The Lakers are a long, long way from where they expected to be over a quarter of the way into the season. At 13-13 after a disgusting loss to a shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies team on Thursday, they are a very, very far cry from a team that was, on paper, designed to be the team to beat in the Western Conference.
The blame can be placed in any number of areas. The roster is old, they have dealt with numerous injuries already, and the Lakers’ stars, starting with LeBron James, appear completely uninterested in playing defense or even staying engaged on offense at times. Whispers continue to swirl around Frank Vogel’s job security, though most of those whispers (for now) are coming from outside the Lakers franchise itself. Russell Westbrook has been as advertised—both the good and the bad.
At many points over the season, the Lakers have looked like a team in need of some sort of jolt in order to wake them up and get them closer to reaching their potential. And the ultimate authority to make such a change — like, say, firing Vogel, or making a major trade — lies with Lakers governor Jeanie Buss.
But after Buss told NBA.com’s Mark Medina that neither Vogel’s job nor any other aspect of the team would not be reevaluated until the Lakers are “100% healthy,” she reiterated that stance on the “Uncut with Jay Cutler” podcast recently:
“It’s (our record) not what we anticipated or planned for, but then again, we haven’t been 100% healthy. And that was kind of a risk going into a season with a team that’s on the older side, or I like to say ‘less young than the other teams,’ instead of older,” Buss said with a laugh. “But we haven’t had our complete roster healthy and playing together. So once we see that, then we really do know what we have. But for right now, it’s just kind of like an up-and-down ride.”
Buss isn’t wrong. The Lakers have had James, Anthony Davis, Trevor Ariza, Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, Talen Horton-Tucker and Malik Monk have all missed time due to injury this season. But as of this writing, all those guys are healthy enough to play significant minutes save for Ariza and Nunn — both of whom have missed the whole season so far — and the latest public comments from Vogel have implied that Nunn will miss at least the next month, and it’s unclear when he could even return.
To be sure, Ariza is a huge loss, a steady wing defender and former Lakers champion who was a rumored early frontrunner for the team’s starting lineup before needing ankle surgery at the beginning of training camp. Plus, both James and Davis are currently playing through injuries, Davis with a left thumb sprain and James with an abdominal strain that kept him out for over a week in November.
But the Lakers are generally healthy. Aside from Ariza, who is inching closer to his season debut within the next few weeks, it’s not clear how much closer the Lakers will be to Buss’s benchmark of “100% healthy” at any point soon.
Meanwhile, any hope of returning to Western Conference frontrunner status continues to fade with each passing loss like the one on Thursday to an undermanned Grizzlies team who the Lakers should easily have outmatched with their collection of superstar talent. Before much longer, there may be too much pressure on Buss to not reevaluate this team — and its coach — and be forced to make, or at least sign off on, a tough decision.