he had a great playoff run.
The decision to let go, of such a valuable presence and playoff performer, was definitely questionable.
The Lakers let go of key players and didn’t necessarily get improved replacements. Is Wesley Matthews a big improvement from Green? Not really. After seeing how Dennis Schröder performed in the playoffs, can you say he was an upgrade from Rondo? Not really.
The only move that was a success that year was Marc Gasol. Although his role was less significant when Andre Drummond joined the team.
Now, although some moves have been identified as wrong (using hindsight) it should be remembered that the Lakers’ main reason for struggling that season was injuries.
They still played great defense. Those moves that have been highlighted as bad decisions, may have not led to the downfall that season, but they played a part in the Lakers’ downfall this season.
Lakers 2022 Changes: The Downfall
Now, it is easy to put all the blame on Russell Westbrook, but it’s simply not his fault the Lakers are where they are.
Fans are right to demand more of Westbrook, let’s make that clear. He is a nine-time All-Star, he has nine All-NBA selections, a regular-season MVP, and was coming off of a great season with the Washington Wizards.
Westbrook is a future member of the Hall of Fame, and one of the best points guards to play the game. He is also playing for arguably the best franchise in NBA History.
Whilst you can criticize him, you do need to look further at how poorly this team is assembled. First of all, most of the Lakers roster is playing on minimum contracts.
This makes their trade value very little and doesn’t give them much room to improve during the season. Hence why the Lakers weren’t expected to (and didn’t) make trades by the deadline.
The players who were on good contracts were used in the Russell Westbrook trade. With all due respect to Montrezl Harrell, the players that need to be spoken about in the trade are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma.
No one should be surprised at the season Kyle Kuzma is having, Lakers fans most certainly saw his potential. He just was not able to do this for the Lakers because it was not his role.
Kuzma also fulfilled his role for the Lakers, great. He has a ring to show for it. So to say Kuzma is missed is not because of what he is doing in Washington. Kuzma is missed for what he did for the Lakers. Kuzma is a 6’9 forward who was a great rebounder (more so last season) and could shoot the ball. He was great off-ball and fit in well in lineups with Davis and LeBron James.
While with the Lakers, Kuzma’s defense improved year by year and he was a valuable part of the team. He averaged 6.1 rebounds for the Lakers last season, but his rebounding really stepped up after the All-Star break that season. Just by watching the Lakers, you can see how much he’s missed in that aspect of the game.
Another playing being missed is Caldwell-Pope: a good shooter and defender. He was one of the most important reasons why the Lakers had a great defense. How did the Lakers fill his shoes? Trick question: they didn’t.
You can’t identify anyone on the Lakers roster that can both shoot and defend like Caldwell-Pope.
Perhaps they thought Trevor Ariza would be able to fill that role, but he has been an underwhelming addition. They also let go of Wesley Matthews, a good defender and shooter, despite needing a player like him.
They signed Wayne Ellington who is a great shooter, but he is most certainly isn’t a great defender. The Lakers let important parts of their defense go year after year, and now play some of the worst defense in the NBA.
Not making Alex Caruso a priority was one of the more baffling decisions that cannot be understated. The current Chicago Bull was, without a doubt, vital to everything the team did on both ends of the floor.
Why sign DeAndre Jordan and let Andre Drummond go to the Philadelphia 76ers on a minimum contract? Did someone in the front office really believe that Jordan was a better player and fit than Drummond?
This is due to poor management. Some might argue that James is in control of who’s coming and going, however, Pelinka is ultimately responsible for the moves. The blame has to fall onto mostly him.
Yes, James is your star player, and you need to keep him happy but you are the GM. You have to know what is best for your team.
The Lakers’ front office has let fans down, and are responsible for the poor season currently. They are not the only reason why the Lakers aren’t having a great season, of course, the front office doesn’t play the games. However, they are responsible for the poor structure of the roster. When you win a championship, you need to build on it.
Instead every year the Lakers are trying to find team chemistry on the court because they keep changing things, and letting go of important players.
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