Since winning a title, the Lakers have put on a tremendous display on how not to sustain success. As it stands, only LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain from that 2020 championship team, as even its head coach was unceremoniously removed at the end of last season. What’s interesting is for all their mistakes, an explanation could be offered, even the Russell Westbrook trade.
The top criticism one can offer about Pelinka’s tenure, though, is that all of the explanations only really make sense when the moves are isolated from each other. Basketball doesn’t work like that, and even as those mistakes have gone about as poorly as they could, Pelinka still can’t help himself but focus solely on talent and not at all on fit.
Trading Danny Green, who hasn’t really been healthy since that title run, by the way, and a draft pick for the reigning Sixth Man of The Year, Dennis Schröder made some sense. Perhaps he would accept that role on the Lakers, shore up their bench rotation, and alleviate the creative load for James.
Signing that year’s Sixth Man runner-up, Montrezl Harrell, to absolutely ravage teams’ second units next to Schröder was actually pretty exciting to think about, too.
Moving role players who were be looking for more responsibilities like Kyle Kuzma clearly was for a star coming off a solid season in Westbrook had risk involved, but made some sense if he would commit to making it work next to James and Anthony Davis and especially if he could carry the load when either of those guys weren’t on the court.
I could keep going with the explanations offered at the time of these deals but the point here is that with each decision Pelinka has made (or in Westbrook’s case, hasn’t), he’s failed to consider the ramifications across the roster both on and off the court. As he continues to drag his feet on undoing his greatest mistake, he’s again ignoring how waiting might affect everyone involved.
Darvin Ham, again, a rookie head coach, might say he’s prepared to bench Westbrook, but based on what we’ve seen in the first few games, that threat has mostly been empty words. Asking him to handle this untenable a situation in his first year is setting him up for failure.
Watch any of the other 37 guards on this roster and it’s clear none are really in a rhythm right now, most clearly evidenced by everyone’s shooting numbers. You think the guy taking up 30-plus minutes every night might have something to do with that — especially considering they’re all waiting for him to be traded anyway?
And then there’s the impact on the stars, who are tasked with dragging this farce of a roster to a reasonable record while they wait for Westbrook to be sent away:
Very small sample, but, per Cleaning the Glass:— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) October 24, 2022
LeBron+AD, Russ OFF (38 possessions):
115.8 ORtg. 102.6 DRtg. +13.2 net.
LeBron+AD, Russ ON (127 possessions):
96.9 ORtg. 104 DRtg. -7.1 net. https://t.co/ERSkjZYuAW
So not only do James and Davis have to work their asses off to make it work with a questionable group around them at almost everyone turn, but when Westbrook is out there, they have to make up for him statistically sabotaging their efforts compared to when they’re out there alone.
What makes this roster so impossible to make work for Ham is the sheer number of guards. It was clearly put together with a Westbrook trade in mind, but as that trade never happened the Lakers are now stuck with way too many guys standing 6’3” or shorter and holes everywhere else.
Signing (re-signing?) Schröder was actually the perfect example of Pelinka ignoring context for value. Yes, Schröder on a veteran’s minimum is undeniable value. Yes, if he accepts the role he should have when he first arrived, he could legitimately help. But as the Lakers already had guys like Kendrick Nunn and Lonnie Walker IV more than capable of doing that, the smarter move would’ve been to hold off on signing Schröder until at least one guard was no longer in the rotation.
And don’t worry, everyone, the newly extended Pelinka is reportedly interested in even more guards (the Lakers are now tied to Terry Rozier and Jordan Clarkson) as he prepares to trade Westbrook, because of course he is. Why would he learn from his mistakes when he’s yet to be held accountable for them?
Adding Rozier, who is clearly better than any guard the Lakers have, would be an improvement in a vacuum. He would immediately become the best guard James has played with as a Laker. But they can only trade Westbrook once, and doing so just to bring in yet another guard would come with a heavy opportunity cost. Maybe Gordon Hayward or Kelly Oubre would also be part of the deal, but as Rozier was the only one mentioned, it would appear he’s the Lakers’ focus and thus once again underlies Pelinka’s greatest shortcoming.
Trading Westbrook clearly isn’t going to be easy and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Whatever deal Pelinka chooses will likely decide how people remember him. So with that in mind, fans have to hope he studies what got him here in the first place. There’s a clear through-line in all these mistakes and, until Pelinka recognizes that and alters the way he operates, it’s just as likely he compounds his mistake either through targeting the wrong kind of player or — even worse — the complete inaction we’ve seen since last trade deadline.
This week on “The Anthony Irwin Show,” I welcomed my good friend Phillip Barnett to discuss the context around what will likely be Westbrook’s final weeks in a Lakers uniform.
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And for a short-form recap pod, check out Lakers Lowdown, in which Anthony Irwin recaps the previous day’s news and gets you ready for the day ahead in LakerLand, every weekday morning on the Silver Screen & Roll Podcast feed.